I welcome the opportunity for the House to debate the supplementary estimates affecting the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. It is a real honour and pleasure to chair the Select Committee and I am particularly fortunate to lead a Committee with excellent hon. Members—I see some of them in the Chamber: the hon. Members for Cannock Chase (Amanda Milling), for Derby North (Amanda Solloway), for Edinburgh West (Michelle Thomson), for Bedford (Richard Fuller) and for Warwick and Leamington (Chris White). We try to work hard together to put in place policies that ensure workers in this country have higher skills and wages and greater protection, in firms that are productive, competitive, profitable and have barriers to scale up removed.
The title of today’s debate references the Government’s productivity plan, and I shall come on to that in a moment. However, given that this debate is about the estimates, I want to mention a couple of points regarding them. On a broader point, in my time in the House, it has always struck me as odd, even concerning, that billions of pounds of taxpayers’ money are voted through on the nod without any real debate, scrutiny or challenge. This debate will be about the Government’s productivity plan, and most of the contributions, including my own, will be on that document, which already seems to be becoming rapidly obsolete. At the end of it we will be asked to approve billions of pounds. The manner in which estimates are presented is opaque and often downright unhelpful. It is difficult to follow the money.
Of course, Departments produce annual reports, which are more helpful. They are scrutinised by Select Committees such as our own, and the National Audit Office conducts its own work, but the basic point of this place is to scrutinise and to challenge the Executive and then legitimately to permit the Government’s wish to tax the general public. I am far from convinced that the current system allows that to happen in an effective manner. Therefore, I look forward to the Procedure Committee coming up with some more radical improvements in this area.
The supplementary estimates reflect the machinery of government changes, with two Departments, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and the Department of Energy and Climate Change, coming together and losing responsibilities for further and higher education and for exports. BIS and DECC had resource savings targets of 16% and 17% respectively by 2020. The BIS Department had the “BIS 2020” publication, which contained a number of proposals to make budget cuts in this period, including, for a Department tasked with regional growth and pushing the northern powerhouse, the closure of the Sheffield office. A large part of the savings for the BIS Department was to be achieved through changing the way further education and higher education were to be funded. However, given the machinery of government changes, that option is no longer available to BEIS. Therefore—this relates to the point I made on the opaqueness of the estimates—it is impossible to tell, based on the information in front of us, what the planned savings of the new Department are and whether the “BIS 2020” programme is continuing.
When the Secretary of State came before the Select Committee before Christmas, I asked him whether similar savings of 16% to 17% would be required. He confirmed that. He said that the “BIS 2020” programme was no longer available, because it was a new Department, but he did not offer any alternative. When I asked what things the Department would stop doing in order to make the necessary cuts to the resource budget, the Secretary of State said:
“We are going to set out the proposals to the Department and I am sure the Committee will want to see that. I am very happy to send them to the Committee to look at. We want to take the opportunity of the two Departments coming together to, as it were, re-engineer the way that the Department is run to make sure that we take advantage of a big opportunity to tie things up here internally.”
That is very clear. However, no such proposals have been brought forward. I would be grateful if the Minister could outline what specific savings the new Department has to make and precisely how he intends to make those savings, including what activities will be stopped. That is in the context of the supplementary estimates before us, which state that the administration costs of the Department are rising from £425.6 million this year to £528.5 million next year. There is no explanation for that in the memorandum. Could the Minister provide one?
On the Government’s productivity plan, the factors regarding the UK’s productivity performance are well rehearsed but worth reiterating. At a national level, productivity has stalled. GDP per hour stands at 17% below its 35-year long-term trend and has only just exceeded the peak it had reached prior to the global financial crash. We as a nation are falling further behind our major competitors. Output per hour in the G7 excluding the UK was 18% above that of the UK, the widest gap in productivity since records began in 1991. That statistic shows the marked differences in performance between ourselves and our competitors. When it comes to productivity, we are above Japan by about 16 percentage points. Italy, however, is 10 % more productive than we are. The US and France are 30% more productive than we are, and Germany is 36% more productive than the UK. Of course, productivity in all developed countries was badly jolted as a result of the 2008 global crash, but the gap between our long-term productivity trend and that of our competitors in the G7 is about twice as big. Productivity and pay are intimately linked. Productivity gains are the way in which real wage growth—and, hence, living standards—can rise.
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that some countries with very high levels of unemployment can have a higher productivity figure, whereas we put the people to work in lower value activities, which is surely better than them being out of work, because the best way to get a job is to start off in a job that is not so good?
I will respond to the right hon. Gentleman in a moment when I talk about the structure of our employment market and how I do not think it deals with living standards, helps our constituents, or improves the long-term competitiveness of our nation.
It is little wonder, given the intimate link between productivity and pay, that Paul Krugman said:
“Productivity isn’t everything, but in the long run it is almost everything.”
Reflecting this, wage growth has been anaemic. In the period between 2007 and 2015, British workers suffered a bigger fall in wages than those in any other advanced country with the exception of Greece. Average pay fell in real terms by more than 10%. In the same period, real wages grew in France by 11% and in Germany by 14%. Median pay for workers in this country is still around 5% below its pre-crisis peak. There has been a lost decade of wage growth for our constituents, the British workers.
However, the headline nationwide figures for productivity, worrying though they are, mask the stark differences in regional productivity. Gross value added per hour in London is 32% above the UK average. The only other region with productivity above the UK average is the south-east of England, which is 9% above the average. The regions of the north and the midlands—including my own region of the north-east, and those of my fellow Select Committee members, the hon. Members for Cannock Chase, for Derby North and for Warwick and Leamington—have productivity levels between 10% and 15% below the UK average. In the nations of the United Kingdom, productivity in Scotland, which includes the constituency of the hon. Member for Edinburgh West, is 2% below the national average, while in Wales it is 19% below the average. Were it not for the performance of London and the south-east, the gap between ourselves and our major economic rivals, with whom we are competing for orders, trade and market share, would be even more dire.
In this place, we habitually compare our productivity with that of the G7, but I recall a debate on this matter around this time last year for which I did some research into medium-sized countries such as Norway, where productivity levels are significantly higher than in any of the G7 countries. Is the hon. Gentleman going to explore how the scale of those medium-sized countries could be a factor affecting productivity?
I am going to talk about scale in relation to the size of firms, as opposed to the size of nations, but the hon. Lady makes an important point.
This is not a dry and dusty economic treatise. I am talking about real, unsatisfactory productivity growth across the UK that is affecting the living standards of the constituents of hon. Members on the Committee and of Members across the whole House. That is why the Committee wanted to examine the Government’s productivity plan. This is not about dragging London and the south-east back; it is about moving the regions and nations closer to the economic performance of the capital.
The distinctive structure of our economy could also be acting as a drag on our economic performance. About four-fifths of our economy is made up of services, which is higher than in any other G7 country. It is clear that the service sector has driven the economic recovery since the downturn in 2008, but in the main the sector tends to have lower productivity than manufacturing. Moreover, in the past 30 years, we have seen a shift in the nature of jobs in this country. For every 10 middle-skilled jobs that disappeared in the UK in the 1990s and the first decade of the 21st century, about 4.5 of the replacement jobs were high-skilled and 5.5 were low-skilled. In Ireland, the ratio was 8:2 in favour of high-skilled jobs; in France and Germany, it was about 7:3. The nature of our economy and our skills set means that our major economic rivals are moving away from us and going higher up the value chain than we are. That is clearly having an adverse impact on productivity and living standards.
In addition, Britain is a nation, if not of shopkeepers, then certainly of small businesses. That is a great thing. In the 21st century, the number of businesses in the UK has increased by an average of 3% per year, to reach 5.5 million, which is 2 million more businesses than in 2000. However, the proportion of firms that employ people has fallen in the same period from about a third of companies in 2000 to around a quarter today. Micro-businesses—those enterprises employing fewer than 10 people—account for 96% of all businesses in the UK. The domination of small businesses in our economy has implications for productivity levels. They are unable to take advantage of economies of scale, they are more likely to face difficulties in accessing finance for new product, for process development or for scale-up activity, and they may find it difficult to find the time not merely to fulfil existing orders but to identify opportunities and secure bigger contracts for domestic and export markets. Those companies cannot afford armies of procurement and export teams.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that in certain sectors of industry, such as tourism, the jobs that are needed are low-skilled jobs such as running a caravan park?
The right hon. Gentleman makes an important point. I want to see a pound generated being a pound generated throughout the economy, but I would like the structure and model of our economy to move higher up the value chain than running a caravan park, as he suggests.
Another big factor determining productivity levels is investment in research and development. R and D spend by UK businesses hit almost £21 billion in 2015, with an average growth rate of 4.2% since 1991. On the face of it, that is impressive, although the publication “The UK R&D Landscape” has stated that
“the business enterprise component of R&D expenditure in the UK is low by international standards, even after adjusting for structural difference between countries. It is also concentrated in the hands of a few very large firms and the small number of industrial sectors in which they are based.”
Indeed, seven sectors of our economy account for over two thirds of all R and D spend. The pharmaceutical industry accounts for a fifth of all R and D in this country. The automotive sector now accounts for 13%, reflecting its growth spurt in recent years, which is testimony to the great work that the car manufacturing businesses are doing. Aerospace accounts for 8% of the total.
Investment in R and D is concentrated in the hands of foreign-owned businesses. A quarter of a century ago, 73% of business R and D spend was undertaken by British-owned firms and 27% by foreign-owned companies. Since 2011, however, more than half the investment spend has been undertaken by foreign-owned firms. This has reflected the changing ownership of UK plc, with foreign direct investment often taking over larger British firms. This has certainly resulted in a boost to productivity, but it also leaves us vulnerable. In the event of a downturn in those investors’ home countries, there is no patriotic “stickiness”, and that R and D investment could fall and jobs and production facilities here in the UK could be cut to safeguard activity overseas in their home market.
I take the hon. Gentleman’s point about the “stickiness” of that investment, but it is a tribute to this country’s universities and the skills to be found here that foreign investors choose to come to the UK and base R and D resources here.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. In terms of bang for our buck, the amount of great work that the universities sector carries out and the number of spin-out companies that higher education provides are a magnet, in contrast with the “stickiness”, for foreign direct investment. We have to make this country as attractive as possible to such investment. Just as I referred to London and the south-east pulling up our productivity, I dread to think what our productivity and investment levels might be if we did not have that foreign direct investment.
Despite the R and D spend of both Government and business, we have never spent the OECD average—far from it. In the past 35 years or so, we have spent 2% of GDP on R and D only once and that was in 1986. The long-term trend is around 1.6% or 1.7%, which is not good enough if we want living standards to be maintained or productivity to rise. Productivity weaknesses clearly need addressing, and the previous Government introduced the productivity plan. We welcomed the Government’s attention on this pressing matter, but the plan lacked focus and did not demonstrate how success would be judged. Rather than being a clear road map or strategy for how the UK would close the productivity gap, it disappointed by being a mere collection of existing policies, with nothing new, distinctive or game-changing. The plan had 15 areas covering all aspects of Government and business activity, incorporating skills, R and D, housing and transport. However, it had no meaningful metrics to evaluate its relative success or failure and no milestones to track progress.
Although the plan was a Treasury initiative, the old Department for Business, Innovation and Skills clearly had a role to play, but clear lines of communication and accountability were non-existent. BIS and Treasury Ministers told our Committee that the plan was monitored by civil servants, which seemed somewhat relaxed given that productivity was meant to be the Government’s most pressing economic challenge. They seemed to forget that they were members of a ministerial Sub-Committee. Productivity now seems so 2015.
My hon. Friend is giving a superb speech about the impact of productivity and the role of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee, which he chairs and on which I proudly serve. Will he say a couple more words about the importance of the machinery of government in delivering a productivity plan? He just mentioned it, but it is shocking that Ministers came before our Committee and were totally unaware that their responsibility for the productivity plan was being scrutinised by a Cabinet Sub-Committee. The machinery of government and Departments, such as the Treasury, will play a crucial role in scrutinising the strategy and delivering for organisations on the frontline.
One of the weaknesses of government—this is based not on the colour of Administrations but on the nature and culture of Whitehall—is that it is silo-based. The lack of co-ordination is clear. In the modern age, with pressing economic challenges, we need greater monitoring, scrutiny, supervision and co-ordination across the Government.
