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Long-term Capital for Business

Volume 652: debated on Tuesday 15 January 2019

I beg to move,

That this House has considered provision of long-term capital for business.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Walker, and it is truly a privilege once again to lead a debate in Westminster Hall. Long-term capital for business is critical to the future of our economic wellbeing. Business knows business best, and in many ways the industry panel patient capital review was the genesis of the debate. That review, published in October 2017, was written by experienced and successful business leaders, and I commend it to hon. Members.

I recognise that the debate is somewhat overshadowed by what is happening in the main Chamber and what will transpire later this evening. That said, I cannot think of a better time to hold a debate on this subject. These are critical days for the future of our country, and we will be making critical decisions. It is incumbent on us to put the long-term interests of our country at the heart of the decisions we make. Our country, its people and those who come after us will not thank us if we make decisions based solely on narrow, short-term or selfish interests.

What is true for our country in our current predicament is also true when it pertains to the fortunes of business. Although there are undoubtedly risks in making strategic decisions for the long term, there are greater perils in considering the tactical only here and now, in looking for immediate returns and being unprepared to consider the bigger picture in a way that a long-term view necessitates. I am afraid that one life lesson that we must sadly keep learning is connected to what is often described as the law of the harvest: we can reap only what we are prepared to sow in the first place. The harvest comes in due season, but we must be prepared to be patient. I want us to reflect on the pitfalls of short-termism, and the missed opportunities and failures of a lack of a long-term vision.

As every colleague who ever worked with me in my previous business career would attest to, I am no accountant. However, it is insightful that, in accountancy terminology, a long-term investment is defined as an investment that is to be held for more than a single year, which hardly seems long term to me.

We have quite rightly heard a great deal about the UK productivity gap. Productivity is defined by the Office for National Statistics as the output per worker, output per job and output per hour, and it is ordinarily calculated by dividing the annualised GDP per capita by the average annual hours worked per employee. Countries with a track record of rising productivity tend to benefit from higher rates of growth and low inflation. It is the golden fleece of national economics, if I may describe it as such.

Productivity in the UK over the past few years has not been our best feature, and we rank poorly compared with other developed economies. We are currently at No. 17 in the world rankings, with our average hourly productivity across the economy being £17.37, compared with the Germans, who produce £23.30 per hour, the Americans, who produce £25.74 per hour, and the Danes, who produce £28.87 per hour.

Imagine for a moment that we were as productive as the most productive of the developed economies. It would transform our fortunes. We could pay ourselves more, and as a result of paying more in taxation we could invest many billions more in our NHS and other public services. The increased profitability in the private sector would also yield increased dividends, which in turn would be good news for our pension funds.

Has my hon. Friend looked at how many countries have a means of producing long-term capital, and at what sort of competitive advantage our having one would give us as a result?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that timely intervention. That is the very point I will come on to. Let us examine the critical reason for our lack of national productivity, again comparing investment in our economy with that of the world’s leading economies. A good indicator is the level of gross fixed capital formation as percentage of GDP, which is the value of the acquisitions of new or existing fixed assets in the economy less the disposal of fixed assets. It is just a single measure.

In 2017—the most up-to-date World Bank figures are for 2017—we invested 16.8p for every £1 of GDP. The Chinese invested 41.8p for every £1 of their wealth. We also lag significantly behind developed western economies. For every £1 of GDP, Italy invests 17.5p, Poland 18p, Germany 20.3p, Denmark 20.4p, Spain 20.5p, France 22.5p, Finland 22.6p, Canada 23p, and Belgium 23.3p. That is but one measurement of investment, but it says something about future business activity and also about our confidence in the future. It is my firm belief that much of our productivity gap in this country is due to that indicative investment gap. We are simply not investing enough, and I contend that that is because there is an insufficiency of quality patient capital in our economy.

It is a much-worn anecdote that, while we come up with great ideas, breakthrough technologies and transformative product concepts, all of that good stuff ends up being commercialised somewhere else by someone else. As a young Scot, my pride in being a Scot was spurred by the great stories of our inventors, scientists and engineers. I believe it is a valid contention—one I am prepared to stand by—that the modern world was largely designed by the Scots. The litany of great Scottish contributors include James Watt, Alexander Graham Bell, John Logie Baird, James Chalmers and John Dunlop. I am delighted to give way at this point to the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon).

A timely intervention, as ever, from the hon. Gentleman. These British Isles are a crucible for invention. The genius of the people of these islands, their creative free thinking and their imagining of the unimaginable has created whole new branches of sciences and technology and whole new categories of product. That native, creative, entrepreneurial spirit is alive and kicking.

Entrepreneurs are among us in abundance. The number of start-ups in this country is at an all-time high. Entrepreneurs are launching themselves and their ideas on to the high seas of enterprise in greater numbers than at any time in our past. Our universities and other research institutes are brimming with exceptional people having very bright ideas. Some of those ideas, if carefully nurtured through the commercialisation process, will not only continue to change the modern world for the better but will be the source of the wealth of this nation for generations to come. However, they must be nurtured, and that nurturing relies, in substantial part, on the availability of long-term patient capital.

