The Government’S Productivity Plan

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:04 pm on 28th February 2017.

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Photo of Iain Wright Iain Wright Chair, Education, Skills and the Economy Sub-Committee, Chair, Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee 2:04 pm, 28th February 2017

The right hon. Gentleman makes an important point. I want to see a pound generated being a pound generated throughout the economy, but I would like the structure and model of our economy to move higher up the value chain than running a caravan park, as he suggests.

Another big factor determining productivity levels is investment in research and development. R and D spend by UK businesses hit almost £21 billion in 2015, with an average growth rate of 4.2% since 1991. On the face of it, that is impressive, although the publication “The UK R&D Landscape” has stated that

“the business enterprise component of R&D expenditure in the UK is low by international standards, even after adjusting for structural difference between countries. It is also concentrated in the hands of a few very large firms and the small number of industrial sectors in which they are based.”

Indeed, seven sectors of our economy account for over two thirds of all R and D spend. The pharmaceutical industry accounts for a fifth of all R and D in this country. The automotive sector now accounts for 13%, reflecting its growth spurt in recent years, which is testimony to the great work that the car manufacturing businesses are doing. Aerospace accounts for 8% of the total.

Investment in R and D is concentrated in the hands of foreign-owned businesses. A quarter of a century ago, 73% of business R and D spend was undertaken by British-owned firms and 27% by foreign-owned companies. Since 2011, however, more than half the investment spend has been undertaken by foreign-owned firms. This has reflected the changing ownership of UK plc, with foreign direct investment often taking over larger British firms. This has certainly resulted in a boost to productivity, but it also leaves us vulnerable. In the event of a downturn in those investors’ home countries, there is no patriotic “stickiness”, and that R and D investment could fall and jobs and production facilities here in the UK could be cut to safeguard activity overseas in their home market.