It would be interesting to hear about the current status of the productivity plan because, as I said, it seems so 2015. It was intensely fashionable, but only for around 12 months. The new buzz phrase is “industrial strategy.” The strategy contains 12 pillars, as opposed to the 15 areas of the productivity plan, so we are seeing some efficiency. I welcome the Government’s willingness to embrace the phrase as a potentially positive thing, but it exemplifies one of the problems that we face. Successive Governments have tended to announce something, to provide a new initiative or to undertake a review. Policy flits like a butterfly from one thing to the next, with little if any meaningful impact on the ground on firms’ productivity or our constituents’ living standards, which is to the detriment of long-term economic competitiveness.
The hon. Gentleman is making a well-informed speech. He says that there is no influence on businesses’ productivity, but it actually has a damaging impact in certain cases. Take investment in renewables, for example. The industry ramps up and is able to support it, but then the pipeline that it is relying on is whipped away through Government policy changes.
The hon. Gentleman is spot on. Constantly changing energy policy can undermine long-term investor confidence and the ability to ensure that foreign direct and other investment is attracted to this country. Businesses require as much certainty and clarity as possible. Of course, things change—“Events, dear boy, events”—but it is important to have a clear road map and to minimise policy tinkering as far as possible.
Before the hon. Gentleman concludes, will he return to the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (John Redwood)? Perhaps the largest piece in our productivity puzzle is the fact that we have essentially traded some of our productivity for high levels of employment. That is a good thing, so we must proceed cautiously before wishing away any job—even if they do tend to be lower paid and lower skilled.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for reminding me about that intervention. Employment is crucial and having record levels of employment is a good thing. However, we want good, full-time employment on permanent contracts. We want people to be secure in their jobs and able to invest in their own lives and communities with some confidence. Over the past 20 or 30 years, we have moved towards insecurity and precarious forms of employment, such as bogus self-employment, zero-hours contracts or agency work. We have to think about our vision for the economy. Is it about everybody in work being paid pitiful wages or ensuring that we can pull the activities of Government and industry together to upskill people and move them up the value chain so that, ultimately, they have higher living standards?
I think the hon. Gentleman and I agree on this. My point is that it is easier to get to higher pay, more skills and smarter working if we start from a base of many more people being in work, which is the good news about Britain. None of us is happy with people in low-paid jobs without skills or machine power at their back.
The right hon. Gentleman must accept that although the best position to be in to get a job over the past five or 10 years was to be in employment, people are stuck on low-paid, zero-hours contracts in precarious types of employment. They are not moving on. There is no social mobility or economic progress. We seem to be stuck at the bottom floor when it comes to getting people into employment and that is not the model that we should be using.
I hope that the industrial strategy learns the lessons of the productivity plan. The Select Committee will publish our report into the Government’s industrial strategy later this week, and we hope that it will address some of the matters that the productivity plan does not: a longer-term focus providing more policy certainty; greater collaboration and co-ordination across Government to mitigate the problem of a silo-based approach across Whitehall Departments, as mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Hove (Peter Kyle); and the lack of meaningful metrics, milestones and measurements of success. If it is to work and succeed, the industrial strategy cannot just be this year’s model; it needs to be a thoughtful and well-established cornerstone of an economic and business policy framework, and an economic and business mindset, to increase productivity, compete with the rest of the world, and improve living standards for all in this country.
I am delighted to follow the hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr Wright). I want to put it on record that he is an excellent Chair of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee, although he seems to be a bit more of a “glass half empty” man, particularly in this debate. He supports many of the measures in the productivity plan and the industrial strategy, and members of the Committee share similar views, with perhaps the notable exception of my hon. Friend the Member for Bedford (Richard Fuller).
Improving productivity in the UK has to be a priority if we are to achieve our potential for economic growth. I welcome the premise of the Government’s productivity plan and, in equal measure, suggest that it should continue to be scrutinised by Parliament and the Committee as we work to address the fact that our productivity is below the European average. It is worth noting that that is the case despite the levels of employment that we currently enjoy, and I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (John Redwood) that that situation puts us in a good position to increase productivity and to move from lower-paid to higher-paid jobs. As we all know, the UK is currently ranked equal fifth among the G7 countries for labour productivity, but there is much about which to be positive, and I am sure that the trend can be reversed.
As co-chair of the all-party group on manufacturing, I know the immense value to the sector of automation and technological advances. Continuing to invest in innovation can be instrumental in improving productivity. It is vital to recognise the role that Industry 4.0—the fourth industrial revolution, as it is known—will have in rapidly developing our economy. Nations such as Japan and Germany are already embracing the concept, and the UK must develop a solid foundation on which to build our manufacturing capability.
My hon. Friend mentions Germany and the importance of manufacturing. Does he agree that one lesson we can learn from Germany is the importance it places on technical education? The Government’s record of investing more in technical education and improving apprenticeships, in both number and quality, should be commended and will help with the aims he outlines.
We are sometimes in danger of thinking that Germany is so far ahead and advanced that we should try to do our own thing. Germany has a number of ideas that we can borrow and from which we can learn a great deal, meaning that we can advance significantly in manufacturing.
Does my hon. Friend also agree that quite a bit of the problem resides in the public sector, not the private sector? Our best car plants are world beaters and have world-leading standards of productivity, but publicly owned Network Rail is way behind the continental railways in terms of productivity. We have the solution in our own hands in the public sector.
I agree with my right hon. Friend about our automotive plants. However, I will not criticise Network Rail today because it has just announced that it will be installing lifts in my local railway stations, on which I congratulate it most profusely.
The Catapult network is a good example of what can be achieved through innovation. Some £15 of benefit is returned for every £1 of investment, and we should remember the advantages of the Catapult centres as we come towards the Budget. Some 69% of business R and D can be found in the manufacturing sector, which highlights its importance to the wider economy. The UK is also championing the idea of horizontal innovation, whereby intelligence and technologies can be shared across industries, which could have a significant impact on how sectors such as shipbuilding and construction could learn from the best practice of industries such as the automotive sector.
Through-life engineering services—TES—are increasingly on the agenda, with manufacturers going beyond production to retain responsibility for maintaining systems throughout a product’s life. I particularly commend Cranfield University for its work in that area, and I am pleased to co-chair the TES Council, which brings together industry leaders to discuss how best to develop such services. One area in which the UK leads its international counterparts is additive manufacturing, or 3D printing, which we can see at the high-value manufacturing technology centre in Ansty.
We are starting to see a recovery, but productivity in the services sector is outstripping that of the manufacturing sector. It is well documented that UK productivity is weak—stubbornly so, as the hon. Member for Hartlepool said. Job quality, whether through wages, skills and training or employment security, must continually improve for us to reverse poor productivity growth.
As a midlands MP, I take particular interest in the midlands engine initiative and look forward to the publication of the regional strategy—I hope that the Minister will shed more light on that. The midlands has a rich tradition of manufacturing and can be at the forefront of a manufacturing renaissance in this country. However, as has been noted, productivity in the west midlands has been consistently falling against the UK average. The midlands engine is a welcome initiative that can define our priorities and develop the skills we need in key industries such as the automotive sector on which we so heavily rely.
At today’s Treasury questions, I asked the Chancellor about the provision of an adequate energy supply as electric vehicles become more prevalent. Companies such as Jaguar Land Rover are developing technologies that will shape the future of the sector, but they cannot do so without the necessary infrastructure. Electric cars will be the future, and it is important that we provide the necessary power so that we can build their batteries in the vicinity of those car plants. That is the kind of joined-up approach that will be so important.
The final point of the 15 in the productivity plan emphasises rebalancing the economy and regional empowerment. London and the south-east contribute an enormous amount to the national economy, but economic growth should be powered from every corner of the UK.
My hon. Friend talks about the historical low productivity in the west midlands. Does he agree that the long-running under-investment in transport infrastructure, particularly in the road and rail network, is hampering the region’s strong underlying economic fundamentals on exports? We need a higher rate of investment in our infrastructure in the west midlands.
I most certainly agree with my hon. Friend. We should be looking to the productivity plan and the industrial strategy, which address issues such as infrastructure. The West Midlands combined authority and our local enterprise partnerships should come together to think about how we address issues such as our transport infrastructure far more effectively.
By allowing for strong economic growth, investing in infrastructure will increase our productivity, whether in transport or digital services. As with all such initiatives, it is important that individuals feel part of regional and national growth. That can only be beneficial for job satisfaction, which in turn increases the likelihood of the productivity plan achieving its aims.
I particularly highlight the need for the plan to be measured against clearly defined objectives using metrics. A loose framework can give useful direction but lacks the necessary precise approach and timescales. Tying skills development to the productivity plan must also be a priority. Identifying the changing landscape of our economy and the skills required to keep pace with that change will be a phenomenal challenge. Encouraging greater uptake of science, technology, engineering and maths, for example, is key.
Productivity is clearly an issue that needs to be addressed urgently. I welcome the Government’s determination to put productivity at the heart of the industrial strategy and suggest that we must prioritise investment in R and D, as well as focusing on improving job quality. Embracing new technologies, such as through Industry 4.0, should be central to our approach.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr Wright) and his Committee on their sterling work in this area. I was particularly intrigued by his opening remarks about the nature of these estimates debates and their weakness. I was reminded of my experience when I was faced with the House for the first time after being elected back in May 2015. I walked around and found all these peculiar signs, such as for the Vote Office, where the one thing we cannot do is vote. The one thing we are unable to do in estimates debates is scrutinise the estimates properly. That certainly needs to be addressed in the longer run.
I was also taken by what the hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington (Chris White) said about the importance of innovation for productivity. It reminded me of an old teacher of mine, Professor Tom Burns, who, in 1960, wrote a book along with Graham Stalker called “The Management of Innovation”. How many years ago is that? It is a long, long time ago—57 years. The lessons of back then, when Professor Burns was talking about the growth of Marconi in Scotland, are just as relevant today in respect of what is involved in innovation. He argued that two main types of skills or knowledge needed to be deployed, and therefore developed in society. The first was the ability to have what he called “analytical skills”, which we might relate to STEM subjects and other quantitative skills. We need the ability to analyse problems and weaknesses, be it in technology, social fields or whatever, but that is not enough—we all know that we can analyse problems. Everyone in this House might agree what the level of unemployment is, but we would have different recipes to deal with it. So as well as having analytical skills, he said society had to be good at developing creative skills. That might be through “simple creative thinking”, as we could call it today, but I believe he was thinking more widely about how we bring decision-making and judgment skills to enhance the capacity to meet new types of challenges.
The other thing that Professor Burns mentioned drew on what happened in Scotland in the 18th century, at the time of the Enlightenment, and the ideas produced there. His argument was that not only did we have some uniquely brilliant individuals but, for the first time, we had the effective networking of people and of ideas. We were not building false barriers between people, be it by subject or geography. We should reflect on that today as people too often get stuck in professional silos, with ideas not being shared and networked enough. The possibilities therefore do not come to fruition in the way that they might.
The final thing that Professor Burns said in this book of 57 years ago was that we needed circumstances in which people valued and encouraged the “application of novelty”—in other words, experimentation. We all know that if that is done well, it will inevitably lead to a failure rate, so risk taking, as we would call it today, has to be part of the recipe. One thing that Governments of all hues are very bad at doing is putting in place policies that recognise that although we are going to generate some things that might fail, that is worth it, because we will generate other things that are a great success.
My hon. Friend is making an excellent speech. I concur with what he is suggesting about entrepreneurs—our wealth creators—being given both the framework to succeed and the framework to fail. Does he agree that this is about looking at not just our innovation structures, but at more systemic issues such as banking? When a small business does fail, it is often hauled over the coals and loses absolutely everything, so we fundamentally need to change some of the ways in which we do business in this country.
I quite agree with my hon. Friend. Today I asked a question of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, which once again attracted the typical non-answer. I asked whether, given what has happened to businesses over the past few years, with things such as the RBS “dash for cash” and the like, there was not a case for having banks accept their duty of care towards the business community, and small and medium-sized enterprises. We need to look more widely at how we create a context that will really support innovation and risk taking.
What study have the Scottish Government made of the big impact on Scottish productivity of the pronounced decline in output from the North sea as the fields mature? What can they do to offset that?