All too often at present these small to medium-sized businesses fall prey to predators, who invest in them for the short term and then sell on without having made the necessary long-term commitment to bring the businesses to their full potential. I am not arguing against the importance of short-term investment or venture capitalism, but I argue that it is wrong to surrender our whole economy to that model of capital. Some 650,000 new companies were formed in Britain last year, but the number that scale up is relatively small. Some of those are lifestyle businesses that suit the people running them, but many business owners are driven by a sense of purpose—to build a growing, successful business—and they very often come up against the obstacle of the limited availability of patient capital.

My hon. Friend is being very generous with his time. He may be about to come on to the digital industry. It is a major industry and such a fundamental part of our economy, and it needs investment, as I know from my own costs when I ran a company involved in that area.

Anyone would think that my hon. Friend and I were working in some form of symbiosis, because the very next thing I wanted to say was that the need for investment is never more pertinent than in the technology sector, in which large American corporations invest speculatively and then buy companies when they reach a sufficient level of development. One reason that so many British businesses go that way is that they reach a stage where their access to affordable long-term capital dries up. This is not just about start-ups but about how a business accesses capital to be able to invest in new assets or capabilities.

My hon. Friend makes a valid point about access to capital for companies going into their mid-stage development. He makes the point about size, but is it not also about geography? Many companies that are further away from the capital bases in London and Edinburgh, especially across Scotland and in northern England, do not get that same access to capital. It is incumbent on us to make sure that our companies can be connected with capital, so that they can grow in the way we should all want them to.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend and constituency neighbour for that very valuable intervention. I will return to that idea shortly.

As I said, this is not just about start-ups; it is about how businesses access capital to be able to invest in new assets or capabilities. There is an abundance of evidence to suggest that our capital investment system is addicted to short-termism and is risk-averse. Risk is built into the capitalist system. Investment, by definition, includes a calculation of exposure to risk. The more risk-averse we become, the less inclined we are to invest in new ideas or ventures, because they might fail; the returns might not materialise. It is implicit in—I would argue essential to—the free enterprise economic system that there is acceptance of the inherent risk of failure. However, anecdotally, we have become less willing to accept that risk.

The banks obviously were badly burnt because of their recklessness in respect of risk. They then set about recapitalising their businesses, at the expense of small and medium-sized businesses. That led to some of the gross abuses and alleged criminality that is still the subject of ongoing inquiry. That is an outstanding injustice; it has still to be remedied. I do not want to spend too long on the past misdemeanours of the banks—we have had many debates on that subject in Westminster Hall and the main Chamber, and I am sure that we will have plenty more—but restoring confidence to the small and medium-sized businesses of this country necessitates that something be done about the scandals of the past decade. Banks will not take a long-term view, and if we entrust our productivity to them we will have no long-term economic future.

That said, I certainly do not want to be guilty of using this debate as a platform to spread doom and gloom—that is not in my nature—because there are very many good examples of private sector long-term investment. CityFibre is a good example. It is investing £10 million in Stirling. That will make fibre-to-the-premises ultrafast broadband available to every household and business in the city. Stirling will soon become one of the top digital cities in the United Kingdom—something that I am proud of. When we look at the bigger picture, we see that CityFibre is investing £2.5 billion across the UK. The investment will take many years to recoup, but the investors have faith in the product and are willing to be patient while the company makes the money back. Their planning horizon is measured in decades. Now, that is something akin to my definition of long-term investment.

Around the world, many countries, although they do not have this particular set of problems and although they have not cracked things entirely, have a different system of capital deployment. I would like to pause on the German example—I have used this before in Westminster Hall. I have already explained the successful indicators of productivity and capital investment in the German economy. KfW is the German national development bank. It came about as a result of the Marshall plan; it was set up for the purposes of post-war reconstruction. It supports infrastructure investment, lending some €47 billion, it acts as a lender to local authorities and, most importantly, it supports small and medium-sized enterprises. In 2017 it lent some €8.2 billion to small and medium-sized enterprises for start-ups and scale-ups. It lends money, provides equity funding and provides mezzanine financing to cover all aspects of capital investment. Some 90% of the bank’s funding is from the private sector, in the form of debt that is backed by bonds. It is owned in partnership between the federal Government and the individual states. It does not appear on the national balance sheet of the Federal Republic of Germany.

As the United Kingdom leaves the European Union, we will no longer have access to the European Investment Bank. That bank invested more than £2.5 billion in the UK in 2018. That was our money that was invested—it was gleaned from borrowing on the back of the British taxpayer—but we will need to find a way to replace that level of financing, because there will be a hole in the capital provision landscape. We need to look at the investment bank model in detail. It would fulfil the need for a patient capital investment vehicle, as outlined in the industry panel review. The case for a major intervention in this way is, in my opinion, justified. The lagging productivity in our economy is a major risk to our economic prosperity, and we need action now. This cannot wait any longer. It especially cannot wait until after we have resolved the issue of Brexit. Our thinking in this area is a vital part of our preparations for our economic wellbeing after we have left the European Union.

