It is an honour to speak in this debate and to follow Sarah Olney, who gave an exceptional maiden speech. Although she is no longer in her place, I wish her well in her future endeavours in this House and in serving her constituents. It took me back to my maiden speech; I spoke on the same day as my right hon. Friend Nicky Morgan. We both talked on science, and I congratulate her on the great work she has done since in helping to boost skills in that vital area.
I am delighted to speak on this subject. Science is a vital field, especially at this time of significant change and great uncertainty. Brexit is not something that we should fear. The fundamentals of our economy are good. Indeed, forecasts indicate that our growth will be stronger than that of Germany and France again next year. We should look forward with confidence as we navigate our way forward and realise the opportunities that lie ahead.
We must use Brexit as a spur and a call to action in addressing long-standing challenges that have been a drag on our economy for too long, including the skills gap and below-par productivity. Science and technology have a vital role to play here, as I am sure colleagues across the House will agree.
The advanced therapies manufacturing action plan from the Medicines Manufacturing Industry Partnership—both snappy titles—says that, as part of leaving the EU,
“it is vital that the UK makes all efforts to retain and continue to improve its fiscal offering in order to secure investments and anchor infrastructure in the UK and give confidence to investors.”
That is why I join the Select Committee on Science and Technology in welcoming the Government’s funding guarantee relating to the EU science projects that we have talked about at length in this debate.
I also pay tribute to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, because he gets this: he understands how important it is that we build investor confidence and back innovation-led productivity and infrastructure. I welcome the £2 billion a year he announced in the autumn statement; it will be vital to science and innovation. It is an important step and hugely welcomed.
But this is not just about funding. Colleagues have spoken about the importance of collaboration. It is critical that we maintain relationships with European and other international partners and build our commitment to collaborations, not least of which is a science project that is vital to our area, the square kilometre array project at the Jodrell Bank observatory. This project will result in the creation of the world’s largest radio telescope. We must continue to be ambitious in backing world-leading scientific initiatives; that must be a clear priority.
That is why I welcome the Prime Minister’s demand and ambition for a modern industrial strategy that puts a clear value on science. She was right to say, in a speech in Birmingham during her campaign for the leadership of the Conservative party:
“It is hard to think of an industry of greater strategic importance to Britain than its pharmaceutical industry, and AstraZeneca is one of the jewels in its crown.”
AstraZeneca has a hugely significant presence in Macclesfield. The Prime Minister also gets this. She has learned lessons from Germany and Australia, which are setting out clear industrial strategies. We now need to do the same. We must not seek to pick winners; we must seek to create the conditions that will enable winners to emerge without being picked. There is a fundamental difference. I think we are well placed to do that.
When we consider our industrial strategy, it is clear that science and the life sciences have a role to play, particularly given their huge impact not only on job creation—there are 62,000 jobs in the life sciences—but in productivity per employee, which is critical, with £330,000 of gross value added per employee. That is staggering, and we must get behind this industry and other scientific endeavours to ensure that we realise all the available productivity improvements. It is also critical, as we all know in this House, that we tackle the productivity gaps that have plagued us for too long.
Here are some of the asks that I want to put to Ministers. Will they please continue to take action on the infrastructure that will be vital in underpinning our economic performance, not just on HS2 but on trans-Pennine links to unlock the potential in the north? Will they take action on skills and drive up the quality of apprenticeships? I am pleased that the Department for Education’s post-16 skills plan has an emphasis on health and sciences, as this will be crucial. I also urge Ministers to speed up the adoption of new medical treatments by implementing the accelerated access review. I was delighted to read what the Health Secretary said about this in his recent article in The Daily Telegraph. It will be vital for life sciences and for improving patient outcomes.
We need to see more being done in the north. We talk a lot about the golden triangle of Oxford, Cambridge and London, but important clusters are being developed in the north as well, not least in the life sciences corridor in Cheshire that links into the university city of Manchester. That will be key for the northern powerhouse. We will need to expand the network of catapult centres, and I am delighted that such a centre is being launched in the form of the medicines technology catapult at Alderley Park. We also need to have the anti-microbial resistance centre located there. As we do these things, we will build confidence in business. I have already mentioned AstraZeneca’s investment in Macclesfield, which has been most welcome.