The best thing I can do is leave that to my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen South (Callum McCaig), who is an expert in these matters. He will be summing up for our party and is from that part of the country. I am aware that the Scottish Government have been undertaking considerable work on this matter. Our growth commission is under way, and part of its work deals with looking at precisely the matter the right hon. Gentleman raises. The commission is yet to report.
My hon. Friend would agree that the Scottish National party is doing a lot on this issue. In Aberdeen, we are holding a meeting next week with the London Stock Exchange Group so that supply chain companies can learn about alternative methods of capital financing, meaning that we can secure those industries in our city and ensure that they can continue exporting way into the future.
I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention.
I wish to move on to another area that has been addressed. I believe it was the hon. Member for Horsham (Jeremy Quin) who mentioned the importance in our society of universities, the production of higher levels of knowledge and our research capability, and how that was a tremendous attraction if we are to drive up levels of productivity. I agree entirely with him, but there is a problem that we must be willing to face. The universities are under a type of strain that they have never faced before: the threat to the research community created by the Government’s attitude towards EU nationals. I can take Members to universities in Scotland and show them people who are leaving, or planning to leave, the university and the research community because of the uncertainty created by this Government. If there is one thing the Government could do, either today or very soon after, to secure our research community, it would be to give these people absolute guarantees that they are welcome and will carry all their rights with them into the future.
Scotland has different productivity needs, one of which relates to our attitude towards immigration. I would argue that we need more immigration, of the right type. Many blockages to enhancing that immigration can be found in the Government’s policies, and I wish to give hon. Members one example. A few years ago, for the tier 1 investor visa, the Government increased the sum that people would have to have to bring into the economy to invest in British business to a minimum of £2 million. I would be very happy for Scotland to attract people with a wee bit less than that to invest in Scottish business, because they could still do a tremendous amount of good.
As the Minister knows—we have discussed this in the past—another tier 1 visa is the entrepreneur visa. Residents and citizens of England or Scotland do not need bags of cash to become an entrepreneur. Indeed, some of our most wonderful entrepreneurs started with very little but an idea. What do we say to people who want to come here as entrepreneurs? At the moment we are saying, “You have to produce, in advance, a detailed business plan to be assessed.” It is doubtless to be assessed by the Home Office. They have to produce a business plan of how they will start a business in the UK, even though they are not in the UK. That strikes me as a wee problem to begin with. Secondly, they need a minimum of £50,000 in their back pocket to bring in with them to invest here, along with the business plan. We would never ask that of people who live here domestically. There are therefore things that could be done to sort out a number of the supply-side blockages that prevent us from attracting some of the investors and entrepreneurs who could do so much to help to build capacity and improve productivity in our society in the longer run.
Finally I wish to touch on skills, which has also been mentioned. Many years ago—it was 1990 or 1991—in the early days of “competence-based qualifications”, we had a body called the National Council for Vocational Qualifications, which was based in London. The people there had seen me on a television programme, so they called me to ask whether I would come down to give it some advice. Because they waved a cheque in front of me, and being a Scotsman, I readily agreed. They said to me, “We have a problem with competence-based assessment. We are unsure that it is actually delivering and accrediting people for their competence.” I did a piece of work that they subsequently published, which I have never seen refuted, in which I said that the method of competence-based assessment operating in the UK would generate a vast number of false positives—that is, a large number of people who receive qualifications but are not actually competent. That might be a contributing factor to the fact there is no evidence at all that those who come into the labour market with competence-based qualifications are doing anything to enhance productivity in our society. There is therefore a long way to go, but it has been a privilege to take part in the debate.
It is a great honour to follow the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Roger Mullin); I always listen to him with great enthusiasm. It is also great to be here with fellow members of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee. To add to the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Bedford (Richard Fuller), it is a great privilege to serve under the chairmanship of the hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr Wright).
Productivity is an essential driving force for the country’s economy, with direct implications on our long-term growth, living standards and wages. Its importance was highlighted by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer in his autumn statement back in November, when he spoke about how the UK is trailing behind several countries in terms of productivity, including the US and Germany. In seeking to tackle that problem, he announced £23 billion of investments, designed to improve output, with particular emphasis on infrastructure and housing. Along with the productivity plan and industrial strategy, that illustrates the Government’s commitment and determination to making the UK the best place in the world—
I hope the hon. Lady will forgive me for interrupting her in her stride—she is making an interesting argument—but the largest proportion of the Chancellor’s £23 billion productivity innovation plan is for house construction. How does that add to productivity?
I will come to that later in my speech. I apologise, but I am having difficulty seeing today, so Members should shout loudly if they want to intervene.
I was saying that the Government’s commitment to making the UK the best place in the world to do business should be warmly welcomed by the House.
I have spent most of my life in retail and manufacturing, so I am acutely aware of the challenges faced by the sector, which are clearly not unique to the industry and can be seen throughout the business community. With the right foundations, business and industry can and will flourish; we just need to provide the right conditions, which the productivity plan rightly addresses. In doing so, it is essential for us to focus on improving the quality of our primary and secondary education to provide an adequate starting point for young people heading into further education, apprenticeships and employment. I welcome the Government’s recognition that improvements to basic skills such as numeracy and literacy play a vital role, and the fact that they are putting those skills at the heart of their reforms. It is skill provision in general that I shall touch on today.
The UK’s competitiveness in the open market is now more important than ever. Following the result of last year’s referendum, as we seek to find new avenues for investment and trade, the potential opportunities for and contribution to our nation’s productivity should not be underestimated. New capital, more competition, and new technologies will all be vital as we look to compete with the rest of the world.
From a Derby North perspective, the success of the midlands engine is incredibly important to me. The midlands engine strategy can be a vehicle to deliver policy that will not only increase productivity but support the vision for a successful United Kingdom. We have a strong offering in the midlands that can deliver growth that is not only balanced by sector, geography and trade, but sustainable, in that it creates skilled, highly productive roles backed by private sector investment. The midlands engine must focus on elements that give us competitive advantage, central to which is our expertise in key sectors, especially advanced manufacturing.
In my constituency alone we have a high density of original equipment manufacturers—such as Toyota, Rolls-Royce and Bombardier—and a well-established supply chain that serves them all. It is essential that we have the training and skills that match local employers’ needs, which is something the productivity plan looks to address.
Today I met Katie Goodwill, who won the gold medal in computer numerical control turning at the 2016 WorldSkills show in November, and Ryan Worthington, another award winner; both work for Rolls-Royce in Barnoldswick in my constituency. Does my hon. Friend agree that apprenticeships play a vital part in developing the skills we need to improve productivity, and join me in congratulating Katie and Ryan on their success?
Of course I do, and I congratulate them both on their great success. I was about to mention the apprenticeship levy, which is essential because it encourages large businesses to invest in their workforce and in the future, and will ensure that the UK has the skilled workforce it needs in the years to come.
During my time as an MP, I have regularly heard that more needs to be done to tailor skills to play to local strengths and boost productivity. Brilliant work is being done in Derby to try to tackle that problem. For example, in response to the needs of businesses such as Rolls-Royce and Bombardier, the university in the city recently opened a new science, technology, engineering and maths building. Apprenticeship providers such as 3aaa are building initiatives to link employers, schools and apprenticeship providers to tailor skills. A great example is the recently opened construction academy in Derby North, which looks to encourage and train young people in the much-needed skill of bricklaying. More needs to be done to support such hard work, and giving the required resources to the productivity plan will do just that. Initiatives such as those I have mentioned can make a real difference locally, and will not only set the foundations for growth but keep the east midlands and the UK on the map as a place where a technically skilled workforce is in place to meet demand.
It is reported that there is an annual engineering skills gap of 82,000 staff, which is clearly cause for concern. However, it is widely recognised in Derby that the local worker supply chain is struggling to keep up with the demand for skills that employers need. There are, though, positive signs that with smart investment and the long-term vision that comes from the productivity plan, those problems can be overcome. The Government have shown that they are committed to tackling our productivity problem, whether it is through new funding and capital, or through education, infrastructure and research and development. It is imperative that we support the plans outlined as we look to implement a long-term vision for our economy. I certainly feel that for Derby and the east midlands there are some great proposals in the plan that will go a long way towards addressing our specific concerns, while also addressing the issue of productivity and output throughout the UK.
It is a pleasure to take part in this debate. I commend the hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr Wright) for his contribution and for his leadership of the Select Committee. I reiterate a point that he made: the productivity plan, “Fixing the foundations”, was published in July 2015. We should step back and think about the radical changes we have seen since then, because it is ever a moving target. We have a new Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, a new Prime Minister, a new Cabinet, an industrial strategy Green Paper and, fundamentally, a new relationship with the EU. In terms of the estimates, it is indeed a moving target. There is a real challenge in the macro relationships of how we get policy provision to guide us going forward among all that shifting.
Obviously the most important of those changes is Brexit, and how the Government respond to it will be crucial for the future of any industrial strategy or productivity plan. Prime Ministers come and go and Departments get renamed, but leaving the EU is the sort of event that is going to take massive energy to achieve anything positive. Worryingly, the rhetoric I have heard so far does not fill me with a great deal of faith. We are undermining some of the noble intentions of the productivity plan and industrial strategy. Putting up barriers will have an impact on productivity. I am in no way convinced by some of the grandiose sentiments along the lines of, “If everything doesn’t work out, we can always revert to World Trade Organisation rules”—most people do not seem to be aware that the fundamental work of revising and agreeing schedules is a massive amount of work in itself.
It is probably not a surprise to my colleagues here that I will focus briefly on Scotland, as is my wont in every BEIS Committee as well. A good job has been done with productivity in Scotland. We are now at the point where our output per hour is much the same as the UK average, and that has happened over the past 10 years. We have managed to close the large gap, but, as has been commented on previously, we are, frankly nowhere in terms of the wider UK. I managed to dig out the statistics that I quoted last year and the research that I had done in the House of Commons Library, which showed that Norway’s productivity was 77% ahead of the UK, and that continues to shock me.
The analysis paper of the respected think-tank, the Fraser of Allander Institute, on the impact of Brexit suggests that Scottish productivity will be negatively affected by leaving the European Union. To me, that is absolutely fundamental. Ending the free movement of people and thus reducing labour mobility is a fundamental issue for us in Scotland, and it cannot be overstated. One impact could be reduced inward investment, which could affect higher productivity.
Commitment 55 in the productivity plan report calls for a continuation of
“the long term decarbonisation of the UK’s energy sector through a framework that supports cost effective low carbon investment.”
The industrial strategy Green Paper then adds to that by calling for an upgrade in infrastructure and a delivery of affordable energy and clean growth. However, from my point of view, this Government are actively undermining these laudable aims by selling off the Green Investment Bank with undue haste. I understand in principle why one might want to capital raise, but I remind the Minister that the Green Investment Bank is quite clear that it does not need to capital raise until 2018. Furthermore, in terms of the nature and the type of projects that have been selected to address market failure, I now have a concern that there will continue to be a gap. Yes, market failure has been affected, and even blocked, by the introduction of the Green Investment Bank in some areas, but it has yet to be addressed in other areas.
Is my hon. Friend aware that Macquarie Bank wants to buy the Green Investment Bank for the brand name, so that it can exclude competitors from taking part in local authority environmental investment schemes? Selling the bank will mean less competition in environmental investment, which in turn means reduced productivity in the long run.
I am aware of that, and I have had conversations with the Minister, Macquarie and the Green Investment Bank. The fundamental concern is that, potentially, Scotland risks losing an asset in terms of the headquarters in Edinburgh. Despite the assurances of the preferred bidder—let us call it Macquarie—I will be watching this matter very carefully, because there is a risk that we will lose head office functions and the board. Going back to my hon. Friend’s point, it is building an infrastructure that enables productivity and these kind of things to succeed. If we put in public capital investment and we then do not get the value from it, that seems to me to be short-sighted and misguided. Equally, without the firm commitment to maintaining jobs in Scotland, all the productivity plans and industrial strategies in the world will not address the regional disparities that we see in Scotland, especially if we promptly roll away all these things.