We have the British Business Bank, which has some of the functionality of a national investment bank, so there is tacit acceptance by Government of the problem that I have been attempting to describe. The big issue with the British Business Bank, as I understand it, is that it does not seem to have equal coverage across all parts of the United Kingdom.

As my hon. Friend is talking about the British Business Bank, will he join me in welcoming the expansion of the bank announced in the Budget, which places people on the ground in Scotland? He and I have been asking for that since we came to this place.

Yes. I am grateful for that very important point of information. It is important that the British Business Bank has representation in all parts of the United Kingdom, but currently it is still limited in its mission because of its limited scope of operation and it does not really behave like a bank, even though that word is in the title. Its model of supplying finance via existing investment funds means that its base of operations is quite limited and seems to favour, if you will forgive me, Mr Walker, the south-east. I am happy to be corrected, but the British Business Bank does not seem to have the kind of extensive operation on the ground that it needs in Scotland, even with the announcement in the Budget.

I would like to see the British Business Bank operating across the breadth of the United Kingdom, interacting with the economy on the basis of a clearly defined mission, including small and medium-sized businesses, operating at arm’s length from the UK Government, and raising its own capital rather than simply being a channel through which public funds are disbursed.

I am not being critical of the British Business Bank as it stands, because I am a fan, but I am advocating that it evolve into something more. That something more is what the industry panel patient capital review advocated—namely, an investment vehicle to support the scaling up of British businesses and capital-intensive start-ups. By investing in equity directly through such a vehicle, we can harness the wealth of our nation to deliver on the promise of the industrial strategy and to make our economy fit for the future.

The UK economy is dominated by the service sector, and there is nothing amiss about services, but we need to rebalance our economy and we need the availability of long-term capital in order to become the best country in the world in which to build a business. In the post-war era, too few British businesses have grown to become multibillion-pound global corporations.

There is more that we can do. We should look at other ways of releasing under-productive cash for equity funding. We need to take a healthier approach to our risk appetite as a country. Changing the culture is essential. We need to harness our savings and pensions. With some innovative mechanisms, we can unlock that money and put it to use in our economy. Using the tax system and the savings guarantee system in innovative ways, we could revolutionise the way companies get finance and the ultimate source of that finance. Helping people to acquire equity stakes through shareholder co-operatives, saving schemes and direct micro investment could all work towards a new culture of investment.

To that end, we need the Treasury to be as innovative as the entrepreneurs who fuel our economy. We need to see ideas being tried and tested and the apparatus of Government swinging behind the idea of long-term investment and rewarding those who make such investments. A starting point would be to increase the thresholds for the tax on dividends and seek to band it to allow smaller-scale investors to pay no tax whatsoever on dividends, especially if they can be incentivised to maintain their investment over a longer period.

The industry panel review on patient capital made a number of recommendations that need to be addressed. It identified the need to provide patient capital to help entrepreneurs to be successful; I have already mentioned its idea for a patient capital investment vehicle. It also proposes a licensed scheme to allow patient capital investment companies to be founded that would be venture capital funds licensed to raise money from the markets, guaranteed by Government. Although I agree with that recommendation, it needs to be a truly national venture, with specific guidance about the development of capital funds outside London and the south-east.

The review also proposes a change in the way taxation hits investors when they seek to invest in developing a company past its start-up phase. Ensuring that tax incentives for equity and venture capital funding are there when companies are seeking capital to expand, rather than simply during the start-up phase, will allow investment to flow more freely into medium-size companies.

I have a few straightforward asks of the Government. First, I would like to see a formal response to the industry panel review, alongside an action plan for the implementation of its recommendations. If I have missed it, I am happy to be corrected. Secondly, we need a full analysis of the possibility of a national investment bank or development bank, as I outlined earlier. Thirdly, we need a statement about the replacement vehicle for the investments made by the European Investment Bank, which we will no longer have access to.

Finally, I would like some reassurance from the Minister that the Treasury is ready to innovate to improve the availability and quality of long-term capital. We need to encourage a positive investment culture and we need a creative response from the Treasury to unlock and harness the wealth of this nation in the delivery of a modern industrial economy that is fit for the future.

My hope, in bringing this debate to Westminster Hall, was to focus the House on the substance of how we can improve the environment for entrepreneurial success and wealth creation. It is perfectly understandable that we have become distracted by the politics of Brexit. One day soon, I hope and pray, we will turn the page on Brexit, and this House will fully turn its attention to the vitally important agenda of ensuring the long-term productivity of our economy. It is timely, because it is about our future.

Thank you, Mr Walker, for calling me. I congratulate the hon. Member for Stirling (Stephen Kerr) on securing the debate. In the short time in which he has been a Member of Parliament, he has made a name for himself on the issues that he brings to this Chamber. Well done to him. It is also good to see him back to health after the illness he had just before Christmas.

