The Government’S Productivity Plan

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:47 pm on 28th February 2017.

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Photo of Richard Fuller Richard Fuller Conservative, Bedford 3:47 pm, 28th February 2017

I would hope that the Minister would use exactly the same assessment for that project as he would for any other. We have to build an economy that works for everyone. We have the tools at our disposal to do that, and it would be good to see the Scottish Government using some of the tools at their disposal to do something productive about their own economy, rather than complaining all the time and blaming others, as the hon. Gentleman has just done.

Let me respond to the challenge from the hon. Gentleman. If the Minister believes, as seems to be the case on the basis of what the National Infrastructure Commission has said, that the corridor between Oxford and Cambridge is important, he has a responsibility under the principles of the productivity plan to implement the relevant initiatives, plans and investments as quickly and effectively as possible, and to set a new benchmark for the speed of implementation.

Let me briefly touch on two further aspects of the plan. First, the Government response to the Select Committee report talks about the commitment to “funding innovation”—yes, yes, yes. “Yes” is the word—I repeated it three times—that the Minister should be saying about innovation. When Governments seek to intervene through something as cumbersome as an industrial strategy, there is a risk that they do not listen to the voices of the entrepreneurs—those who are prepared to take risks or those who want to disrupt. As we leave the European Union, there will be a number of additional things that the Government can do on innovative financing, such as peer-to-peer lending, and especially to reduce some of the restrictions on the enterprise or seed enterprise investment schemes. That would get people investing in our early-stage businesses much more effectively.

Similarly, we have heard a lot of good things from the Government about their commitment to improving management and leadership. It is easy for us to take that for granted. It is one of the soft things that arise when we think about productivity, but it is essential that the management and the leadership of our businesses have the resources, skills and capabilities to be expected from a global leader in business and a country that wants to trade freely and openly with the rest of the world.

Finally, in both the productivity plan and the industrial strategy, my personal feeling is that not enough reference is made to the future way in which employment and work will operate. We heard from the Chair of the Select Committee about how a lack of security in the labour market is a concern to not just the people directly affected, but all of us who want a country and an economy that work for all. We heard from my hon. Friend Chris White about the potential of the fourth industrial revolution, but with that great potential to improve our productivity will come quite dramatic changes in the skills and work required from people who are currently employed in many segments of our economy.

In those sectors and industries, what will be the Government’s answer to the impact of achieving higher productivity? This is the other part of the point about what happened in the past that we discussed earlier. More people are employed, and we should not throw that away in pursuit of higher productivity because we should be able to accomplish both things. Similarly, in the future, we should not look only for increased productivity if it means that what for many people is part of their being—going to work, working hard and having purpose—will be dramatically changed by measures that are taken to invest in and take up the challenges of the fourth industrial revolution.

If the Government are silent about that in their productivity plan over the next few years, they will fail the British people. From what we hear from the Prime Minister, she will not do that, but we have to get the detail of what the plan will mean as we look beyond today’s estimates debate.