The Government’S Productivity Plan

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:57 pm on 28th February 2017.

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Photo of Michelle Thomson Michelle Thomson Independent, Edinburgh West 2:57 pm, 28th February 2017

It is a pleasure to take part in this debate. I commend Mr Wright for his contribution and for his leadership of the Select Committee. I reiterate a point that he made: the productivity plan, “Fixing the foundations”, was published in July 2015. We should step back and think about the radical changes we have seen since then, because it is ever a moving target. We have a new Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, a new Prime Minister, a new Cabinet, an industrial strategy Green Paper and, fundamentally, a new relationship with the EU. In terms of the estimates, it is indeed a moving target. There is a real challenge in the macro relationships of how we get policy provision to guide us going forward among all that shifting.

Obviously the most important of those changes is Brexit, and how the Government respond to it will be crucial for the future of any industrial strategy or productivity plan. Prime Ministers come and go and Departments get renamed, but leaving the EU is the sort of event that is going to take massive energy to achieve anything positive. Worryingly, the rhetoric I have heard so far does not fill me with a great deal of faith. We are undermining some of the noble intentions of the productivity plan and industrial strategy. Putting up barriers will have an impact on productivity. I am in no way convinced by some of the grandiose sentiments along the lines of, “If everything doesn’t work out, we can always revert to World Trade Organisation rules”—most people do not seem to be aware that the fundamental work of revising and agreeing schedules is a massive amount of work in itself.

It is probably not a surprise to my colleagues here that I will focus briefly on Scotland, as is my wont in every BEIS Committee as well. A good job has been done with productivity in Scotland. We are now at the point where our output per hour is much the same as the UK average, and that has happened over the past 10 years. We have managed to close the large gap, but, as has been commented on previously, we are, frankly nowhere in terms of the wider UK. I managed to dig out the statistics that I quoted last year and the research that I had done in the House of Commons Library, which showed that Norway’s productivity was 77% ahead of the UK, and that continues to shock me.

The analysis paper of the respected think-tank, the Fraser of Allander Institute, on the impact of Brexit suggests that Scottish productivity will be negatively affected by leaving the European Union. To me, that is absolutely fundamental. Ending the free movement of people and thus reducing labour mobility is a fundamental issue for us in Scotland, and it cannot be overstated. One impact could be reduced inward investment, which could affect higher productivity.

Commitment 55 in the productivity plan report calls for a continuation of

“the long term decarbonisation of the UK’s energy sector through a framework that supports cost effective low carbon investment.”

The industrial strategy Green Paper then adds to that by calling for an upgrade in infrastructure and a delivery of affordable energy and clean growth. However, from my point of view, this Government are actively undermining these laudable aims by selling off the Green Investment Bank with undue haste. I understand in principle why one might want to capital raise, but I remind the Minister that the Green Investment Bank is quite clear that it does not need to capital raise until 2018. Furthermore, in terms of the nature and the type of projects that have been selected to address market failure, I now have a concern that there will continue to be a gap. Yes, market failure has been affected, and even blocked, by the introduction of the Green Investment Bank in some areas, but it has yet to be addressed in other areas.

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