This issue is very important to me. The banking and financial conduct industry is increasingly interesting to me. Many of the debates today reflect that. What began with constituents highlighting cases that concern the individual have, after many hours, left me increasingly concerned about the entire sector. I believe it is entirely right and proper that we bring this to the Minister’s attention, so that he can act. I look forward to the Minister’s response at the end of the debate.

I read the “Patient Capital Review: Industry Response”. I completely agree that there is an urgent need for a mechanism to realise three aims: first, unlocking institutional and retail investors’ capital; secondly, increasing the number of venture capital funds that can deploy patient capital at scale; and, thirdly, increasing returns to scale up investments.

I wholeheartedly agree that the United Kingdom is, in many respects, a great place to start and grow a business. In recent years, successful Government policy interventions such as the enterprise investment scheme and the venture capital trusts have helped to develop a thriving start-up community. Northern Ireland has become the world capital for cyber-security, due to investment in skill provision and adjustments for businesses to invest in the Province. We welcome that, and we are pleased and proud to say that.

Only in December, US cyber-security firm Imperva announced that it would create 220 jobs within its new Belfast base—job improvements and opportunities are coming all the time—which is expected to bring the total number of cyber-security jobs to over 1,500 for the first time. That is a 15-fold increase in the past 10 years, so it is really good news, which I am pleased to report to the House.

That investment is due to the concerted effort to find space in the market and to provide all that is needed. We have businesses that seek to make the most of that, but are prevented from doing so by the lack of affordable capital investment. I believe Government must invest in the long game and make provision. We all know the phrase, “speculate to accumulate”—how real and true that is.

Mr Walker, I am no man’s fool, as you and other hon. Members know. I well understand that funding capital should ideally come through the private sector, but to build in a post-Brexit age, it is imperative that we put our money where our mouths are and invest in ourselves, in order to establish and encourage international confidence in the United Kingdom outside Europe.

I support the panel’s suggestions for addressing those issues, such as the creation of the patient capital investment vehicle, to enable the aggregation and deployment of both retail and institutional capital for investment in UK scale-up businesses and capital-intensive research and development-based businesses. We have to invest, so that those sectors do better. The vehicle would invest £1 billion annually, primarily in UK venture capital funds and other investors in high-growth businesses, and catalyse an additional £2 billion of private investment by providing up to only 30% of the equity capital. Perhaps that is a bit technical. None the less, it explains how the system works.

The vehicle would be a new entity, independent of the UK Government, but with a Government-defined mandate, including some Government investment to signal strategic intent to build this. I ask the Minister, what are the Government’s intentions on that? If they can help—I think if they can, they will—it will be a step in the right direction. We will all benefit across the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. In order to attract institutional capital, investments in the PCIV might receive favourable capital treatment, similar to the Prudential Regulation Authority’s treatment of bank investments in the Business Growth Fund—the BGF. The phrase “go big or go home” seems to be in operation here, but the gains are as necessary as oxygen. The message is clear: this nation believes in its worth and ability, and this nation backs itself as a global leader.

I use the phrase again: we must speculate to accumulate. Businesses are ready and waiting. We have proved in Belfast and Northern Ireland that if we plan ahead and fill the skills pool, investment, jobs and a boost to the economy will most certainly follow. I believe in this wonderful United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. We are better together. That is a fact. I ask the Minister, do the Government believe that, too? If they do, show it and sow it, so we can all reap the harvest.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Walker. I will try to be even briefer than that, if possible. I want to make some quick points on, first, the regional nature and importance of capital spreading out around the United Kingdom, and, secondly, innovation. Finally, I will ask the Minister always to think about the British interest and not to let devolution become a barrier to investment across the United Kingdom.

My hon. Friend the Member for Stirling (Stephen Kerr) made some fantastic points about the importance of long-term patient capital across the United Kingdom. We always talk about the regions of England and Scotland as a whole, but it is the regions of Scotland, and beyond that, the counties and towns in Scotland, that we should consider.

My constituency is particularly rural, and my county of Clackmannanshire is post-industrial. We have been starved of investment for a very long time. It is important that both public and private investment is connected, and funnelled here as easily and simply as it is to many of the incubators in London, and around the universities of Edinburgh, Oxford and Cambridge. There are some great models out there—we just need to expand them to other parts of our countries.

Innovation is really important. We have a fantastic opportunity ahead of us to capitalise on the financial centres we have in Edinburgh, Belfast and London, and to look at innovative solutions, not only in company models or ways and types of financing, but in the infrastructure that can be used across the country. I have written about reintroducing regional stock exchanges as a way to try to raise more local capital. That was used a lot in the 19th century to help pay for some of the railways that now connect our country and it could be used again to help fund infrastructure, from broadband to additional road infrastructure and company infrastructure. Especially when trying to encourage more rural investment, it could help some of the communities raise funds locally as well.