On carbon capture and storage, we have spent £100 million on two competitions to try to kick start this new technology. We heard yesterday on a BEIS Committee day trip to Edinburgh that that is very difficult, and I accept that. As my hon. Friend the Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Roger Mullin) commented, we must be prepared to take risks to drive things forward for future gain. We accept that £100 million has been spent, but if we do not press ahead with some of these proposed projects, our country could once again lose its competitive advantage, and we cannot rule that out and forget about it.
I am most concerned by some of the narrow-minded views that have been exhibited in some of the debates around Brexit. They have a pervasive narrative that sounds isolationist and deeply disappointing when it comes to the wealth of opportunities of renewable energy. For example, a new interconnector between Scotland and Norway will soon allow the transfer of wind power and hydro power between the two nations, allowing them both to cut their emissions. This is not the time for retrenching and retreating. Construction has also started on a new 1 GW interconnector to France, further demonstrating our inter-dependence with our European neighbours.
Let me move away from energy and quickly dwell on some of the other issues that have been most affected by Brexit in the productivity plan. The first is the issue of international students. In the BEIS report on the productivity plan we said:
“We recommend the Government does not allow migration pressures to influence student or post-study visa decisions. It is illogical to educate foreign students to one of the highest standards in the world only for them to leave before they have had an opportunity to contribute to the UK economy.”
I have a story from my constituency of Edinburgh West. A remarkable young man, Mr Olubenga Ibikunle, won a substantial sum of money to do a PhD in civil and coastal engineering. As soon as he completed his course, he was turfed out. The level of his ground-breaking research, commitment and dedication to self-improvement means that he is exactly the sort of person that we would like to keep in Scotland.
The Prime Minister refused to consider removing students from net migration targets when she was in front of the Liaison Committee. I hope that she will reconsider her position, because international student numbers are already beginning to fall as evidenced by the latest immigration statistics. We cannot allow our position as a world leader for international students to be eroded by a dogmatic fixation on an arbitrary target of tens of thousands of migrants.
Obviously, Scotland’s higher education sector is a huge success story and does fabulous work. The Smith Commission explicitly mentioned that we should be looking at the possibility of a post-study work visa in future for Scotland. The UK Government have announced that they might consider that for some universities in the south of England, but that does not help universities in my constituency, or in the constituency of my hon. Friend.
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. Part of the problem could be solved by devolving those powers to Scotland so that we can protect our own higher education sector.
We have also heard this month from the chief executive of Innovate Finance, Lawrence Wintermeyer, who told the BBC that
“Brexit has had a chilling impact on investment.”
Investment is vital to industrial strategy and productivity. Wintermeyer backed up his statement with figures that show venture capital investment in FinTech firms, which is vital for my city of Edinburgh, has dropped in the UK from £970 million in 2015 to £632 million in 2016. In objective 12 of the productivity plan, the Government used Innovate Finance’s investment figures as a measure of success.
Finally, the productivity plan wanted to
“help deliver a Europe that is more dynamic and outward focused...by accelerating the integration of the single market, completing trade agreements, and improving the quality of regulation.”
That is a good idea.
Yes, indeed. It was a sensible aim at the time and it is one that Scotland still supports. I hope that the Prime Minister takes serious note of the Scottish Government’s proposals to keep Scotland in the EU. She could then come back to us having had substantive discussions of what is contained in the paper. Obviously, we would formulate a considered response, but Scotland regards the proposals as vital. We are committed and dedicated to growing our economy, creating wealth, and increasing our productivity, but we cannot do it on our own and we need help. We are ambitious and we want Scotland to grow, and we say to the Government: do not hold us back.
I call Mr Quin —[Interruption.] Mr Jeremy Quin.
I am most grateful to you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for calling me. I was thinking long and hard about the wise words of the hon. Lady who preceded me.
This is a debate in which we are showing the way for the UK economy. Up until now, the debate has been of a very high quality, albeit with a relatively low number of Members present. It was opened by the hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr Wright). It has been a pleasure to work under his joint chairmanship of the Select Committee investigation into BHS and Sir Philip Green. I believe there has been some news on that this afternoon.
Take your glasses off.
I hope we can agree that it is due to the successful joint working of the BEIS Committee and the Work and Pensions Committee that this afternoon we have seen Sir Philip Green agree to pay £363 billion into the pension scheme.
I also heard the figure of £363 million. I, too, hope that it may be a tribute to the work of the Committee and, in particular, the joint Chairs of the inquiry. However, having taken part in that investigation, I take nothing at face value. I hope the hon. Lady will forgive me if I do some proper research before saying how happy I am. I hope there will be grounds for happiness, particularly for the pensioners involved.
In his introduction, the hon. Member for Hartlepool quoted Paul Krugman:
“Productivity isn’t everything, but in the long run it is almost everything.”
It is rare that I concur with the éminence grise of economists on the Opposition Benches, but on this—uniquely, perhaps—I think the hon. Gentleman is right. I hasten to add that there are two clauses to that sentence. The first is, “Productivity isn’t everything”. I agreed with the interventions made, which I will dwell on for a minute, by my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (John Redwood) and my hon. Friend the Member for Newark (Robert Jenrick) regarding employment. We have to start with the realisation that where we come from economically could be a lot worse.
Many of us will recall vividly the impact of the dreadful recessions of the ’80s and ’90s in which homes were repossessed, factories were laid waste and there was mass unemployment. It has been bad enough this time around. We are still facing the challenge of rebalancing our fiscal position, but coming through the 2008 financial crisis—the worse since the 1930s—we have had some stellar successes. We have grown the economy since 2010 faster than any country in the G7 other than the United States. We enjoy the highest rate of employment on record; households with no workers are at the lowest level for 30 years. Youth unemployment for those who have left education stands at less than 6%.
It seems strange that I am saying this but, yes, I greatly admire the French and French productivity. We have much to learn and do, but I would rather be here debating a plan for improving our long-term productivity than standing in the Assemblée Nationale trying to defend high rates of youth unemployment. A distinguished economist and a distinguished statistician—even if he cannot count up to 57—are both in the Chamber, and I hope they will forgive me for saying that whenever something is referred to as a “long-term problem” by an economist, it normally means that they find it hard to measure in the short term.
Great trends in productivity are easy to spot, especially after the event. Instantaneous judgments are still worse, and forecasting is less easy. Before tackling what we should be doing better, we should keep an eye on where we are currently. This recession was very different from its predecessors. Although it was not always adhered to—there are some ghastly, scandalous examples, some of which have been highlighted by the hon. Member for East Lothian (George Kerevan—there was, by and large, a policy at the top levels of banks to practise forbearance, and by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs on troubled businesses. This, combined with base rates at low levels, provided the lifeline through the recession for many firms.
This also went with the grain of how businesses wanted to operate. Businesses could remember how frustrating it was in the ’80s and ’90s to fire highly trained, experienced and loyal employees, only desperately to try to re-recruit the same individuals two or three years later. They wanted to avoid those problems this time. It is a tribute to employees and unions that there was a recognition that constrained wage growth would enable more people to stay employed through the recession. The legacy is clear. We have not had the increase in unemployment that has helped to flatter the productivity growth of many of our competitors. I am glad of it because a labour force that has retained its skills and its practices is a vital asset.
High rates of employment are a boost to the UK while being negative for our productivity. We are not, of course, alone in having high rates of employment. The hon. Member for Hartlepool referred to the German economy, which is some 20% more productive than ours, despite similar rates of employment. My only note of caution about Germany’s incredibly impressive productivity performance is that we are talking about two very different economies.
Germany’s economy has an unrivalled capacity to produce capital goods that are hugely in demand from emerging markets going through a strong growth period, underpinning already firm foundations in that economy. But there is a caveat. My hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Chris White) also mentioned the German economy. I spoke regularly in my prior employment to German businesses and opinion formers, who were acutely aware that, although they were producing hugely sought after assets of huge value at the current phase of economic expansion, they looked to our economy and our ability to deliver on services and tech, as potentially the drivers of the next phase of economic development.
I do not for one second suggest that we should rest on our laurels, especially as the two most productive sectors in the UK—financial services and, looking at the hon. Member for Aberdeen North (Kirsty Blackman), North sea oil—have suffered most in the past decade. It goes without saying that we need to broaden and drive the overall success of the economy, but we should not dismiss too readily the strength of the platform from which we start.
The Government’s productivity plan is a solid document that has been made even more solid by the 10 pillars of wisdom in the industrial strategy that was published earlier this year. I will pick up three broad themes within it: infrastructure, people and finance. As the House will be aware, we have one of the most congested road networks of anywhere in the G7. I welcome the targeted investment announced by the Government in the autumn statement. Infrastructure spend has two benefits. The practical one is shifting goods from A to B, but there is also a psychological benefit on people’s ability and interest in spending and investing in the private sector. In both contexts, I welcome the decision on the third runway at Heathrow, and the ongoing delivery of Crossrail, which each have a psychological benefit way ahead of the immense direct practical benefit.
It may sound strange that, as a Member of Parliament proud to represent a Sussex seat, I also endorse what the Government are doing on the northern powerhouse. Anyone who has taken more than a slight look at the extraordinary extra housing numbers required in Mid Sussex and focused on their implications, and anyone who has endured the congestion on Southern rail—when it is running—or tried the M23, would know why support for a balanced growth in the economy is a general point right the way across the UK.
Our people are our country’s most important asset, just as they are any company’s. A fair point that was picked up in the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee report is the importance of parity of esteem between university students and those who choose more vocational routes. I am delighted that the institute for apprenticeships will be up and running in a few weeks, providing vigour and scrutiny to the courses being rolled out as part of the apprenticeship levy. Alongside that, I welcome the Government’s continuing commitment to the Catapults, and their boost to research and development—both new ventures. Assisting in the key phase between product development and launch is to be welcomed. It is the biggest boost to R and D at any stage since 1979—a good year. This is the right point in the cycle to be making that investment. However, in the long term, Government investment to support economic growth, proportionate and appropriate though it is, should not be seen as an end in itself. It can be dwarfed by the available capital in corporate coffers looking for a home. Government investment can oil the wheels and improve tax efficiency, as it is doing, on R and D.
Patient capital, which is incredibly important—I look forward to the report—must be encouraged, but it is to the private sector that we must really look to take up the challenge and invest. The sector knows that it will be doing so with a Government who are on a path to long-term fiscal sustainability, who are driving up education and training standards and, as they have shown with Heathrow, are prepared to take difficult decisions to boost our infrastructure.
Now is the time to invest in the UK economy. Nissan, Facebook, SoftBank and Google are all showing the way. UK companies should continue to take up the gauntlet. We have a good economic platform. Now is the time to invest; it will not only be our productivity growth rates that benefit.
It is a real pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Horsham (Jeremy Quin), with whom I sat on the joint Committee inquiry, and so many colleagues from the Business, Energy and Industrial Committee including: the hon. Member for Edinburgh West (Michelle Thomson) who, as ever, demonstrated she is a strong voice for Scotland on the Committee; our excellent Chair; and my hon. Friends the Members for Derby North (Amanda Solloway) and for Warwick and Leamington (Chris White).
Many Members have mentioned that the Government’s focus on productivity is very welcome. While many economic indicators are good—we have debated the fall in unemployment this afternoon—productivity remains stubbornly poor, and the word “stubbornly” has been mentioned several times this afternoon. If we are to ensure a sustainable economic recovery—one that is resilient to potential economic challenges—we really do need to address the issue of productivity. Let us be honest: that is not something new, and it is an issue that successive Governments of all political parties have struggled to tackle.
The Government’s focus on improving our productivity was first introduced with the publication of the productivity plan back in 2015. As other members of the Committee have outlined, we conducted an inquiry into the plan, and I want to pick up on a number of the points and concerns the Committee raised. One was about the lack of real focus—more specifically, the lack of measurable objectives—in the plan, and I want to come back to that. There was also the lack of a real plan in terms of implementation, milestones and timeframes. To be honest, there was a sense that, in some ways, the plan was a bit of a basket of different policies, rather than necessarily a strategic plan for the future. Some of those issues are relevant when we look at the industrial strategy—the Green Paper on it was published earlier this year.
I think it is fair to say—I am looking to the Chairman of the Committee for a nod at this point—that the fact that the Government response provided some measurable objectives was welcome. The Committee did not necessarily agree with all of them, but we were pleased that there were some measurements and metrics in there.
