The Government’S Productivity Plan

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

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Photo of Chris White Chris White Chair, Committees on Arms Export Controls (formerly Quadripartite Committee) 2:28 pm, 28th February 2017

I agree with my right hon. Friend about our automotive plants. However, I will not criticise Network Rail today because it has just announced that it will be installing lifts in my local railway stations, on which I congratulate it most profusely.

The Catapult network is a good example of what can be achieved through innovation. Some £15 of benefit is returned for every £1 of investment, and we should remember the advantages of the Catapult centres as we come towards the Budget. Some 69% of business R and D can be found in the manufacturing sector, which highlights its importance to the wider economy. The UK is also championing the idea of horizontal innovation, whereby intelligence and technologies can be shared across industries, which could have a significant impact on how sectors such as shipbuilding and construction could learn from the best practice of industries such as the automotive sector.

Through-life engineering services—TES—are increasingly on the agenda, with manufacturers going beyond production to retain responsibility for maintaining systems throughout a product’s life. I particularly commend Cranfield University for its work in that area, and I am pleased to co-chair the TES Council, which brings together industry leaders to discuss how best to develop such services. One area in which the UK leads its international counterparts is additive manufacturing, or 3D printing, which we can see at the high-value manufacturing technology centre in Ansty.

We are starting to see a recovery, but productivity in the services sector is outstripping that of the manufacturing sector. It is well documented that UK productivity is weak—stubbornly so, as the hon. Member for Hartlepool said. Job quality, whether through wages, skills and training or employment security, must continually improve for us to reverse poor productivity growth.

As a midlands MP, I take particular interest in the midlands engine initiative and look forward to the publication of the regional strategy—I hope that the Minister will shed more light on that. The midlands has a rich tradition of manufacturing and can be at the forefront of a manufacturing renaissance in this country. However, as has been noted, productivity in the west midlands has been consistently falling against the UK average. The midlands engine is a welcome initiative that can define our priorities and develop the skills we need in key industries such as the automotive sector on which we so heavily rely.

At today’s Treasury questions, I asked the Chancellor about the provision of an adequate energy supply as electric vehicles become more prevalent. Companies such as Jaguar Land Rover are developing technologies that will shape the future of the sector, but they cannot do so without the necessary infrastructure. Electric cars will be the future, and it is important that we provide the necessary power so that we can build their batteries in the vicinity of those car plants. That is the kind of joined-up approach that will be so important.

The final point of the 15 in the productivity plan emphasises rebalancing the economy and regional empowerment. London and the south-east contribute an enormous amount to the national economy, but economic growth should be powered from every corner of the UK.