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

I am aware of that, and I have had conversations with the Minister, Macquarie and the Green Investment Bank. The fundamental concern is that, potentially, Scotland risks losing an asset in terms of the headquarters in Edinburgh. Despite the assurances of the preferred bidder—let us call it Macquarie—I will be watching this matter very carefully, because there is a risk that we will lose head office functions and the board. Going back to my hon. Friend’s point, it is building an infrastructure that enables productivity and these kind of things to succeed. If we put in public capital investment and we then do not get the value from it, that seems to me to be short-sighted and misguided. Equally, without the firm commitment to maintaining jobs in Scotland, all the productivity plans and industrial strategies in the world will not address the regional disparities that we see in Scotland, especially if we promptly roll away all these things.

On carbon capture and storage, we have spent £100 million on two competitions to try to kick start this new technology. We heard yesterday on a BEIS Committee day trip to Edinburgh that that is very difficult, and I accept that. As my hon. Friend Roger Mullin commented, we must be prepared to take risks to drive things forward for future gain. We accept that £100 million has been spent, but if we do not press ahead with some of these proposed projects, our country could once again lose its competitive advantage, and we cannot rule that out and forget about it.

I am most concerned by some of the narrow-minded views that have been exhibited in some of the debates around Brexit. They have a pervasive narrative that sounds isolationist and deeply disappointing when it comes to the wealth of opportunities of renewable energy. For example, a new interconnector between Scotland and Norway will soon allow the transfer of wind power and hydro power between the two nations, allowing them both to cut their emissions. This is not the time for retrenching and retreating. Construction has also started on a new 1 GW interconnector to France, further demonstrating our inter-dependence with our European neighbours.

Let me move away from energy and quickly dwell on some of the other issues that have been most affected by Brexit in the productivity plan. The first is the issue of international students. In the BEIS report on the productivity plan we said:

“We recommend the Government does not allow migration pressures to influence student or post-study visa decisions. It is illogical to educate foreign students to one of the highest standards in the world only for them to leave before they have had an opportunity to contribute to the UK economy.”

I have a story from my constituency of Edinburgh West. A remarkable young man, Mr Olubenga Ibikunle, won a substantial sum of money to do a PhD in civil and coastal engineering. As soon as he completed his course, he was turfed out. The level of his ground-breaking research, commitment and dedication to self-improvement means that he is exactly the sort of person that we would like to keep in Scotland.

The Prime Minister refused to consider removing students from net migration targets when she was in front of the Liaison Committee. I hope that she will reconsider her position, because international student numbers are already beginning to fall as evidenced by the latest immigration statistics. We cannot allow our position as a world leader for international students to be eroded by a dogmatic fixation on an arbitrary target of tens of thousands of migrants.

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