As everybody has mentioned this afternoon, the focus on productivity has been central to the Government’s energy since the new Prime Minister took office. She has been very clear that she wants to create an economy that works for everyone. A key part of delivering that will be developing this new, modern industrial strategy, and, as I said, we saw the publication of the Green Paper in January. I want to pull out something that was in the Secretary of State’s introduction to the industrial strategy Green Paper:
“the Government is committed to a modern industrial strategy. Its objective is to improve living standards and economic growth by increasing productivity and driving growth across the whole country.”
In short, the industrial strategy has productivity at its heart.
I am sorry to repeat the same point, but many Members have already mentioned that our productivity is poor, and we underperform compared with international counterparts—we are equal fifth with Canada among the G7 countries. Our productivity is 18 percentage points below the average for the rest of the G7. However, there is also a significant disparity regionally, and the Chairman of the Committee made the same point. As the Chancellor said in January:
“The challenge before us is to work out how to spread across the economy the best practice in productivity…so that all regions, and all corners and sectors of our economy, can share in this productivity performance and thus deliver the higher real wages and living standards that that implies.”—[Official Report, 24 January 2017; Vol. 620, c. 236.]
It has already been mentioned that London has the highest productivity of any region or country in the UK—let us be honest, that is not necessarily surprising. The only other region above the UK average in 2014 was the south-east.
What was really worrying to me, as a Staffordshire MP, was the position of the west midlands. We are the worst-performing English region. The question I have been asking myself is, why are the west midlands performing so poorly relative to other regions? More specifically, what do we need to do to address that? My hon. Friends the Members for Derby North and for Warwick and Leamington talked about some of the excellent manufacturing businesses we have in the west midlands. We have Jaguar Land Rover, JCB, Toyota and Rolls-Royce to name just a few. Is the issue the make-up of our businesses, or is it, as my hon. Friend the Member for Halesowen and Rowley Regis (James Morris) mentioned, transport? The M6 is not a million miles from my constituency.
My hon. Friend makes a good point about transport connectivity, but does she agree that as well as road connectivity, rail and freight rail connectivity are particularly important? The Felixstowe to Nuneaton freight rail link is essential to ensure that freight and goods can get out through Felixstowe port, and improvements to the line are essential if we are to deliver the improved productivity in her region that she talks about.
I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s intervention, and some Members might hope that I do not start to talk about rail in too much detail, because I have spoken about it a lot in the House. My hon. Friend makes an incredibly important point, and one of the issues with the west coast main line is capacity in terms of not only passenger trains but freight trains. That is a key part of the transport infrastructure piece we need to look at. This is about road and rail, among other things.
One question I want to ask the Minister is: what is being done to look at the drivers of this regional disparity so that the different regions can understand what they need to do to address it?
On that point, there is perhaps a third reason why manufacturing areas such as hers find it difficult to compete with European levels of productivity, which is that we have a very small equity market for medium-scale industrial firms. They have to rely on bank financing, which is very inefficient. In the United States and Germany, firms can get equity funding, and it is much easier for medium-sized manufacturers to expand.
The hon. Gentleman makes an interesting point, and it is one that the Select Committee explored in relation to access to finance. There is an over-reliance on bank lending. There is a plethora of ways in which we can finance small businesses, but people do not necessarily look at all the options available to them.
Let me go back to the point about the regions. In the context of devolution, we have combined authorities and local authorities, and in my area we have the midlands engine. I would be interested to hear what support the Government will give those different bodies to try to improve productivity in their areas.
Another point I want to pick up on is that it is very evident in the productivity plan and the industrial strategy that they require cross-Whitehall buy-in, and a number of Whitehall Departments are involved. Before I go into detail on that, let me say that the productivity plan was really led by the Treasury, while the industrial strategy is largely led by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. That raises a couple of questions. To what extent does the Treasury have input into the design of the industrial strategy? What is the relationship between the productivity plan and the industrial strategy? Is the industrial strategy the successor of the productivity plan? If not, how will the two work together, and who will manage them, given that they came from different Departments in the first instance? We have talked about transport, skills, and digital infrastructure. In looking to deliver the industrial strategy, we need many Departments to be fully bought into that. For instance, during this Parliament there has been a real focus on various Departments owning exports and taking a degree of responsibility for that area. It is welcome news that the Prime Minister chairs the Economy and Industrial Strategy Committee and the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy serves on a lot of Sub-Cabinet Committees. What are the Government doing to ensure that the industrial strategy is truly embedded into each of the Departments and that they take responsibility and are accountable for its delivery, thereby in turn improving our productivity?
I want to make a point about measuring success. My hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington touched on this. It goes back to my original point about the productivity plan. We had concerns as a Committee that the productivity plan was lacking in measurable metrics and delivery timeframes. During the course of our inquiry, it was really noticeable that if we asked people how they defined “industrial strategy”, we got a whole wide range of answers. We need to be very clear about what it is, but also how it is going to be measured so that we can assess whether we are succeeding or otherwise. As we all know, it takes time to see whether we are improving our productivity, so I would also be interested to understand what is being done in the short term to assess our progress on that.
I think we all welcome the focus on productivity. A number of Members have talked about the balance between productivity and employment rates. We need to try to tackle this ongoing issue that we have faced for decades. As a west midlands MP, I think we really do need to look at how we can rebalance and improve our productivity in the regions. I do not want to see the west midlands at the bottom of the English areas in this regard. I welcome the industrial strategy because it looks to have productivity at its heart, but we need to have a commitment to it across Government. We need to look at how it works at a regional level, and to have clear metrics.
It is a pleasure to speak in this debate. I congratulate the Chair of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee and its other members, most of whom are here, on their success in pursuing tenaciously Philip Green. I have heard during the course of the debate that he is making a payment equivalent to four of his super-yachts, and that will be on the way as soon as possible. That shows that tenacious and persistent Select Committee questioning can yield results.
I do not intend to speak for long, having spoken in at least two similar debates on this topic over the past year or two. During that time, as a result of a management change, productivity plans have become industrial strategies, but I hope that most of the salient points will remain from the previous approach. The first point I want to make is one that my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (John Redwood) and I made earlier: that we have to proceed with some caution before we are too blasé about the incredible job creation record of this Government and their predecessor. In my constituency, unemployment is now about 0.5%. The average wage in my town remains pretty low, at about £22,000 or £23,000 a year. Like other right hon. and hon. Members, I would like to see wages rise and none of my constituents stuck in poorly paid, low-skilled jobs. I want everyone to have not just the dignity and security of a job but the fulfilment of a career path to better-paid, better-skilled employment. However, we have to be careful before wishing away these jobs. One piece in this country’s productivity puzzle that is perfectly explicable is the fact that we have had extremely high levels of employment while some of our competitors have not. I am sure that none of us in this House would wish to replicate the levels of employment in countries in continental Europe such as France, Spain and Italy.
Immigration has certainly played a part in this. In my constituency, the fact of very high levels of migrants coming into my community has led to very little pressure on wages. Local employers I have met, particularly in the low-skilled or even unskilled areas of food production, agriculture and the care sector, have seen no demand on them to increase wages in the past five years or even more. That will of course change with Brexit. It will be a major challenge to my local economy, as to the whole country, to maintain this level of employment in those circumstances. Having said that, we obviously all share the objective of becoming a country in which people are not just employed, but well paid.
My hon. Friend makes some good points about productivity challenges and those of stagnating and low wages in certain sectors. I caution him, however, on the care sector, because workers from the EU and from further overseas fill those jobs. The care sector faces huge challenges in finding enough people to do that work, be they from overseas or from Britain, and, in the long term, the issue of wages is not going to be solved by Brexit.
I apologise if I chose my words poorly, but the point that I was trying to make is that we need to exercise great caution, because two things have had an effect. The first is that high levels of immigration have meant that wages have been supressed, but as we leave the European Union we also need to ensure that people continue to do those jobs, whether they be in the care sector or, indeed, in the food production industry in my constituency. There is a challenge ahead for the Government not only to maintain employment levels, but to ensure that there is a better-paid workforce.
Secondly, as has already been said, a major contributor to our loss of, or stagnating, productivity in recent years has been the decline in the financial services sector since the financial crash of 2008. That has happened not just in London, but across the country, including Edinburgh in Scotland, Manchester and my own city of Nottingham, where the related company Experian is based. There are fewer jobs and less productivity. Nobody is a friend of investment bankers, but they are highly productive members of the economy and we need to be careful about how we accommodate the financial services sector post-Brexit. Personally, I am fairly optimistic about the future, given that those investment bankers and lawyers to whom I have spoken will not follow the entreaties of Mr Macron and move to France, with its sclerotic, socialist economy, any time soon.
We need to be careful, however, about how we proceed in tackling the productivity gap. I am particularly cautious about spending more money and getting the country into further debt. The national debt, of course, is £1.8 trillion and it is increasing at a rate of £5,000 per second. Levels of austerity have been grossly overstated: public spending has fallen by only 5% or 6% in real terms since 2010. Although it has fallen as a percentage of GDP, it remains a major problem, and I am particularly concerned that fewer and fewer right hon. and hon. Members even mention the debt and the deficit as part of our national dialogue. That needs to change, because the greatest threat to our economy and productivity is the debt we are leaving to future generations.
I presume that the hon. Gentleman is aware that when Harold Macmillan was Chancellor of the Exchequer, the national debt was double what it is now. Even though it has doubled in the past 10 years, it was double the current figure as a proportion of GDP, and the economy was growing even faster and productivity was even higher.
The problem with higher levels of debt lies not just in passing it on to future generations, but in the consequences of that for them. It will mean higher taxes, a less competitive economy and poorer productivity for generations to come. Just because many of our competitors around the world, including the United States under President Trump, have chosen to go down that path, that does not mean that we should follow them. I for one want a Government who in the years to come tackle the debt and deficit as aggressively as they have done in the past.
I am cautious of trying to tackle the productivity gap by spending money on high-expenditure infrastructure projects that have over-optimistic claims—a result, I am afraid, of politicians being both their promoter and their scrutineer. I suspect that HS2 falls into that category.
I welcome the National Infrastructure Commission. I hope that it has teeth and that it will provide balance and ensure that we start investing in those infrastructure projects that actually improve productivity and take long-term decisions for the future of the country. Given the current scale of the national debt, borrowing for rushed, so-called shovel-ready projects will have a limited multiplier effect and will only add to the debt burden, thereby necessitating future tax increases and a less competitive economy in the years to come.
I am in favour of us investing in those infrastructure projects that promote long-term growth which do not necessarily cost the earth and have the highest productivity potential. I am also interested in supply-side reforms that cost either little or nothing at all, such as deregulation and tax simplification, or that are likely easily to pay for themselves, including the creation of a lower-tax economy that will benefit us for years to come. Let me take each of those points in turn.
In relation to creating a longer-term, higher-growth investment plan that will tackle low levels of productivity, I have some sympathy with some of the areas that have already been discussed. The congestion on our roads is a major issue. As hon. Members have mentioned, our roads are among the most congested of any country in the G7. This does not necessarily require the most expensive road investment strategies, but it does require investment in bypasses, junctions and mending potholes. My own town of Newark is one of the most congested towns in the midlands, and freeing it up would give a major boost to the economic prospects of the whole of the east midlands.
We should take some long-term decisions even though they are expensive, such as investing in Heathrow. No Government who actually believe in tackling the productivity gap or in putting us in the right position to be a global trading nation can afford to let such a decision be pushed further into the future. Less sexy decisions to do with long-term infrastructure are also important. We heard my hon. Friend the Member for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich (Dr Poulter) talk about trying to sort out the problems of freight on our road and rail. I am sure that my friend Sir John Peace, the head of the Government’s midlands engine, will make that a priority in his forthcoming report.
Lastly, it is very important to take seriously the need to reduce energy costs for manufacturing and other parts of our economy. It is of course important to produce a sustainable energy economy and ecosystem, but we are pricing out many of our most important manufacturing businesses with expensive energy projects. I am particularly concerned about some of the Government’s decisions in recent years that have produced extremely expensive projects, for which we will have to pay for years to come. It was imprudent of us to have closed some of our power stations, such as Cottam in my constituency, which were operating perfectly well and helping to keep energy costs down for consumers and businesses.
