The Government’S Productivity Plan

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:31 pm on 28th February 2017.

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Photo of Robert Jenrick Robert Jenrick Conservative, Newark 3:31 pm, 28th February 2017

It is a pleasure to speak in this debate. I congratulate the Chair of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee and its other members, most of whom are here, on their success in pursuing tenaciously Philip Green. I have heard during the course of the debate that he is making a payment equivalent to four of his super-yachts, and that will be on the way as soon as possible. That shows that tenacious and persistent Select Committee questioning can yield results.

I do not intend to speak for long, having spoken in at least two similar debates on this topic over the past year or two. During that time, as a result of a management change, productivity plans have become industrial strategies, but I hope that most of the salient points will remain from the previous approach. The first point I want to make is one that my right hon. Friend John Redwood and I made earlier: that we have to proceed with some caution before we are too blasé about the incredible job creation record of this Government and their predecessor. In my constituency, unemployment is now about 0.5%. The average wage in my town remains pretty low, at about £22,000 or £23,000 a year. Like other right hon. and hon. Members, I would like to see wages rise and none of my constituents stuck in poorly paid, low-skilled jobs. I want everyone to have not just the dignity and security of a job but the fulfilment of a career path to better-paid, better-skilled employment. However, we have to be careful before wishing away these jobs. One piece in this country’s productivity puzzle that is perfectly explicable is the fact that we have had extremely high levels of employment while some of our competitors have not. I am sure that none of us in this House would wish to replicate the levels of employment in countries in continental Europe such as France, Spain and Italy.

Immigration has certainly played a part in this. In my constituency, the fact of very high levels of migrants coming into my community has led to very little pressure on wages. Local employers I have met, particularly in the low-skilled or even unskilled areas of food production, agriculture and the care sector, have seen no demand on them to increase wages in the past five years or even more. That will of course change with Brexit. It will be a major challenge to my local economy, as to the whole country, to maintain this level of employment in those circumstances. Having said that, we obviously all share the objective of becoming a country in which people are not just employed, but well paid.