The Government’S Productivity Plan

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:38 pm on 28th February 2017.

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Photo of Roger Mullin Roger Mullin Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Treasury) 2:38 pm, 28th February 2017

I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention.

I wish to move on to another area that has been addressed. I believe it was Jeremy Quin who mentioned the importance in our society of universities, the production of higher levels of knowledge and our research capability, and how that was a tremendous attraction if we are to drive up levels of productivity. I agree entirely with him, but there is a problem that we must be willing to face. The universities are under a type of strain that they have never faced before: the threat to the research community created by the Government’s attitude towards EU nationals. I can take Members to universities in Scotland and show them people who are leaving, or planning to leave, the university and the research community because of the uncertainty created by this Government. If there is one thing the Government could do, either today or very soon after, to secure our research community, it would be to give these people absolute guarantees that they are welcome and will carry all their rights with them into the future.

Scotland has different productivity needs, one of which relates to our attitude towards immigration. I would argue that we need more immigration, of the right type. Many blockages to enhancing that immigration can be found in the Government’s policies, and I wish to give hon. Members one example. A few years ago, for the tier 1 investor visa, the Government increased the sum that people would have to have to bring into the economy to invest in British business to a minimum of £2 million. I would be very happy for Scotland to attract people with a wee bit less than that to invest in Scottish business, because they could still do a tremendous amount of good.

As the Minister knows—we have discussed this in the past—another tier 1 visa is the entrepreneur visa. Residents and citizens of England or Scotland do not need bags of cash to become an entrepreneur. Indeed, some of our most wonderful entrepreneurs started with very little but an idea. What do we say to people who want to come here as entrepreneurs? At the moment we are saying, “You have to produce, in advance, a detailed business plan to be assessed.” It is doubtless to be assessed by the Home Office. They have to produce a business plan of how they will start a business in the UK, even though they are not in the UK. That strikes me as a wee problem to begin with. Secondly, they need a minimum of £50,000 in their back pocket to bring in with them to invest here, along with the business plan. We would never ask that of people who live here domestically. There are therefore things that could be done to sort out a number of the supply-side blockages that prevent us from attracting some of the investors and entrepreneurs who could do so much to help to build capacity and improve productivity in our society in the longer run.

Finally I wish to touch on skills, which has also been mentioned. Many years ago—it was 1990 or 1991—in the early days of “competence-based qualifications”, we had a body called the National Council for Vocational Qualifications, which was based in London. The people there had seen me on a television programme, so they called me to ask whether I would come down to give it some advice. Because they waved a cheque in front of me, and being a Scotsman, I readily agreed. They said to me, “We have a problem with competence-based assessment. We are unsure that it is actually delivering and accrediting people for their competence.” I did a piece of work that they subsequently published, which I have never seen refuted, in which I said that the method of competence-based assessment operating in the UK would generate a vast number of false positives—that is, a large number of people who receive qualifications but are not actually competent. That might be a contributing factor to the fact there is no evidence at all that those who come into the labour market with competence-based qualifications are doing anything to enhance productivity in our society. There is therefore a long way to go, but it has been a privilege to take part in the debate.

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