On supply-side reforms, I think tax simplification is extremely important. Frankly, no Government since the chancellorship of Nigel Lawson have taken tax simplification seriously in this country. The former Chancellor, my right hon. Friend the Member for Tatton (Mr Osborne), took an interest in this matter—he created the Office of Tax Simplification—but, in fact, relatively little happened, and the tax code only increased in length. Tax simplification need not cost the taxpayer anything at all, but it would make a huge difference by making it easier, not harder, to employ people, to grow the economy and to get investment into this country.
On our tax competitiveness, it is extremely important that we continue the pattern created by the previous Chancellor of reducing our corporation tax to levels that are among the most competitive in the world. Clearly, there may be new challenges ahead with the United States, if indeed they materialise, but it is extremely important for us to persist. I thought the former Chancellor was right, despite some rather opportunistic criticism from the Labour party, to reduce capital gains tax. Even with the changes, capital gains tax will remain higher under the Conservative Government than it was at the end of the Gordon Brown era, so that intervention by Labour was really baffling. We need an economy that is the most tax competitive we can possibly make it.
We have already spoken about research and development. Incentives for research and development, such as the reliefs created by the coalition Government, have been extremely effective, as I know from speaking to large and small companies in my constituency, and I would like them to continue.
As we approach Brexit, it is extremely important that the Department starts to look, industry by industry, at what low-cost deregulation could be achieved that does not sacrifice workers’ rights or infringe sensible environmental protections, but may be a game changer in those industries. In the two or three industries I have worked in—the legal sector, and running an auction house —there are European regulations the repeal of which would not be offensive to most people in this country, and that would give us a small but none the less significant competitive advantage over our major competitors in other countries. I will not bore the House with the details of such regulations, but the Government, in preparation for our departure from the European Union, should now work on a sectoral or industry-by-industry basis to work out which they are.
The penultimate point I want to make is that we should give greater thought to the long-term sustainability of the British economy. I am concerned not only about the deficit, but about welfare, and the Government should look at our state retirement age. It is inevitable that with an ageing population all of us will need to work longer. This produces a number of major challenges, particularly for those who work in sectors, such as on the shop floor or in heavy industry, where the work is extremely tiring. There is no doubt that people will need to retire or change career at a later stage. It is inevitable that the Government will have to look at this and act quickly if we want to signal to the markets our continued careful stewardship of the economy.
It is extremely important now, particularly as we are leaving the European Union and setting our sights on the world beyond, that we invest more of our time and effort in creating the kind of entrepreneurial culture found in the United States that this country has never quite managed to replicate. This will mean more allowances for entrepreneurs. I would like to see entrepreneurs’ allowances preserved, if not increased. I would be interested in them being focused on longer-term investments. At the moment, most reliefs are available after, I think, only a year of holding assets. They could be focused on investments further in the future.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree with my point that the tier 1 visa regime is counterproductive in that respect, and that much more could be done to encourage entrepreneurs to come here?
I am sympathetic to that argument. There is a lot more we can do, when we create our own immigration system after we leave the European Union, to attract the most talented people from the rest of the world, including entrepreneurs. The examples of Israel and Australia, which have different systems for attracting entrepreneurs, are good ones to look at. I urge the Minister to give some consideration to them, particularly the Israeli example which has had a lot of success at luring successful entrepreneurs back to Israel from places like silicon valley.
It is incumbent on this House to place creating an entrepreneurial culture at the heart of everything we do. That includes tax rates. I am afraid it includes having to find a reward for enterprise. It means considering the 45p rate of tax and making other difficult political choices. But if we want to inspire a generation to innovate to create businesses, we have to ensure that they feel fully rewarded here, particularly versus our competitors. Many of our competitors in the modern economy are not the competitors of five or 10 years ago. They are Dubai, Singapore and parts of the world that have no capital gains tax, limited corporation tax, if any, and where entrepreneurs are able to keep the lion’s share of the profits. I am not for a moment suggesting that we go as far as that, but I think we have to view our competitors much more widely than we do today.
I am grateful for this opportunity to speak in the debate and thank the Select Committee for its continued work on these issues.
It is a great pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Newark (Robert Jenrick). I agreed with almost everything he said.
Just to remind everyone why we are here, let me say that this debate is about the supplementary estimate for the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. This is the point at which the Government own up at the end of the year to where they are spending too much or too little against what they said they were going to spend, and set out whether they are going to invest more or less than they said they would. The variance can sometimes involve outstanding amounts of money. For this year, the Department is requesting further resources to be expended not exceeding £10.7 billion; that resources for capital purposes be reduced by £10.5 billion; and that the sum authorised for issue out of the Consolidated Fund be reduced by £13.8 billion. Those are large changes, but to spare the Minister’s blushes, let me say that he knows well that that is because of major structural changes in the Department over the year that have moved it from being an expenditure-heavy sector to one that will be ultimately much more focused on capital.
I challenge anyone to wade through document HC 946 and understand where the money is going—if they can do so, they are a better person than me. Given that the Minister is so sensible, may I ask him to challenge the Government to put a couple of things into these documents that reflect the current times? First, on variance at the end of year—when Departments are looking for more or less money—can they explicitly say, “Here is where we have saved money”? As several hon. Members have pointed out, people accept that we have to live within our means, so why can we not use this end-of-year variance accounting to say explicitly, “These are the areas where we have wished to save money,” because it would be a good opportunity to get the message out?
Secondly, on capital budgets, it would be nice in an end-of-year summary to get a sense of the return on capital to remind us how the Government judge the returns on the projects they are asking about through the variance—either when they are cutting money, as in this case, or if they are asking for more money. That is my overall point about estimates. I am just asking for a few things to improve the process for those of us who cannot easily understand what is going on from looking at six columns of numbers.
This debate also comes in the context of the productivity plan and its younger sibling, the document on the industrial strategy. Those two documents sit together. I very much welcome the initiative of my right hon. Friend the Member for Tatton (Mr Osborne) and the current Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government—he was then the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills—to pull together these various projects into a productivity plan. Yes, that plan was a bit of a mixed bag of initiatives that could easily have suffered from the criticism that my right hon. Friends were just pulling things together into a single document but, my goodness, at least we had a single document against which we could evaluate projects and with which we could hold the Government to account on this crucial issue of productivity.
Productivity is one of those shrouds that politicians like to grab hold of so that they can worry. We like worrying more than we like being happy, and when it comes to the national economy, it has to be either our balance of payments deficit or our poor productivity level that politicians wish to grab. They like to do that because they like to intervene in the economy and try to improve it. I have to admit that, in many instances, the Government play a positive and active role in the economy, but when they look to do too much, they have to know when to stop, so I make my third recommendation to my hon. Friend the Minister, which is that he learns this most important word to use in his deliberations—the word “no”. That means, “No, we’re not going to spend money on that”, “No, we’re not going to invest in that project”, “No, you haven’t done your analysis correctly”, or, “No, that rate of return is not correct.”
I make that recommendation because the Minister will be inundated with a variety of people who will attach their requests to the broad principles in the productivity plan, or the even broader principles in the Government’s industrial strategy, so that their ideas might gain favour. He will have to analyse those deeply and make some people very disappointed and unhappy by saying that their projects and initiatives are not worthy of taxpayer investment. That is extremely important because, as my hon. Friend the Member for Newark (Robert Jenrick) said, we have a responsibility to future generations. We cannot carry on living beyond our means. Before we spend what is essentially their money, we must have an acute sense that, if we are investing for the future, the rate of return will benefit them.
The productivity plan had another tremendous advantage, because it focused our attention not on how much we were spending, but on how quickly we were implementing the projects to which the Government were committed. One of the projects in the plan—it was subsequently raised by the National Infrastructure Commission—that was highly thought of was the Oxford to Cambridge corridor, to connect through Milton Keynes and Bedford, and onward to Cambridge. I am pleased that the Department for Transport has heard the message and is now coming forward with new ideas to make that happen sooner than was envisaged even at the time of the productivity plan.
I ask the Minister to pay particular attention to how procedures involving the interaction of Departments can be enhanced. I am talking about the time a proposal spends sitting in the inbox of one part of this complex system of organisations, Departments and agencies that have to approve something before it moves to the outbox and on to the next Department. This applies particularly to aspects of the road highway between Oxford and Cambridge, where there is an opportunity to move the timeframe forward. I would be very grateful for the opportunity to talk to the Minister or his counterparts in the Department for Transport about this.
The hon. Gentleman is making an interesting speech. When he said that his advice to the Minister was that he should say no to projects, I assume that he did not mean the ones that he was putting forward himself, which are of course very valuable.
I would hope that the Minister would use exactly the same assessment for that project as he would for any other. We have to build an economy that works for everyone. We have the tools at our disposal to do that, and it would be good to see the Scottish Government using some of the tools at their disposal to do something productive about their own economy, rather than complaining all the time and blaming others, as the hon. Gentleman has just done.
Let me respond to the challenge from the hon. Gentleman. If the Minister believes, as seems to be the case on the basis of what the National Infrastructure Commission has said, that the corridor between Oxford and Cambridge is important, he has a responsibility under the principles of the productivity plan to implement the relevant initiatives, plans and investments as quickly and effectively as possible, and to set a new benchmark for the speed of implementation.
Let me briefly touch on two further aspects of the plan. First, the Government response to the Select Committee report talks about the commitment to “funding innovation”—yes, yes, yes. “Yes” is the word—I repeated it three times—that the Minister should be saying about innovation. When Governments seek to intervene through something as cumbersome as an industrial strategy, there is a risk that they do not listen to the voices of the entrepreneurs—those who are prepared to take risks or those who want to disrupt. As we leave the European Union, there will be a number of additional things that the Government can do on innovative financing, such as peer-to-peer lending, and especially to reduce some of the restrictions on the enterprise or seed enterprise investment schemes. That would get people investing in our early-stage businesses much more effectively.
Similarly, we have heard a lot of good things from the Government about their commitment to improving management and leadership. It is easy for us to take that for granted. It is one of the soft things that arise when we think about productivity, but it is essential that the management and the leadership of our businesses have the resources, skills and capabilities to be expected from a global leader in business and a country that wants to trade freely and openly with the rest of the world.
Finally, in both the productivity plan and the industrial strategy, my personal feeling is that not enough reference is made to the future way in which employment and work will operate. We heard from the Chair of the Select Committee about how a lack of security in the labour market is a concern to not just the people directly affected, but all of us who want a country and an economy that work for all. We heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Chris White) about the potential of the fourth industrial revolution, but with that great potential to improve our productivity will come quite dramatic changes in the skills and work required from people who are currently employed in many segments of our economy.
In those sectors and industries, what will be the Government’s answer to the impact of achieving higher productivity? This is the other part of the point about what happened in the past that we discussed earlier. More people are employed, and we should not throw that away in pursuit of higher productivity because we should be able to accomplish both things. Similarly, in the future, we should not look only for increased productivity if it means that what for many people is part of their being—going to work, working hard and having purpose—will be dramatically changed by measures that are taken to invest in and take up the challenges of the fourth industrial revolution.
If the Government are silent about that in their productivity plan over the next few years, they will fail the British people. From what we hear from the Prime Minister, she will not do that, but we have to get the detail of what the plan will mean as we look beyond today’s estimates debate.
Let me begin by echoing what was said by the hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr Wright). This estimates day debate is slightly archaic, in that, with the honourable exception of the hon. Member for Bedford (Richard Fuller), we are not actually discussing the estimates. Instead, we are discussing a report produced in February last year by the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee—a very valuable report—on a Government paper published in 2015. The hon. Member for Hartlepool said that that paper was rapidly becoming obsolete. That casts a favourable light on this process, which, I would say, became obsolete some time ago.
Rather than our discussing how the Government spend all their money, the Committee—and I mean no disrespect by this—has, essentially, presented its homework to the Chamber. That process has been entirely valid. It has been extremely instructive for someone who is not a member of the Committee to learn what it has done, and I commend it for its work. It would be interesting to know what a report from a Select Committee that did not contain a Government majority would say, because this report pulls no punches. I commend Conservative Members who engaged constructively with the process to ensure that the Select Committee did its job of holding the Government to account.