It is important that the Government play a full part in creating a real ecosystem. They are not there to make every decision. It is not for our constituents and companies to live on the Government’s shilling. The Government should put their money into infrastructure, to ensure that they are developing the framework that enables private enterprise to flourish, and ensuring that any public investment is there to stimulate research and innovation, and to back the entrepreneurs who do so much for our country and individual communities. As I say, the Government can be more innovative. Brexit need not apply. They can look at things such as regional stock exchanges, rural enterprise zones and expanding the powers of the British Business Bank, as my hon. Friend said, to make it a true investment bank.

To reiterate my point and the frustration that I have felt since I have been in this place, sometimes—I know it does not come from my hon. Friend the Minister—it appears that the Treasury is not so much a British Treasury but an English Treasury, which becomes incredibly frustrating for people trying to fight for projects in Scottish constituencies. That holds for hon. Members in other parts of England and in Wales too, although Northern Irish Members seem to make quite a good job of it. I encourage the Minister to remember that we are still one country and that we need British investment decisions from British Ministers.

Even where areas are devolved, there is no law—we have checked in the Library—to stop Westminster investing in devolved areas. That artificial barrier has been set up through a cultural shift in the civil service, and it has not been helped by the current Administration in Edinburgh, but it does not need to be there.

In future, we as British parliamentarians should not see devolution as a barrier, but should work across every level of Government to make sure that investment comes from the centre and reaches our frontline communities, so when we increase the block grant to Scotland, as the Minister has, that money will go to our local council services, which it does not at the moment. That will also make sure that when we as individual MPs lobby for projects in our constituencies, the money will come to our constituencies directly from Westminster.

Infrastructure needs more, and our governmental frameworks need more. The Government have it within their power to create an ecosystem that takes all the innovation and energy of the United Kingdom and really increases the prosperity of all our constituents. I hope the Minister will outline some of his vision for that today.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Walker. I congratulate the hon. Member for Stirling (Stephen Kerr) on securing this important debate. I was not aware that he was unwell over Christmas, but I am delighted to see him in the pink of health.

It is a rare treat to be in a debate with two Tories and a Democratic Unionist party Member where I have to pick my differences in their speeches; they made many points that I agree with. In particular, the hon. Member for Stirling discussed productivity. It has long been an issue that I have talked about. It has been holding back business and people for far too long, and I agree with his sentiment. As a result of paying more in taxation, we can invest more in our services—that is the consequence of getting that kind of result in productivity.

I also agree about the lack of focus across the nations of the UK. It does feel like an English Treasury; we make that point regularly. It is also a fact that the south-east gains far more traction than any other part of the UK, including the regions of England, Northern Ireland and Wales. There was a lot to agree with in that regard as well.

It is particularly poignant to have this debate today, as the biggest threat to business access to finance comes from Brexit. Government Members, particularly those in favour of Brexit, would like that to be ignored in this debate, but I do not think it can be. Brexit is already reducing the number of customers, the size of workforces, and the level of confidence. Instead of building our economy, investors are voting with their wallets by pulling nearly £20.6 billion from UK equity funds since the vote in 2016, according to EPFR.

The hon. Gentleman makes a point about Brexit being a threat. Does he agree with a developer in Alloa in my constituency that the biggest threat to raising finances is not Brexit but the threat of a second independence referendum?

It will come as no surprise to the hon. Gentleman that I do not agree with that. He has gone from making a sterling point about the English Treasury to saying that independence is somehow a threat. I do not think so; I think it is a marvellous opportunity. As he has raised the issue, I will say that it has been brought into sharp focus in this place over recent months.

As Marian Bell of Alpha Economics pointed out, businesses that were told to prepare for a no-deal Brexit have relocated their operations and those decisions may not be reversed, even in the event of the best possible economic outcome—even if that is remaining in the EU. As Brexit inches closer, the UK services sector has recorded the slowest sales growth in two years, according to the British Chambers of Commerce, whose survey of 6,000 British firms shows that labour shortages and price pressures persist.

Scotland is a world leader in patient long-term capital, but Brexit risks lenders following the example of a well-known hon. Member, the hon. Member for North East Somerset (Mr Rees-Mogg), in moving business to Dublin or the continent. We are being Mogged over Brexit.

In the face of austerity, we have to make different decisions to support business. The Scottish Government are introducing the Scottish national investment bank, which will provide patient long-term capital to support Scotland’s firms. In contrast, as we have heard, the UK Green Investment Bank, which was privatised by the Government, is now bereft of its UK focus.

The aim is for the Scottish national investment bank to invest in businesses and communities by 2020, subject to regulatory approval. It is backed by our commitment of at least £2 billion of investment in the first 10 years, which paves the way for a step change in innovative and inclusive growth.

We also welcome the plan for a Scottish stock exchange in the second quarter of 2019, with a focus firmly on social and environmental companies that are worth between £50 million and £100 million. The plan has now secured a partnership agreement with the major European stock market operator Euronext, meaning that the first Scottish stock exchange will operate since the closure of the trading floor in Glasgow in 1973.

