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Budget Resolutions - Amendment of the Law

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 8:51 pm on 13th March 2017.

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Photo of Robert Courts Robert Courts Conservative, Witney 8:51 pm, 13th March 2017

The Budget’s measures include those that will be welcomed by constituents of mine who are concerned about business rates. Equally, the investment in social care will be of great relief to people who are worried about that. Likewise, schools have received welcome funding.

In the brief time available, I want to concentrate on skills. As we discuss Britain’s place in the world and forge a new identity for ourselves as a global Britain outside the European Union, it is right that this Budget puts in place the financial and fiscal measures that will enable us to make a success of Brexit. I believe that the Budget does that, and I want to focus on the skills associated with it.

There are strong underlying factors in the economy. We are an outward-facing, open and globally trading nation. Our economy grew by 1.8% in 2016, second only to Germany of the advanced nations. The growth forecast for 2017 has increased from 1.4% to 2%, and the deficit has been reduced by two thirds since 2010. That is all a testament to the underlying strength of our economy.

My constituency has a number of high-level technical businesses that are very skilled and, in many ways, world beaters. These companies include Polar Tech and Siemens in Eynsham, STL Communications in Witney, and home-grown businesses such as Darke and Taylor in Hanborough. There are also businesses that have not been grown in West Oxfordshire but that have come to make their home and invest in my area, including Airbus, Boeing and Thales in Carterton.

For many years, however, we have not been training the young people that those companies need, so home-grown workers do not have the skills required to work in my area. The CBI estimates that 75% of companies will need higher-skilled workers and that 40% will require intermediate-skilled workers. We are 16th in the OECD rankings, so I welcome the measures in the Budget that promote training people to make a success of our economy, both locally in West Oxfordshire and as we look to become a global nation.

Measures being brought in by the Budget include T-levels, with a fund of £300 million in this Parliament. This is the greatest reform of 16-plus education since the introduction of A-levels. It has long been time this that country had parity between academic education and technical education. That has never been more true than in my constituency, where we have so many excellent, world-beating companies that need highly skilled technical workers. These people, who make things and have ideas, drive our country and its economy forward. I wish to support them, and I am glad that the Budget does so as well.

I therefore applaud measures introduced in the Budget, such as the 15 specific routes to employment, the high-quality work placements and the maintenance loans for higher education students, meaning that such forms of education are seen in the same way as the academic sector. There is a £90 million fund to provide 1,000 PhD places beneath the underlying umbrella of the industrial strategy, of which 85% are in STEM disciplines and 40% are collaborations between business and academies, again under industrial partnerships. That is critical for companies like Abbott Diabetes Care in my constituency which need such a system of STEM education so that their workers have the level of education they require.

Lastly, I will touch very briefly on research and development, about which I am equally pleased. I welcome the £23 billion national productivity investment fund. It will focus on an area of enormous significance to my constituency, and it will improve the productivity of the country and its economy as a whole. I will quickly mention full-fibre broadband, which is of massive importance. My constituency is full of innovative, intelligent, creative and thoughtful people, but they need high-speed broadband to ensure that their businesses can operate and export to the world. It is very much the same with transport networks: the A40 has long been a source of contention for such people, and it is a real brake on the ability of my constituency to achieve the full potential of its economy that is just within its reach. Technology is important, as is housing that people can afford to live in, so that they can come to work in and remain working in the areas that they have grown up in and that are near all the wonderful companies I have mentioned. I welcome the measures on research and development and skills that the Budget will bring in. It is a Budget that underlines and supports the skills our economy needs, and I commend all these measures to the House.