It is a pleasure to follow Rob Marris. I am pleased to speak in support of today’s Budget. It puts Britain in a strong position as we leave the European Union, and it positions Britain and areas like Havant to take advantage of the fourth industrial revolution, as new technologies transform economies and societies around the world, including our own.
I welcome the fact that the Budget is given against the backdrop of an economy that has shown itself to be extremely resilient, confounding expectations by performing strongly in 2016. Britain is one of the world’s fastest growing advanced economies, the deficit has been cut by more than two thirds, the growth forecast is up and there is record employment, with 2.7 million more people in employment than in 2010. This Budget builds on the huge progress and strength in the economy that this Government have delivered.
I welcome the £500 million of new funding for technical skills and the introduction of T-levels. Those measures will upskill the workforce, build an economy that works for everybody and, ultimately, boost productivity. They will prepare British workers to succeed in the economy of the future, which will be underpinned by the fourth industrial revolution. Of course, all those measures build on the Government’s strong track record in education and skills generally, from the new university technical colleges to the 2.9 million apprenticeship starts since 2010.
The new £500 million of funding is particularly necessary, given the impact of automation on the labour market. I will focus on that point for the rest of my speech. Historically, the impact of automation has largely been felt in blue collar industries, such as manufacturing and mining, that involve repetitive tasks. As we enter the fourth industrial revolution, which is characterised by increasingly capable automation, artificial intelligence and sophisticated robotics, jobs in a vast array of services will be affected.
We must not be Luddite or downbeat about that development. The emerging technologies that are part of the fourth industrial revolution can be harnessed to catalyse economic growth and generate long-term prosperity. Today’s Budget will help us to do that. In Britain, we have to be the first to seize this opportunity. That means taking a proactive, high-investment approach to the challenge of automation. This Budget will help us to do that.
The Bank of England has estimated that up to 15 million British jobs may be at risk of automation, suggesting profound structural changes in the nature of our labour market in the decades ahead in this new industrial age. The potential job losses are largely in roles where a pattern of work can be replicated by a clever algorithm, a ready supply of data or a ready supply of energy. That led Professor Mary Cummings, the director of Duke University’s humans and autonomy lab, to say, paradoxically, that
“the more certainty your job entails the more likely is to be automated out”.
However, Britain has cause to be optimistic because of the measures announced in the Budget.
From the printing press to the personal computer, and now to the advent of artificial intelligence, driverless cars, 3D printing, robotics and advanced manufacturing that we see today, Britain’s economic history has been a continuous story of technology substituting for human labour across all sectors of our economy, as increasingly sophisticated machines displace workers at a fraction of the cost. From farm automation to the big bang in the City, we have always embraced technology. That technological progress has also led to rising productivity gains, as new jobs are created in new industries. If we want the words “invented in Britain”, “manufactured in Britain” and “designed in Britain” to be our hallmark in the 21st century, we have to continue investing in skills and technical education. That is what this Budget does.
The answer to what John Maynard Keynes called “technological unemployment” has always been the same. Today’s Budget reaffirms our answer as a Conservative party: we have to embrace the efficiencies brought by innovation; we have to reach for the future; and we have to help people learn new skills, so that they can take up the jobs created by economic growth.