Skip to main content

Industrial Strategy

Volume 618: debated on Tuesday 13 December 2016

Our industrial strategy will help to build an economy that works for everyone. To do that, we will look to drive productivity and growth in all parts of the country. We have already set out steps to deliver this, including, as my hon. Friend the Minister for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation just said, significant funding announcements for science, research and development and infrastructure in the autumn statement.

I thank the Secretary of State for that answer, and I note that he said that the industrial strategy should work for everybody. The Office for Budget Responsibility projects that there will be an additional 500,000 new jobs by 2020, but even if all those jobs were taken up by disabled people, the disability employment gap would still not be halved. Can the Secretary of State explain how the industrial strategy will support achieving the Government’s commitment to halve the disability employment gap by 2020?

The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. It is important that we close that gap, and the Government have made a firm commitment to doing so. He will see when we make our proposals—I hope that he will contribute to them—that part of our purpose is to ensure that people who may have been excluded from the labour market have the skills to enable them to prosper in the future.

Ayrshire is a beautiful coastal county with areas of both rural and urban deprivation, but with huge potential in the aerospace and pharmaceutical industries. The Scottish Government are supportive of a growth deal to invest in infrastructure and key sectors. Will the Minister meet me to hear the proposal to unlock Ayrshire’s industrial potential?

I would be delighted to meet the hon. Lady. I am proud of the city deals and the growth deals that we have negotiated, including in Glasgow, which is not far away from Ayrshire in the west of Scotland. Ayrshire has a huge amount to offer, and Prestwick is an important asset. I welcome the initiative of the councils in Ayrshire.

May I urge my right hon. Friend to consider creating free ports across the nation? Such free trade zones around our great port cities can simultaneously boost manufacturing, promote regional growth and grow exports—surely, all key ingredients in a successful industrial strategy.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his industry. He has published an excellent report for the Centre for Policy Studies, which makes for very good reading. He knows that I am considering it with my colleagues, and I commend him for writing it and putting it forward.

As my right hon. Friend develops his industrial strategy, may I give him some friendly advice? Drop the word “industrial” and drop the word “strategy”, and replace them with the words, “competition, innovation and skills policy”.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his question. He will see that one of the differences between our approach to industrial strategy and policy—it is important to note that industry, for this purpose, means the services sector as well as manufacturing—and previous approaches is that our approach will not be about simply addressing the needs of incumbents; we want to make Britain the best, the most competitive and the most contestable place for business to locate. I would be grateful if my hon. Friend contributed to it. I think that he will find that it is music to his ears.

Surely, one of the Secretary of State’s priorities should be the steel industry. Is he aware that Noel Village foundry in Doncaster is being badly affected by reductions in the steel industry supply chain? Will he ask his Department to give urgent advice to the company to see whether anything can be done to prevent it from going into administration, even at this late stage?

I am happy to meet the right hon. Lady about this, but I can give her some news on steel that I think she will welcome. I can announce today that the Government are going to publish their demand for steel, through public sector bodies, to 2020; that will be 3 million tonnes. We are updating the procurement guidelines for steel to include the health service and local authorities and to drop the previous threshold of £10 million for which those guidelines apply. That will be good for the steel industry generally and for all firms within it.

Small-scale manufacturing in firms that often have fewer than half a dozen people is key to the local economy in Kettering and is responsible for a lot of the employment opportunities. Will the Secretary of State make sure that small-scale manufacturers are a key priority in his industrial strategy?

I will indeed. I would commend two things to my hon. Friend. First, we want to make sure that small manufacturers can access the extra funding for research and innovation that my hon. Friend the Minister for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation has described. Secondly, we want to address the ability of small and growing firms to obtain the finance to allow them to grow to the next stage, which is very important in having a vigorous competitive market, as my hon. Friend suggests.

From education to research and development, Scotland’s universities play a key role in boosting our economy across all regions and sectors. With that in mind, will the Secretary of State outline what the role of universities will be in his forthcoming industrial strategy? Will the recently announced new money for R and D be available to Scottish universities?

Yes; universities are very important. We have had a number of very constructive sessions with university leaders and researchers. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that science does not recognise boundaries. Universities and researchers in Scotland have a fantastic record of success. In fact, with 8.5% of the UK population, Scotland attracts 10% of UK research funding, which shows that it can prosper and thrive with the new changes we are making on funding.

Science does not recognise boundaries. Universities Scotland estimates that 10% of research funding comes from the EU and that up to 16% to 20% of staff come from EU nations. With that in mind, will the Secretary of State ensure that, as we exit the EU, Scotland’s universities are not hit punitively by immigration sanctions and the withdrawal of EU funding?

It follows from what I have just said—science does not respect boundaries—that the science community is very global and international. Of course, as the hon. Gentleman would expect, we will in the negotiations reflect the importance of that not just for Scotland, but for the whole United Kingdom.

The Secretary of State talks about an industrial strategy and those words are in his title, but so far he has shared only bland generalities. Despite the high-profile examples cited, the Institute of Chartered Accountants predicts that business investment will fall by 2.4% in 2017. There are great opportunities for British businesses post-Brexit, but they need leadership, and this climate of uncertainty is toxic to investment. Will the Secretary of State stop playing Scrooge with his assurances, and give British business the Christmas present it wants—an industrial strategy?

A bit of optimism on the part of the hon. Lady would not go amiss, especially in this Christmas season. In fact, there is huge enthusiasm in businesses right across the country and huge engagement with us in developing our long-term policies. Perhaps she has been distracted by some of the events in her party in recent months, so let me summarise the things we have done since July. We have given the go-ahead—she may have missed this—for some very important strategic infrastructure projects: Hinkley Point C, the third runway at Heathrow and the next phase of HS2. We have secured investment in Nissan, close to her constituency, as we announced a month ago. We have ratified the Paris agreement, and we have secured the extra investment that my hon. Friend the Minister for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation talked about. We have done more to put our industrial future on the right footing in five months than the previous Government did in 13 years.