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Manufacturing Sector

Volume 683: debated on Tuesday 10 November 2020

I want to thank those in the manufacturing sector for the brilliant work they are doing to support the economy and keep it going. Despite the national restrictions, the manufacturing and construction sectors can continue to operate and are doing so. Thus far, the manufacturing sector has benefited from about £5 billion of furlough grants and £4 billion of Government-backed loans.

I thank the Secretary of State for his response. I wish to seek further assurances on behalf of my three local chambers of commerce—Hailsham, Crowborough and Uckfield. What further support can be provided for small and medium-sized manufacturing firms in my constituency, not only during covid, but during transition next year?

I know that my hon. Friend works closely with her three local chambers of commerce in Hailsham, Crowborough and Uckfield. On planning for transition, whatever our future trading relationship with the European Union things will change for businesses and they do need to prepare. My Department and my fellow Ministers and I have been communicating and engaging directly with businesses, and we will continue to do so.

Rolls-Royce is a very important manufacturer throughout the UK, not least in Derby, where it employs more than 12,000 people. Will my right hon. Friend assure me that whenever the Government help Rolls-Royce, all money spent will directly support the recovery of domestic civil aerospace manufacturing?

My hon. Friend is a great champion of workers in her constituency, and she and I have met to discuss these issues. She will know that the Government are supporting the aerospace and aviation sectors to the tune of almost £9 billion through loans and grants. Of course, we want that support to create a positive business environment and ensure that Rolls-Royce and, indeed, other companies in the sector base their work in the UK, sustaining well-paid local jobs for decades to come. As my hon. Friend will know, Rolls-Royce proposes to consolidate the assembly and testing of its large aero-engines from Singapore to Derby.

Many manufacturers, especially those in Stoke-on-Trent, face high energy costs, and there is little incentive to switch to cleaner electricity because of the higher cost. Will my right hon. Friend look at what additional support can be offered to energy-intensive industries so that our manufacturers remain competitive and can invest in improved efficiency?

My hon. Friend is a great champion of manufacturers in his constituency. As he will know, the Government are committed to helping businesses to reduce their costs through resource and energy efficiency. We have established a package of compensation exemptions from electricity costs worth more than £470 million, which will of course benefit businesses in energy-intensive sectors such as ceramics, which is a particularly important industry for Stoke-on-Trent.

One obvious way to help our manufacturers is with a green stimulus equal to the scale of the economic emergency that we face. President-elect Biden has pledged $2 trillion for such a stimulus; the French and German Governments have pledged tens of billions of euros; and Britain has pledged just £5 billion. Will the Secretary of State tell us when this Government are going to show the same scale of ambition—not in 10 years’ time but now—to create hundreds of thousands of jobs in this country?

The right hon. Gentleman may have been reading the Conservative party manifesto, because we have been clear that we have an ambition to create 2 million green jobs by 2030 and have already set out some of the measures, including £2 billion in green homes grants to support 100,000 green jobs. The Prime Minister has also announced that we will be boosting the Government’s target for offshore wind by 2030 from 30 GW to 40 GW, thereby bringing additional jobs to the sector. We will set out more plans over the coming weeks.

I thank the Secretary of State for that answer, but the rhetoric does not match the reality. Look at what other countries, including France and Germany, are doing, and look at the scale of what we are doing. He mentions offshore wind; let us take that as an example. As he says, the Government want to see 40 GW of offshore wind by 2030, but to ensure that the jobs in manufacturing the turbines are created here, we need the ports and supply-chain investment. The amount that the Government have pledged—£160 million over 10 years—is woefully inadequate. What is the Secretary of State’s estimate of the public investment required to meet his own target that 60% of the content of the offshore wind industry should be British—a target he is missing badly? Will the Government now fund and support the scale of investment required?

We are making funding available to upgrade ports, as the right hon. Gentleman said. I hope he would acknowledge that, as a result of the Government’s work on contracts-for-difference auctions, we have the biggest offshore wind industry in the world, which has driven down prices significantly and made offshore wind viable. We will continue to work to support those jobs, and we are talking about tens of thousands of extra jobs in the sector by 2030.

Vaccine manufacturing for covid is being led by Ms Kate Bingham from the vaccine taskforce. Not only has she disclosed official sensitive documents to hedge-fund managers in the United States, but she has spent £670,000 of taxpayers’ money on private public relations advisers instead of using civil servants and is set to benefit financially from state investments. Ms Bingham should be sacked. If she is not sacked, who will be held to account for this gross conflict of interest and misuse of public funds? Will it be the Secretary of State or the Prime Minister?

I would point out that the vaccines taskforce, which sits in my Department and is led by Kate Bingham, has done an absolutely brilliant job over the past few months. We have managed to secure 350 million doses across six of the most promising vaccine candidates. The hon. Gentleman will have seen the statement that came through from Pfizer/BioNTech yesterday; we were the first country in the world to secure access to that particular vaccine candidate. The hon. Gentleman talks about spending; the senior responsible officer, in line with his delegated authority, approved that resourcing in accordance with public sector practices and frameworks.