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Industrial Strategy

Volume 645: debated on Tuesday 17 July 2018

7. What steps his Department has taken to tackle the challenges set out in the industrial strategy. (906492)

13. What steps his Department has taken to tackle the challenges set out in the industrial strategy. (906499)

Blimey, Mr Speaker, I am getting through them today.

As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State laid out at the northern powerhouse business summit, the industrial strategy is encouraging innovation across the UK, developing those high-quality jobs and wages we all campaign for. Sector deals are about building long-term partnerships and businesses, and the grand challenges in areas such as clean growth will equip the UK to seize opportunities and be a world leader in the industries of the future.

One of the biggest challenges we face is the STEM skills gap, something that I repeatedly mention in this place, given that Wiltshire is a hub of engineering design and technology. What work is my right hon. Friend doing with the Department for Education to ensure that we are developing the skills needed by businesses?

I thank my hon. Friend and neighbour for the work that she has successfully done in her constituency promoting the importance of STEM skills. We are working with the Department for Education to grow STEM skills in the UK through initiatives such as T-levels, by investing more than £400 million, and I am particularly keen that that work focuses on harnessing the huge potential of women, a group who are very under-represented in the sector. That is why initiatives such as POWERful Women are so important.

The Government’s commitment to creating a globally competitive technical education system must be applauded, and I hope that they will draw on best practice from establishments and institutions in my constituency, such as York College and Askham Bryan College. Can the Minister update me on discussions she is having directly with businesses about the creation of new institutes of technology, and will she consider rolling them out as quickly as possible?

My hon. Friend is right: these have to be a collaboration between the Government, business and local decision makers. We will announce in the autumn which institutions will make up the country-wide network, supported by £170 million of funding for the institutes of technology. As we set out in May, the first pupils will sit the first of the new T-levels in September 2020.

One of the real challenges for the Government’s industrial strategy is how to ensure that investment is rolled out across all the regions and nations of the UK. How, practically, will the industrial strategy ensure that that happens—in particular, in regions that have failed to get the investment they deserve such as the east midlands?

That is an excellent question, and the proof of all this will be taking our grand aspirations for the UK and making them work locally. I am pleased to tell the hon. Gentleman that we have fantastic local areas, often working cross-party—I am thinking particularly of Teesside and the west midlands—[Interruption.] The east midlands; thank you. We have really engaged local leaders and decision makers in pulling that investment through and developing their own local industrial strategies.

Northern Ireland has an excellent construction industry. Unfortunately, it has been difficult over the past number of years because of the lack of the Northern Ireland Assembly and decision making. Can the Minister outline what discussions have taken place between her Department and Northern Ireland to ensure that Northern Ireland benefits from the new construction sector deal?

We talk regularly with representatives from Northern Ireland, which is—as the hon. Lady will know—a vital part of the UK. The sector deal that we have done with the construction sector—more than half a billion pounds set out between the Government and industry to drive up the productivity of that sector—of course applies to Northern Ireland. We look forward to seeing productivity increase across the UK.

The space sector will play an important role in achieving the aims of the industrial strategy. Will my right hon. Friend the Minister join me in welcoming the agreement signed by Virgin Orbit with Spaceport Cornwall at Farnborough air show yesterday, and will she ensure that the Government continue to work with Spaceport Cornwall to make sure that we have horizontal satellite launch in this country as soon as possible?

Unlike the Minister for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation, I was unable to enjoy the announcement at Farnborough yesterday, but I agree with my hon. Friend that it is a fantastic announcement. He and Cornwall County Council should celebrate it, and I look forward to visiting Cornwall on Friday, where this topic and many other industries will be addressed.

One of the challenges but also opportunities for the Government’s industrial strategy is working with the devolved Administrations. Can the Minister set out what discussions she has had with the Welsh Government to ensure that the long-term industrial strategy supports industries such as Ford in Bridgend, which employs many hundreds of workers in my constituency?

Again, that is an excellent point, demonstrating that we are so much stronger when we work together. We all, including my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, speak to representatives of the devolved Administration on issues such as the auto sector deal and the nuclear sector deal, which was very much a joint effort.