Amendment of the Law

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:27 pm on 8th March 2017.

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Photo of David Rutley David Rutley Conservative, Macclesfield 4:27 pm, 8th March 2017

There are interesting schemes ahead, which I am sure the hon. Gentleman is also working on, to try to improve the interconnectivity of rail in north Wales and in Cheshire. He is aware that we are moving those plans further forward. I look forward to hearing his speech.

The Budget statement highlights the resilience of the UK economy, and seeks to ensure that we build on the clarity, certainty and confidence that business needs as we seek to forge a new role for Britain on a truly global scale and stage. Our first task after the vote to leave the EU is to reassure the markets. Britain has to be seen, and is being seen, as welcoming. It remains firmly open for business, and the Chancellor has done an outstanding job today in that respect. We have already talked about infrastructure projects, which the Chancellor highlighted. Importantly, on skills—I look forward to saying more on this in a few minutes—we will deliver millions of quality apprenticeships during this Parliament, making sure there are 15 clear, meaningful career paths linked to defined industrial sectors. There is also action on science, as we saw in the autumn statement. Some £2 billion a year of extra funding is promised for science, which will make a huge difference to what we are seeking to achieve.

Overarching all of this has to be the need to control our public finances. It has been, and continues to be, a long and hard slog to reduce the deficit left to us by Labour in 2010. I therefore applaud the Chancellor’s commitment to continuing on a sensible path to a global Britain that pays its way in the world.

In leaving the EU, we can become a global champion of enterprise and free trade, but we must recognise that Brexit, combined with other world events, has created heightened uncertainty in the short term, and that requires national economic assumptions and policies to be revisited. In its latest quarterly small business index, the Federation of Small Businesses has found that, while confidence is improving—getting back to pre-referendum levels, according to the FSB’s chairman, Mike Cherry—actual investment intentions remain somewhat subdued in the face of an uncertain landscape.

The Government are therefore right to take measures to steady the ship and to revive confidence after the momentous vote to leave the EU. As we know, buoyant consumer confidence has boosted the economy by more than was predicted in the aftermath of the referendum, but we need long-term investment too. The Government stepped up to the plate with infrastructure projects that will boost the capacity of the economy—notably, in transport policy, and I have already talked about the extra £90 million of investment that is being made available to address pinch points in the north.

We now need to make sure that we boost business spending and much-needed business investment too. Some of that will come through leveraged funds—from projects the Government support or enable. The £1 billion investment in Manchester airport over the next 10 years is a classic example of how, by clarifying things and building confidence, the Government will encourage business to invest in these vital infrastructure projects.

Underlying the measures the Chancellor has taken today is the Prime Minister’s clear plan for leaving the EU, which will work hand in glove with the modern industrial strategy. That strategy is modern because it will create an economic environment that enables winners to emerge without being picked. It is a healthy mix of horizontal and sectoral measures that enables the Government and businesses to drive forward with determination and commitment.

Those actions are solid foundations for the clarity and certainty that businesses need, establishing strong links with the place-based, sub-regional strategies of local enterprise partnerships and combined authorities, with their newly devolved powers. This comprehensive, joined-up approach stands in stark contrast to the chaotic, sloganeering and uncosted spending plans we heard from the shadow Chancellor at the weekend and again from the Leader of the Opposition today—woeful!

The way our modern industrial strategy is shaped is just as important as the end result. The strategy needs to be not only ambitious but effective, and businesses must be fully engaged, so it is good to see that the Chancellor and the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy are taking the lead in developing stronger, more trusting relationships with many businesses. Establishing a modern industrial strategy in that way creates the clarity we need to counter uncertainty and to build confidence and trusting relationships so that we can seize the economic opportunities that lie ahead.

That rightly puts a clear focus on productivity. I was pleased to hear what the Chancellor said today about the national productivity investment fund, and particularly about investment in skills and the commitment to improving the reputation of technical skills, which has been left undone for decades. The new T-levels will be vital and will make a real difference to social mobility and life chances, regardless of where people live in the country.

In the spirit of improving productivity and life chances across the country, I also welcome the Chancellor’s action—this was not mentioned too much in his speech—to boost broadband, as set out on page 43 of the Red Book, where there are proposals for connection vouchers, which will be welcome in parts of the country that have felt overlooked in recent years.

I am pleased to see the Chancellor’s continued commitment to the northern powerhouse, despite the comments of the Opposition, and particularly to the Cheshire science corridor, which is pivotal to the growth that we want in constituencies in Macclesfield and across Cheshire. It is worth noting that the ONS has set out that R and D spending by businesses is much greater in the north-west than it is in London. We have a really solid base of investment in the private sector, as well as in the public sector, in the north-west. The single largest area of R and D expenditure for businesses is in pharmaceuticals, which are critical not just for the science corridor in Cheshire, but to ensure that the whole country achieves its full potential.

We must continue to foster and support the gross value added that is created by pharmaceutical manufacturing, which contributes massively to our country—more so than in any other country except Germany. Cheshire East has a higher GVA per head than east Surrey, and we want to see a similar improvement in productivity throughout the entire north-west. We will make sure that that happens through the innovative work that is being done in technical training. We must do more to improve skills. Setting out 15 clear career pathways for apprentices is vital and the new T-levels that are being talked about are very welcome, as is the £500 million investment in tech skills for 16 to 19-year-olds. That will help to transform their experience and help us to be ready for the challenges ahead. For those reasons, I give my full support to this very important Budget.