The Economy and Work

Part of Debate on the Address – in the House of Commons at 3:09 pm on 26th May 2016.

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Photo of Chris White Chris White Chair, Committees on Arms Export Controls (formerly Quadripartite Committee) 3:09 pm, 26th May 2016

Thank you. There is a clear need to boost exports, and the Government’s target to reach £1 trillion-worth of exports by 2020 is ambitious. An industrial strategy would boost confidence for investors through greater stability in the system and clear direction from the Government, as well as allowing the Government to be held to account over the period to which the strategy applies. For a Minister to come to the House annually and to be scrutinised on cross-departmental support for such a vital part of our economy can only be to everyone’s benefit.

I turn to the make-up of the strategy. A central, cohesive and comprehensive document could shape clear objectives for the sector, outlining steps that the Government intend to take to provide a framework for industry to grow. In addition, there could be a clear statement from the Cabinet Office, acting across Departments, along with annual reports to Parliament detailing supportive measures taken in the interests of manufacturing.

This Government, and perhaps any Government, typically respond well to objectives and targets that give clear focus and consistency, such as a target of 3 million new apprenticeship starts by 2020. An industrial strategy would encompass a wide range of policy areas: apprenticeships, higher education, catapult centres, innovation and the supply chain. We need to ensure that Departments do not operate in silos, and that our whole system works in harmony, so I would add energy policy, smarter procurement, access to finance and infrastructure. Implementing a strategy would be a major step forward, considering that the manufacturing sector is less able than others to respond to circumstances quickly. A long-term vision is, therefore, essential, and it will encourage investment in the UK.

Looking ahead, we will need to compete internationally in innovation. The reshoring of production must be a central aspect of our approach, and I see innovation as key to that aim. We can help innovation to flourish in the UK by supporting through-life engineering services and improving the availability, predictability and reliability of complex engineering products to deliver the lowest possible whole-life cycle cost. Initiatives such as high-value manufacturing catapults, Industry 4.0 and TES were not even on the table in 2010. I would add, however, that no matter how attractive an industrial strategy might be, we must make sure that we start with a long-term economic plan.