That is all being done in the shadow of Brexit, which was a vehicle aroused solely to calm Tory infighting. As chaos reigns on the Conservative Benches, there is as much chance of success for business as for the economy of our people, who will ultimately pay the price in the long term.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship yet again, Mr Walker. I congratulate the hon. Member for Stirling (Stephen Kerr) on securing this important, and sometimes quite consensual, debate. The hon. Gentleman spoke fully and passionately, and with a great deal of knowledge and expertise, about how we can best provide businesses across the UK with ongoing patient long-term funding. When I learned accountancy, however, long-term funding was generally for between seven and 10 years, and even longer, rather than just over a year—that is a blast from the past; it is many years since I did accountancy.

I was interested to hear the hon. Gentleman talk about productivity and refer to Denmark, which is a small, independent nation leading the charge on productivity. Long may Scotland follow. He also talked briefly about the reasons for national productivity being linked to levels of investment and how, especially in Scotland, companies have been innovative but they start to slow down and fail because they cannot get the correct long-term investment. That is a real ongoing issue.

My hon. Friend the Member for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey (Drew Hendry) talked about the Scottish national investment bank, which we hope to see become fully functional in the early 2020s. That will be a huge boost to small industries in Scotland.

The hon. Member for Stirling also talked about the lack of money that will now come from Europe, and he looked quite favourably on small German companies. For many years, this country has looked enviously at Germany and we need to take on board what it does to help businesses. He also called for tax incentives and talked about needing a full analysis of a national development bank to look at what it could do post Brexit.

The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) gave us his usual full and frank views on where things are going in Northern Ireland. He talked about the cyber-security industry and how it is helping, and how the United Kingdom, of which he is a great proponent, should invest in itself post Brexit. He wants the Government to help with that. In fact, I think the Minister has a lot of explaining to do as to how he will move things forward.

The hon. Member for Ochil and South Perthshire (Luke Graham) said that devolution should not be a barrier to development, and I totally agree with that. On many occasions, colleagues of mine have stood in the main Chamber here and asked about city deals, whereas the Scottish Government have invested increasing amounts in various city deals without getting the same amount of money from the Treasury.

I have been in negotiations about two city deals that impact on my constituency. Does the hon. Lady recognise that the obstacles do not just come from central Government for the devolved Administrations, but from the devolved Administrations for the central Government as well? So if there is to be a little bit of give, does she appreciate that it has to come from both sides of the argument?

I agree that in any negotiations there has to be give on both sides but the Scottish Government are giving more in a practical sense, and that is really what the people involved in the city deals on Tayside, in Stirling and in other areas of Scotland are really concerned about.

It is also very important that, when we talk about innovation and moving small businesses forward, we consider regional stock exchanges, which the hon. Gentleman mentioned. I was very interested that my hon. Friend the Member for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey talked about the Scottish stock exchange in Glasgow closing in 1973. The square that it was in has been renamed Nelson Mandela Square, but I remember it being Stock Exchange Square for many years.

We will all be very interested to hear how the Minister responds to this debate, because none of us in this place disagrees that there is a need for long-term and patient funding for businesses to thrive and grow, to increase prosperity for all our citizens, and to increase the economy in Scotland and the rest of the UK.

It is a delight to see you in the Chair, Mr Walker.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Stirling (Stephen Kerr), who I am glad to see is back in his rightful place after his illness before Christmas, on securing this debate, and I thank the hon. Members for Ochil and South Perthshire (Luke Graham), for Strangford (Jim Shannon), for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey (Drew Hendry), which are all beautiful places, and for Motherwell and Wishaw (Marion Fellows), who has just spoken, for their contributions to the debate.

Patient capital must be set in the context of a wider economic perspective and not just seen on its own. The structure of our economy has fundamentally changed over the past four decades. In the early 1980s, 26% of UK jobs were in manufacturing compared with only 8.1% now; in 1948, 46% of GDP came from the service sector and now it is 80%. That is largely due to the decisions of successive Governments, which effectively said that as long as headline growth was strong and the welfare state redistributed resources sufficiently, it did not matter where growth came from.

However, the financial crash and its aftermath have clearly demonstrated that that theory was wrong, and that reliance on an unfettered and highly volatile financial sector has not worked for the vast majority of people and businesses. Headline growth may have recovered, but it is still pretty sluggish, and nothing exemplifies that better than the way that banks have actually shifted their activities away from lending to businesses.

The Institute for Public Policy Research’s Commission on Economic Justice said:

“Across a whole range of economic indicators, the UK economy exhibits serious underlying weaknesses. On investment, research and development, trade and productivity, we perform worse than most of our European neighbours—and have done so not merely over the last ten years, but for much of the last 40.”

As the hon. Member for Stirling has said, productivity and investment are stagnant. That seems to be the way of the economy at the moment and it has got to change. A 2017 report by the ScaleUp Institute highlighted significant capital barriers to the growth of business, beyond the start-up phase, in the UK. And of course there is Brexit, but I will leave that to other people to talk about; I will not do so now.