Let me now deal with the matter that should, or perhaps should not, be at hand: the report on productivity. I do not wish to repeat what has been said by many other Members at any great length, but there is clearly an issue. The general growth trend was 2% per annum before the financial crisis, and it is barely above that now, which the Office for National Statistics has described as unprecedented in the post-war period. As we have heard, ours is the second worst figure in the G7. It has been said that such comparisons may not give us all the detail, and that is certainly true, but there are some stark comparisons to be made in this context.
One of the most striking parts of the report, which was quoted by the hon. Member for Edinburgh West (Michelle Thomson) but which is worth repeating, concerns post-study work visas. It states:
“We recommend that the Government does not allow migration pressures to influence student or post-study visa decisions. Specifically, it should relax the post-study visa restrictions. It is illogical to educate foreign students to one of the highest standards in the world only for them to leave before they have had an opportunity to contribute to the UK economy.”
That, in a nutshell, is the critique of the Government’s immigration policy, and I do not think that it could be put any better. During a period of stagnating productivity growth, we have seen economic growth. Perhaps the two should not go together, but the reason we have no productivity growth but do have GDP growth is largely due to immigration. Following the ending of free movement of people and the pulling up of the drawbridge to immigration, we shall have to get serious about productivity, because if we are not going to secure growth from immigration, I shall be concerned about how we are going to secure it.
My hon. Friend the Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Roger Mullin) talked about tier 1 visas. I think that, in raising those two issues, my hon. Friends have nailed some of the imponderable follies surrounding an immigration system that does not work for our economy, and I fear that the situation will only get worse.
Of course, immigration is only part of the debate about our economy; productivity is also an important part of that debate. So how do we go about boosting productivity? I think there is a general consensus—although there are varying degrees of enthusiasm about the individual elements—that we need to invest in our infrastructure: our roads, railways, bridges and airports, and, crucially, our digital infrastructure. We need to invest in skills and training, we need pay growth, we need inclusivity in the workforce, and we need more internationalisation. The hon. Member for Bedford suggested that the SNP should get on with doing some of those things rather than criticising what others did. I can tell him that we have done them all, and that, as a result, Scottish productivity rose from 94.5% of the United Kingdom level at the time of the financial crisis in 2007 to 99.9% in 2015. In 2015, growth in Scotland was 3.5%, compared with 0.9% for the UK as a whole. The action we have taken has had a demonstrable benefit. I urge the Minister and his colleagues to look at what we have done in Scotland.
The right hon. Member for Wokingham (John Redwood) mentioned the oil and gas sector. Clearly, there are issues in the sector. The Scottish figures do not include figures for the offshore sector, but they do include many of the figures for the onshore activity in the oil and gas sector. That sector has a success story to tell. In the face of plummeting commodity prices, it has been able to bring down its costs dramatically. It has increased efficiency dramatically and put its business on a firm footing. It is ready for growth. My hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen North (Kirsty Blackman) asked the Chancellor about the Budget at Treasury questions earlier. The sector is ready for growth and, with support from the Government, who hold the key tools for boosting that sector, it will be able to grow further.
My hon. Friend the Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Roger Mullin) mentioned avoiding working in a silo. The oil and gas sector has learned to look at other industries to see how it can boost its productivity. About a fortnight ago, I was at the opening of the Oil and Gas Technology Centre in Aberdeen, a collaboration through the city deal for Aberdeen between the Scottish and UK Governments, both universities and both local authorities in the region. The guest speaker was the chief executive of the Advanced Propulsion Centre in Coventry. The oil and gas industry is looking to learn how others have boosted their productivity in the face of difficult economic pressure.
As I say, the Scottish Government have invested in these things. One of the key things that has led to the boost in productivity in Scotland has been the introduction of the Scottish business pledge by the Scottish Government —some 330 businesses across all sectors have signed up to that. Its key component is the agreement to pay the living wage—that is the real living wage, as opposed to the national living wage. It has also agreed to sign up to two of the other options, which include no zero hours contracts, improved workforce engagement, investment in youth, having a balanced workforce, investment in innovation, internationalisation, connecting with the community and prompt payment of suppliers. Those moves are making a manifest difference.
May I draw attention to the living wage aspect? Earlier, the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire (Sir Greg Knight), who is no longer in his place, asked the Chairman of the Select Committee about workers and caravan parks and talked about the economy perhaps requiring low-skilled workers on low pay. I disagree with that premise. The tourism sector is vital to the UK, and is of specific importance to Scotland. Having well trained people who can welcome folk and explain things and who have built up experience is a benefit. When companies have higher wages—when they pay the minimum wage—they experience lower worker turnover. Those companies then have to spend less on training and on recruitment and they get a better outcome, so let us not diminish jobs that may seem to be unskilled. If we can invest in those, treat those people properly, with the respect they are due, and pay people a decent wage, they will have greater pride in their job and produce more.
I mentioned in my intervention on the Chairman of the Select Committee that there have been damaging changes in policy. I, too, welcome the production of the Government’s industrial strategy. I hope that they will learn the lessons of previous mistakes. The constant moving of the goalposts was particularly acute in the energy sector, where expertise had been built up over a number of years, but the productivity increases were pulled away because of Government changes to the investment climate—onshore wind and solar PV have faced a headwind. The decision on carbon capture and storage was taken with zero consultation. That is not good for the economy or for productivity growth.
We also need to focus on Brexit. If we are serious about boosting productivity, let us ask ourselves how the productivity of our exporters is going to be increased by having to fill out forms because we have come out of the customs union. They will need to go through complex processes to export the same goods; more work for the same product. That will not boost productivity. How will the productivity of our university sector increase when students, academics and funding that had previously come from the European Union cease to arrive as a result of a hard Brexit? Our food and drink sector relies on the European Union for funding—through the common agricultural policy, for example. It exports a huge amount to the single market, and 8,000 nationals work in it. How is the productivity of that sector going to be boosted by Brexit? It is not, and we have to face that.
The Scottish Government, and my hon. Friends and I, have been clear about how we wish to proceed from a Scottish point of view. We have sought compromise over Brexit. We have sought to ensure that the UK as a whole stays in the single market and the customs union because we believe that that is the best thing for our economy and our productivity, for the reasons I have just outlined. Before we get too far down that road, however, I urge the Minister to look at the Scottish Government’s policy paper, if he has not already done so, and to react to it and respectfully agree that we will pursue that aim. To boost productivity, we need to invest in all the areas that I have outlined, but above all, we need to avoid the hard Brexit that is facing us. I plead with the Minister and his Government to listen carefully and to protect Scotland’s place in Europe.
It is a real pleasure to speak in this debate and to follow so many excellent and well considered contributions. I must draw particular attention to the opening speech from my hon. Friend the Member for Hartlepool (Mr Wright), the Chair of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee, who made almost all the points I intend to make but much more eloquently than I could ever hope to do. This is one occasion on which Newcastle will follow in Hartlepool’s train.
As many Members have said, productivity is a key subject. It is one of the most important challenges facing our economy, as the hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington (Chris White) emphasised. High productivity is correlated with high wages and high skill levels. If we want a high-wage, high-skill economy—as we on the Labour Benches certainly do—improving our productivity must be a key goal. However, under this Government our productivity has fallen consistently. We are now 30% behind Germany, the US and France—the widest gap since 1992. That was decades ago, when there was another Tory Government with a small majority. Since 2010, UK productivity has grown on average by just 0.4% a year. The OECD, the CBI, the Office for Budget Responsibility and the Bank of England have all expressed concern that continued low productivity growth is holding back our economy.
How can we improve our productivity? It is quite simple, in a way. We need to get more out of the same inputs, and that is about either people or technology. The economist Mariana Mazzucato has said that productivity comes from allowing people
“to work more efficiently, with state of the art training, technologically advanced machinery, an innovative division of labour, and harmonious capital-labour relations.”
First, let me discuss people. As the hon. Member for Horsham (Jeremy Quin) said—I entirely agree with him on this point—people are the key asset of our economy and businesses. However, this Government consider labour to be a commodity, and commodities are not productive. Imagine a worker sitting at her desk feeling disempowered, unvalued, and disfranchised. Of course her productivity will be lower. But empower her and give her a sense of agency and her productivity will rise. Skills are an essential part of empowering workers and improving their productivity, as emphasised by the hon. Members for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Roger Mullin), for Derby North (Amanda Solloway), and for Aberdeen South (Callum McCaig).
However, the productivity plan that we are debating with the estimates committed nothing to skills other than a promise to fund Charlie Mayfield’s initiative to boost management skills to boost business—hardly an extensive investment. The BEIS Committee’s report criticised that lack of commitment and argued for a renewed focus on upskilling the workforce. Unfortunately, the Government do not seem to have taken that criticism on board. It has been 18 months since the productivity plan and six months since the BEIS Committee’s report, and last month’s industrial strategy Green Paper did not recognise the criticisms at all, simply promising £170 million for higher-level technical education when the Government have already cut the further education budget by 14% in real terms in the last financial year alone. That hardly remedies the inequality of esteem between further and higher education highlighted by the Committee, never mind going some way to deliver the high skills that we need to be competitive on the global scene.
In an era of technological change and when people are living and working longer, lifelong learning should be a key part of any Government strategy to upskill workers and improve national productivity. People no longer have one job for their entire career. We need to be able to upskill and respond to changing technological requirements. However, the productivity plan and the Green Paper—220 pages in total—contain only a smattering of references to adult learning and not one specific policy commitment.
The second significant factor in productivity is technology. There is both opportunity and threat in the technological transformation that we are undergoing. Analysis from the Centre for Economic Policy Research demonstrates that industrial robots and information technology can increase both wages and productivity. It also found that the increased use of robots raised countries’ average growth rates by about 0.4 percentage points between 1993 and 2007. It is clear that sustainable, long-term, smart growth requires significant investment in technology. The BEIS Committee report argued that
“if the Government is serious about productivity and competitiveness, it needs to commit to a total level of public and private R&D investment”
of 3% of GDP. Labour has committed to that target. Will the Government? In advance of the Budget, will the Minister say today that he is proud to commit to a 3% target?
As has been mentioned, output in Germany is 34% higher than in the UK. Germany’s R and D spend as a percentage of GDP has been at or near the 3% target for many years. In contrast, our spend has languished at barely half the 3% target. However, the productivity question is not just about the development of new technologies; we must ensure that businesses can use them and utilise the productivity benefits that they bring. That is crucial in sectors such as retail.
The hon. Lady has talked a lot about the targets for how much we invest in R and D, but does she appreciate that there are other points of view that say that it is about the way we account for our R and D investment? If we look at the type of investments that we make in the UK, we see that the comparison between us and other countries is much more favourable. It is not just about the quantum of our investments but about the returns on those investments.
I agree with the hon. Gentleman that it is not only about what we invest but about the returns and where those returns go. For example, it is about how the public sector ensures that it reaps those returns.
We can use statistics in many different ways, and I will not attempt a battle of statistics here, but I hope the hon. Gentleman is not arguing that the UK is leading the world. However we account for it, the UK is not leading the world in investment in technology, science and R and D, which is where our future lies. We need greater investment in that. [Interruption.] I am not sure what the Minister is saying from a sedentary position, but I hope to be enlightened at some point.
Again, the Government’s industrial strategy has absolutely nothing to say about ensuring that sectors such as retail can take up technology. The Government chose to cherry-pick certain favoured sectors for backroom deals and failed to address the root cause of our productivity crisis, leaving the majority of British workers out in the cold.
Skills and technology are key to improving productivity, but we also need a strategic vision, which is notably absent from the Government’s productivity plan. As the hon. Member for Cannock Chase (Amanda Milling) highlighted, we need a plan and a strategy. When the Government’s industrial strategy came out, we saw that it had plenty of pillars but no vision. Adding the 10 pillars of the industrial strategy to the two pillars of the productivity plan results in 12 pillars and no vision. The Government are building pillars on hot air.
As the hon. Lady has represented a north-east seat for seven years, surely she understands that part of the problem is over-reliance and overdependence on financial services, construction and Government expenditure, which are concentrated in the greater south-east. Her Government did next to nothing about that when in power.
The hon. Gentleman fails to recognise the work of the regional development agencies, which his Government abolished and which contributed significantly to changing the industrial landscape. He appears to be arguing against the financial sector, the construction sector and Government spending, and we do need to diversify, but the Government can aid that process. He fails to recognise the role that an intelligent, smart Government can play in supporting smart, sustainable economic growth. So long as Government Members fail to recognise that, we will not see smart growth in this country.
