Opposition Day — [15th Allotted Day] — Trade, Exports, Innovation and Productivity

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:38 pm on 13th January 2016.

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Photo of Anna Soubry Anna Soubry The Minister of State, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills 1:38 pm, 13th January 2016

I cannot add to my hon. Friend’s extremely good and well-made point.

Let me now move on to deal with the important issue of productivity. Delivering a return to productivity growth is one of the key economic challenges for this Parliament and the route to raising living standards for everyone in the UK. We have lagged behind other major economies—let us be honest about it—for decades, and productivity in Scotland is still 2.5% below the UK average. That is why we are determined to fix it, although I shall not pretend that there are any short-term measures. This is going to take some time and a lot of hard work.

In last year’s summer Budget, the Chancellor set out the Government’s ambitious plan, “Fixing the foundations: creating a more prosperous nation”. That ensures that we do everything possible to deliver higher productivity in the UK. Skills and education are, of course, key to improving productivity, and we have invested in skills, delivering 2 million apprenticeships in the last Parliament, with 3 million to be delivered in this Parliament.

Our education reforms are already raising standards. Unfortunately, under the SNP, standards of numeracy and literacy in Scotland have been falling, and fewer of Scotland’s most deprived children attend a university compared with any other part of the UK—just 10.3% of the poorest 20% of Scots attend university, compared with 18.1% in England, 16.3% in Wales and 16.3% in Northern Ireland. We have also protected science spending, with £4.7 billion per year in resource and £6.9 billion in infrastructure to 2021. We continue to invest in our catapult centres.

We are delivering one of the largest and most ambitious infrastructure programmes in recent memory, with projects such as HS2, which I have no doubt everybody should back because it will bring huge benefit to our country, especially to my constituency, as we hope to have the east midlands hub in Toton. In addition there is Crossrail, a huge project across the capital, and the largest investment in our roads since the 1970s. We are beginning to see signs of improvement. Output per hour grew by 0.5% in the third quarter of 2015 compared with the previous quarter, and was 1.3% higher than for the same period in 2014. UK productivity has exceeded its previous peak by 0.7%.

Alongside trade, innovation is another pillar on which our economy is built. Innovation is an important lever for increasing productivity. The excellent work of my colleague, the Minister for Universities and Science, has ensured that science spending is protected in real terms, with record investment across the UK—£4.7 billion per year in resource funding, rising with inflation, and record investment in our country’s scientific infrastructure, at £6.9 billion to 2021. The Government will protect all that in cash terms, with total spending on business-led innovation coming through Innovate UK.

We recognise that access to finance remains an important challenge for innovative enterprises, which is why we are committed to introducing new types of finance products to support companies to innovate. New products such as loans will replace some existing Innovate UK grants, and will reach £165 million by 2019-20. In 2014 alone, more than £2 billion was raised in venture capital in the UK—up 50% on the previous year. I see no reason why the UK cannot be Europe’s number one destination for innovation finance.