Other countries use state direction of innovation and investment to carve out vital areas of expertise in robotics, electronic cars, clean-tech and the smart city. Labour has a plan for a national transformation fund and £250 billion of lending by our new national investment bank and a network of regional development banks, which will enable us to transform our economy over the first two terms of a Labour Government. Reconnecting the financial sector to the economy of research and development and production will transform our financial system.

We will establish a strategic investment bank, which is the sort of bank that the hon. Member for Stirling thinks is good, and he is absolutely right in that regard. It will comprise people from various agencies and organisations, and of course Members of this House. We will use the power of Government to unlock the lending power of the private sector, and we will deliver lending to small and medium-sized enterprises across the UK through new regional development banks. Our investment strategy will no longer accept the disparities across the regions that have been identified here today. It is a crucial element of any Government policy to make sure there is equity right across our nations.

Labour wants to invest in people and show that businesses can access a highly skilled workforce, which is why we will set up our national education service, allowing everyone to upskill and retrain at any point in life. That comes back to the point that it is not just a case of having patient capital investment; the ecosystem and infrastructure around that investment also matter. We want patient capital investment and we hope that we will be able to set the scene and the environment for that to develop. We will ensure that all our regions, nations, cities and towns are able to get access to that patient capital investment over the next few decades.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Stirling (Stephen Kerr) for raising this important issue and for exhorting the United Kingdom Treasury to look to all parts of our Union. If my history of the Treasury serves me correctly, I think the last Treasurer of Scotland was in 1708; he was sent to the Tower and then to the House of Lords, as happened in those days. But since then, the Treasury has firmly been an institution of the whole of the United Kingdom and long may it continue to be.

My hon. Friend made some very important points this afternoon, encouraging us above all to look to the long term and to ensure that both Government and the private sector are constantly trying to ensure the free flow of long-term capital, which will grow the economy and drive the country forward.

Since we came to power in 2010, we have made it easier for people in this country to found a business and grow it, scaling up British businesses so that the UK is one of the best places in the world to be an entrepreneur. A new business is created in this country every 75 seconds and there are now 1.2 million more businesses in the UK than in 2010, creating jobs and prosperity.

However, we are not complacent. We understand the need to increase access to long-term capital, to address the structural challenges facing the British economy, including our productivity gap, and to make the UK more globally competitive. So I thank my hon. Friend for his comments today, particularly his thoughts on a national investment bank, to which I will return shortly.

It is important to remember that in the UK we already have a strong equity finance market. It is one of the engines of the economy, and a national and indeed international asset for the UK. We continue to be the top destination for venture capital investment in Europe, attracting around a third of total European VC investment in 2018.

There was the patient capital review of 2017, which my hon. Friend referenced and which we commissioned and reported back on in 2017, and the Budget in 2017. We updated it again in the most recent Budget with a one-year-on update. They provided the response that he has referred to, with the panel and the experts at the Treasury who we commissioned to investigate this issue. That review concluded that there is more for the UK to do to close the funding gap and help our most innovative firms to reach their true potential.

At the Budget in 2017, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor unveiled a plan to unlock over £20 billion of additional finance for those innovative firms over the next 10 years. Since then, we have launched British Patient Capital, the vehicle that my hon. Friend the Member for Stirling referred to, and seeded it with £2.5 billion of public money. We have expanded the investment limits for venture capital trusts and for the Enterprise Investment Scheme, doubling the amount of money that the UK’s most innovative businesses can raise. And we have announced the creation of a knowledge-intensive EIS fund structure, to help stimulate further investment in research and development-intensive firms, and to concentrate our incentives on those firms that we think will be of the greatest benefit to the British economy.

We have worked with representatives across the industry to unlock pensions investment in patient capital, through our pensions investment taskforce. With total assets under management in the UK expected to exceed £1 trillion by 2025, we know that defined contribution, DC, pension schemes are set to be one of our most important institutional investors, which is why, in this year’s Budget, the Chancellor announced a pensions investment package to enable DC pension providers to invest in long-term innovative UK companies, as part, of course, of a balanced portfolio. We do not believe that it is the Government’s role to instruct independent pension trustees on how to invest on behalf of the pension holder, but we do believe that encouraging them and breaking down barriers will ensure a greater flow of capital for venture capital and for long-term and somewhat higher-risk investments that will drive the economy forward.

We have done a number of things to take forward that agenda. First, we announced that the Financial Conduct Authority would carry out a consultation on small tweaks to its permitted links rules, which was published in December 2018. We also announced that the Department for Work and Pensions would consult this year on making the pension charge cap flexible enough to accommodate the performance fees that are often associated with patient capital investment. Finally, we announced that some of the largest DC pension providers in the UK would now work with the British Business Bank to develop a blueprint for pooled investment in patient capital. That will enable those who are perhaps too small, or do not yet have the appetite required, to take part in this important form of illiquid investment. We believe that those measures will have a great impact in the years ahead.