I am a fair-minded and generous person, so I will agree that it was more successful in the north-east than in other regions, but several academic studies have found that, in the period up to 2010, the inequalities both between and within regions were not ameliorated in any respect by the regional strategy of the Labour Government.
It is interesting that the hon. Gentleman likes to concentrate on the record of the last Labour Government, which was more than seven years ago, instead of looking at the record of this Government, of the institutions that they have or have not put in place and of their success or absolute lack of success either in addressing regional imbalances or in addressing the debt. They have succeeded in increasing national debt, while also not generating any smart, long-term growth. I would be reluctant to get up to praise that record.
Despite the Prime Minister’s rhetoric about a “new, active role” for the state in the economy, the average level of public investment in this Parliament is set to be 1.9% of GDP, which is lower than the level during the coalition’s austerity agenda and barely half of what it was under Labour. This Government are, in effect, reducing private sector investment and public sector investment at the same time, taking away the lifeblood that our economy needs. Austerity did not deliver smart growth, and austerity in all but name will not do so either. The Labour party has committed to investing £250 billion in capital expenditure over 10 years, as well as committing to a national investment bank and regional development banks. I ask the Minister to say how he will be able to change our productivity and deliver on smart growth without those things.
In conclusion, our country’s productivity problem will not solve itself. We need sustained, long-term investment in skills and technology. That will not be forthcoming unless the Government have a clear, strategic vision for the future. We need to mobilise both public and private actors, crowding in investment to boost skills and innovation, and tackle the root causes of our productivity crisis. Only by doing that can we create the high-wage, high-skill, high-productivity economy that this Government say they want, that the British people deserve and that only a Labour Government can deliver.
I thank the hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr Wright) for opening this debate and the hon. Members who have taken part in this afternoon’s excellent proceedings. I welcome the Committee’s decision to focus on the challenge of boosting productivity in the UK; it is one of the Government’s key economic priorities over this Parliament, as we of course recognise that this is the route to raising living standards for people in the UK. Since the financial crisis, we have focused on stabilising the economy, tackling the deficit and creating jobs. As hon. Members have said, the UK has seen strong growth since then: the economy has grown by more than 14% since 2010—that is the second fastest growth rate among major advanced economies, after the United States; employment has reached a record high, with 2.8 million more people in work now than in the first quarter of 2010; and unemployment is at its lowest level for 11 years.
However, if we raised our productivity by just one percentage point every year, within a decade we would add £240 billion to the size of our economy—that is £9,000 for every household in Britain. That is why the Government have taken action to improve productivity in the UK economy. As hon. Members have noted, we published “Fixing the foundations: Creating a more prosperous nation”, a plan for productivity growth in the UK over a decade. It outlines how we can encourage further investment in science, education, skills and infrastructure, and how we can promote a dynamic economy through reforming planning laws, boosting competition and creating a northern powerhouse.
Today, I will seek to address some of the Committee’s concerns and report back to the House on some of the progress we have made in implementing the plan’s commitments. Before doing so, I would like to tackle the questions the hon. Gentleman put about the status of “BIS 2020” and the impact of the machinery of government changes he mentioned on the delivery of the plan. The principles behind the “BIS 2020” work are still important: creating a simpler, cheaper and better Department by 2020. Recent events reaffirm the importance of our becoming increasingly flexible and able to respond rapidly to the demands of new priorities. Given the machinery of government changes, we will be considering in the coming months how the reform plans of BEIS—of its two predecessor Departments—should be best aligned.
The Minister is giving a similar answer to the one given by the Secretary of State before Christmas, but the new Department has now been in operation for seven months and the Minister still cannot say what the savings will be and what activities will be stopped. Does he really think that is good enough, seven months into the new Department’s life?
As I said, the alignment of the two Departments’ work programmes is complex, but the process is well under way. Further reports will be made available to the Select Committee in due course.
In its report, the Select Committee expressed concerns about the clarity of the productivity plan’s objectives and the extent to which it represented a new plan for productivity growth. The plan sets out clear objectives that directly target the high-level drivers of productivity performance. It also contains several innovative new policies, such as the commitments to set up a national roads fund and a network of prestigious institutes of technology.
The report also questioned the extent to which Ministers are engaged in the implementation of the plan’s policies. The ministerial team regularly discusses issues relating to the main policies in the productivity plan at several Cabinet Committees, including the Economy and Industrial Strategy Committee. Alongside the Cabinet Committees, the Government have set up a series of implementation taskforces, which are attended by relevant Ministers and senior officials. For example, the earn or learn taskforce is supporting the Government’s commitment to reach 3 million apprenticeships starts in England by 2020, which is one of the many ways the Government are addressing the skills challenges the country faces.
As recommended by the Select Committee, our response includes an update that details the progress made on and future implementation of each of the plan’s 172 commitments. It shows that more than a third of commitments have now been fully delivered, and that outstanding commitments remain on track. For example, we have published a new national infra- structure delivery plan, which details more than £100 billion of planned public investment in infrastructure to 2021; we finalised the funding policy for the apprenticeship levy ahead of its introduction in April 2017; and, through the Housing and Planning Act 2016, we legislated for key planning reforms, such as automatic permission in principle on brownfield sites.
Further mayoral devolution deals have been signed in Liverpool, Sheffield and the west midlands and we have increased the annual investment allowance to £200,000, which is its highest ever permanent level. We also announced at autumn statement a new national productivity investment fund, which will provide £23 billion of additional investment between 2017-18 and 2021-22. That will be targeted at four critical areas for improving productivity: housing, transport, digital communications, and R and D.
Some £7 billion of the £23 billion investment fund has been put back to 2021-22. If that money is so important to drive productivity and growth, why is it not being invested now?
The plan is ambitious and involves the expenditure of an unprecedented sum of £23 billion between 2017 and 2021-22. The profile of that expenditure is optimised so that it has the greatest impact on productivity outcomes.
On 23 January this year we published a Green Paper, “Building our Industrial Strategy”, which sets out our approach to developing the strategy. Its main goal is to improve living standards and economic growth by increasing productivity and driving growth throughout the whole economy. My hon. Friend the Member for Cannock Chase (Amanda Milling) asked what the relationship is between the two plans: they are part of the same family of work that sits beneath the long-term economic plan. The industrial strategy will form a key part of how the Government take forward the productivity agenda set out in the productivity plan.
Crucially, the Green Paper sets out three key challenges that we must face up to, now and in the years ahead. First, we must build on our strengths and extend excellence into the future. The UK has real strengths, but we cannot take them for granted. We need to invest in research and development, develop our infrastructure, and make ourselves ever more attractive to inward investment. That is why we announced an additional £4.7 billion by 2020-21 in R and D funding at the autumn statement. This extra £2 billion a year by the end of this Parliament is an increase of around 20% to total Government R and D spending, and more than any increase in any Parliament since 1979. The hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central (Chi Onwurah) offered empty promises, but we are delivering hard cash, and I know which I prefer.
The second challenge is to ensure that every place meets its potential by working to close the gap between our best performing companies, industries, places and people, and those that are less productive. We have sectors and businesses that are among the most productive in the world, but we also have too many that lie far behind the leaders. Driving up our productivity across the country means that we must enable those industries and regions that lag behind to achieve their potential. Members asked what it is that creates these divergences in regional productivity. This is a complex phenomenon, as many factors drive differences in growth and productivity, including weaknesses in infrastructure and connectivity, different levels of qualifications and skills, different levels of R and D investment, which tend to be correlated with lower levels of productivity, and many other factors.
It is important to note that there are other structural factors, including the quality of management in our companies, which is why the Government are providing significant resources to support the UK’s business-led Productivity Council, which is to be chaired by Sir Charlie Mayfield. This will provide strong and sustained leadership, help support business-to-business engagement and improve productivity across the business community, which is something that my hon. Friend the Member for Bedford (Richard Fuller) wanted us to do.
Thirdly, we need to make sure that the UK is the best place in the world in which to start and grow a business. The UK has a strong record on business start-ups, but too many fail to scale up into the big employers of the future. Through the industrial strategy, we will aim to identify and address the barriers that many businesses face to scaling up and growing. We have invested an additional £400 million in the British Business Bank to catalyse later-stage capital investments by the private sector, and we will work with it further to understand the obstacles that firms face in accessing capital outside London and the south-east. By responding to all the challenges presented by each of the strategy’s 10 pillars in a rigorous and strategic way, we will be able to achieve our objective, which is to improve living standards and economic growth by increasing productivity across the whole country.
If we want to create a country that really works for everyone, then we need to address this productivity issue. We want to see the same high level of success witnessed in Britain’s best-performing companies, industries, people and places in those areas that are still lagging behind. We plan a bold, new and collaborative approach to industrial strategy in the UK. This is a new approach with the Government stepping up, not stepping back. I am talking about designing an industrial strategy in collaboration with people and organisations across the country, and not imposing it from Whitehall. We recognise our productivity challenges, and we also recognise where we can make improvements and build on our strengths to make the UK a more productive and prosperous economy.
I reiterate what I said earlier about welcoming this debate on the Government’s productivity plan, and I thank all hon. Members who have contributed to it. It seems curiously appropriate that, as we were debating this, news came through that Sir Philip Green is providing up to £363 million to sort out the pensions debacle that he himself created. Many Members of the Committee worked very hard to achieve that result—the hon. Members for Horsham (Jeremy Quin), for Bedford (Richard Fuller), for Cannock Chase (Amanda Milling), for Derby North (Amanda Solloway) and for Edinburgh West (Michelle Thomson). They were forensic and professional, and they put aside party politics to all work as one in order to continue to put pressure on Sir Philip Green. They should be very proud of themselves today.
I find it appropriate that a great, great parliamentarian and a fantastic co-Chair, my right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Frank Field), is also in the Chamber. He especially provided leadership of the Joint Committee and put pressure on Sir Philip to do the right thing—to right the wrongs that he had put in place. I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend, who is also a great friend of mine.
We can see a theme in all this, which is that the economy does not work for everyone. There was a disconnect: at a time when BHS workers were facing redundancies or cuts to their pension entitlements, Sir Philip Green was getting ownership of a third yacht. There is something profoundly wrong, and structural weaknesses need to be addressed. I hope that that was the purpose behind the productivity plan and the Government’s new industrial strategy. However, this cannot last just for 12 or 18 months. It must be long standing to ensure that we get permanent change and address the problems of inadequate investment in infrastructure, skills deficiencies and appalling regional imbalances in productivity and high growth. That is the challenge. I hope we can have a long-term view to ensure that the industrial strategy becomes embedded. The productivity plan seems to be last year’s thing, frankly. I hope that the industrial strategy can persist and last for decades to come so that we can really have an economy that works for everyone.
Question deferred (Standing Order No. 54).
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. The Department for Education briefed the media earlier today that it was planning to bring forward a change to the Children and Social Work Bill to introduce statutory sex and relationships education for pupils from key stage 1 onwards. It was also my understanding that there would be a written ministerial statement outlining the update to that Bill. However, I now understand—once again, from briefings to the press, rather than any written or oral statement to this House—that there will not be an announcement today. The House is being held in contempt. This matter relates to a Bill that will return to the Floor of the House next Tuesday and that has wide support across all parties. Hon. Members need clarity from the Government. Madam Deputy Speaker, will you tell me or the House what notice, if any, you have received of whether the written statement will go ahead? If you have not, when will it be put before the House?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for advance notice of his point of order but, as he knows, it really is not a matter for the Chair. The Clerk has shown me that notice of the written statement was scheduled on today’s Order Paper. The hon. Gentleman has put his point on the record. The Government and the Whips have heard his point of order, so perhaps he will see some action
[Relevant Documents: Second Report of the former Business, Innovation and Skills Committee, Session 2015-16, The Government’s Productivity Plan, HC 466, and the Government response, HC 931.]
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That, for the year ending with 31 March 2017, for expenditure by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy:
(1) further resources, not exceeding £10,699,285,000, be authorised for use for current purposes as set out in HC 946,
(2) the resources authorised for use for capital purposes be reduced by £10,543,207,000 as so set out, and
(3) the sum authorised for issue out of the Consolidated Fund by reduced by £13,871,178,000.—(Heather Wheeler.)