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Industrial Strategy

Part of Laser Misuse (Vehicles) Bill [Lords] (Programme) – in the House of Commons at 6:42 pm on 18th April 2018.

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Photo of Chi Onwurah Chi Onwurah Shadow Minister (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) (Industrial Strategy) 6:42 pm, 18th April 2018

This has been a timely, well-attended and generally well-informed debate. Members on both sides of the House have come together to call for an industrial strategy that brings good jobs to every region in our post-Brexit world. I listened with considerable respect to the contributions made by the hon. Members for Spelthorne (Kwasi Kwarteng), for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey (Drew Hendry) and for Copeland (Trudy Harrison), my hon. Friend Mr Bailey, Mark Menzies, my hon. Friend Kelvin Hopkins, James Heappey, my hon. Friend Alex Cunningham, Mark Pawsey, my hon. Friend Jack Dromey, Martin Vickers, my hon. Friend Stephen Kinnock, the hon. Members for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk (John Lamont), for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Alan Brown) and for Stoke-on-Trent South (Jack Brereton), my hon. Friend Mr Sweeney, and the hon. Members for Boston and Skegness (Matt Warman), for Chippenham (Michelle Donelan), for Chelmsford (Vicky Ford), for Redditch (Rachel Maclean), for Stirling (Stephen Kerr) and for North East Derbyshire (Lee Rowley).

Given the Secretary of State’s predecessor’s refusal to utter the words “industrial” and “strategy” in sequence, the current Secretary of State’s rhetoric is to be welcomed. But it is just that: rhetoric from a Government forced to accept the reality facing working people. The White Paper, while lengthy—it was generously padded out to 256 pages with glossy pictures and large type—did little to turn that rhetoric into reality. To take just one example, my hon. Friend the shadow Secretary of State pointed out that the Government’s target of spending 2.4% of GDP on research and development by 2027 is inadequate. In contrast, Labour would raise investment in R&D to 3% by 2030, ensuring that the UK has the greatest proportion of high-skilled jobs in the OECD as a consequence. My hon. Friends the Members for Aberavon and for Glasgow North East called for just such an economy.

It is not only that the Government’s strategy is under-resourced. It is sectoral, favouring sectors and areas that are already well organised and can push to the front of the queue. As Sheffield Hallam University researchers found last year, the Government’s pledges would have an impact on only 10% of our manufacturing base and only 1% of the whole economy. Many Members, including my hon. Friends the Members for West Bromwich West and for Luton North, considered the implications of this disparity for their constituencies. As my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton North implied, this is not so much about picking winners as rewarding those who have already won.

Let me take one example: Cambridge, a city that has contributed so much to the country’s innovation economy. With a population of 285,000, it has as many private R&D jobs as the whole of the north, which has 50 times more people. This must not be an either/or. We need an industrial strategy that maintains our current centres of excellence while ensuring that other areas can grow successful innovation-intensive economies as we move outside the European Union. Unlike the Government, we are not just focusing on headline-grabbing tech trends. We are committed to putting innovation at the heart of the lowest-paid and least productive sectors, for example by creating a retail catapult to support the 2.8 million people in our retail sector.

The Government’s industrial strategy has no strategy to it and it has nothing to say about the fundamental workings of our economy. As the world-leading economist Mariana Mazzucato argues in her new book, “The Value of Everything”, at the heart of capitalism’s fundamental failure is the two faces of financialisation. The first is the way in which the financial sector has stopped resourcing the real economy. Instead of investing in companies that produce stuff, finance is financing finance. Why would someone lend money for a manufacturing plant that can take years to yield a return and cannot easily be sold on when they could bet on some options hedged with other options and virtually guarantee a return in a few weeks? With so much financial engineering demanding investment, real engineering does not stand a chance.

The second is the financialisation of the real economy. With industry driven by short-term returns, this results in less reinvestment of profits and rising burdens of debt, which in a vicious cycle makes industry even more driven by short-term considerations. As my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Erdington emphasised, the sale of GKN to Melrose demonstrated that this Government are not prepared to step in and defend our long-term economic industrial assets when they are under threat. Every time, short-term interest takes precedence.

We need a real industrial strategy that lays out a vision for the high-wage, high-skill, high-productivity economy that we want to build. As well as the two existing missions that my hon. Friend the shadow Secretary of State laid out earlier, our industrial strategy is based on a platform of strong horizontal policies—from our national education service making lifelong learning free at the point of use, to our £250 billion national transformation fund to deliver much-needed infrastructure improvements across our country and our diversity charter challenges to ensure that businesses draw on a wide range of talents.

Our approach is positive and practical. It speaks to the student who is anxious about their future, the single mum working two minimum wage jobs, and the Redcar steelworker wanting a job to be proud of. It addresses the crisis in productivity, skills and wages that keeps us poorer, even with unemployment relatively low. The Secretary of State has already borrowed from our approach to an industrial strategy on more than one occasion—imitation is the sincerest form of flattery—and I urge him to do so again for the good of our economic future.