We are not limiting our efforts to equity funding, however. We are also committed to ensuring that businesses can seek the right finance for their growth needs, which is exactly why the British Business Bank, which we have heard about today, was launched some time ago. The bank is rolling out a UK network, including in Scotland, to resolve regional issues and increase its cut-through with businesspeople and entrepreneurs throughout the Union. It operates through partners, such as high street banks, business angels and venture capital, and it will be doing that, as it should, in all parts of the UK. To give hon. Members some of the most recent statistics, as of November 2018, in Scotland the bank had provided almost £900 million of finance to more than 9,000 small and medium-sized enterprises, in Northern Ireland the figure was £114 million to more than 2,200 SMEs, and in Wales almost £500 million was provided to more than 6,000 such businesses. We hope that that will continue and that the bank will take its responsibility to operate in all parts of the UK seriously. I encourage hon. Members to engage with the British Business Bank, if they have not done so already.

On infrastructure, which we have heard about today, as a Government we have made an important decision—one of the Chancellor’s first decisions on taking up his position two and a half years ago—to significantly increase public investment in our economic infrastructure. Over this Parliament, such investment, including in digital and transport, will reach levels not seen in this country since the early 1970s. We want to ensure that that feeds through into the private sector, and if we want to deliver on those plans—we now have a £600 billion pipeline of infrastructure investment—there will need to be a partnership with the private sector, financed and delivered privately. So a thriving private sector is extremely important, and we need to consider that when taking into account some of the comments we heard earlier about political risk in this country, due to both a break-up of the Union and also the Opposition’s policies of nationalising utilities.

The Government support investment using a range of tools, including stable, independent regulation, of which we have some of the best and most admired in the world—there are, of course, ways in which we can improve it. In the Budget, we commissioned the National Infrastructure Commission to consider how we can make our independent regulators more innovative, and improve the regulatory model without throwing it aside. We use contracts for difference in renewable energy, and the £40 billion Treasury UK guarantee scheme plays an important role. As we announced in the Budget, we are now reviewing our existing support for infrastructure finance, to ensure that as we leave the European Union we continue to guarantee that good projects in the UK receive the finance they deserve. We are also making a number of interventions to support new technologies, in which we believe the public and private sectors can work together, with the public investing to crowd in private sector investments. Two notable examples are a recent intervention on digital infrastructure, and also one on electric car charge points, in which the Government have invested £200 million. We believe that there is more scope for that in the future.

On the European Investment Bank, the EIB, it is important to remember that a significant funding gap has not emerged since the referendum. We have very mature markets in the UK for infrastructure investment, for privatised utilities for example, but the Chancellor has made it clear, and we noted this again in the political declaration, that we are actively exploring options for a future relationship with the EIB, just as the bank does with other third countries. One cannot be a member of the bank if one is not a member state. We are interested in the proposal to create a UK infrastructure investment bank, for which my hon. Friend the Member for Stirling laid out some of the arguments. We think that there are important arguments there, and we will consider the proposal as part of the review of infrastructure finance announced in the Budget, about which we will give more details shortly. We think that that can play an important role and, although I would not overstate the EIB’s impact on the British economy or our infrastructure finance, there are reasons to believe that it played an important role. We believe that we can find our own way forward as we leave the European Union.

On smaller businesses, helping them to scale up is extremely important, as we have heard. The UK has a good record of creating start-up businesses, but not as good a record as we would like of ensuring that they scale up and create jobs and prosperity for all parts of the UK. That is a challenge that we have set the British Business Bank, of working to support investment such as creating regional pools of capital, which we have done with the midlands engine and the northern powerhouse, and there may be further scope for doing that in the future. We are very engaged with such questions. We are engaged also with the question of the geographical spread of venture capital and business angels, as was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Ochil and South Perthshire (Luke Graham), to ensure that individuals and entrepreneurs have access to capital wherever they choose to set up their business and do not feel the need to come to London or the south-east.

Finally, through the tax system, we continue to make the UK the most competitive environment we can for entrepreneurs and investors. We are doing that through entrepreneurs’ relief, the seed enterprise investment scheme, the enterprise investment scheme and venture capital trusts, which we are continually trying to improve, to ensure that in the UK we have the most competitive market we can, directly comparing ourselves, and renewing those comparisons, with the US, France and Germany.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Stirling and to other Members who participated in the debate. I hope that they can recognise the Government’s commitment to the agenda, and the intense work we have done over the past two years, and will continue to do in the months and years ahead. We will continue to welcome thoughts and contributions to inform those future decisions.

It was perhaps a portent that throughout the Minister’s speech I could hear cheering. It was from outside, but it entered the Chamber, and I must confess that there were many points in the speech at which I would have joined in the cheering. I am greatly encouraged by what the Minister has said and by the positive and upbeat way in which he talked about the Government’s approach to the concept of spreading this change of culture in relation to long-term capital. I thank all Members for their thoughtful speeches, including those who would normally be political opponents and could not resist banging on, again, about independence. We will overlook that. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon), who hits the right note when he talks about confidence in the future. I believe in our United Kingdom and in the genius of our people, and I believe that our future is bright and that we should have faith in it.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House has considered provision of long-term capital for business.

Sitting adjourned.