As the subject of today’s debate indicates—business and the future economy—what is most striking about Monday’s Budget is how forward-looking it is. After eight years of hard work to get out of the mess that was left by Labour, Conservative Members can focus on measures that will take our economy forward—measures that will support working families in my constituency of Stoke-on-Trent South to have more money in their pockets, keeping more of what they earn and reducing the burdens of tax for businesses, especially on our high streets. Of course, predicting exactly what our future will look like is impossible, which is why the inflexible, restricted, centrally planned economies such as those of Corbynistas’ Venezuela completely fail, and responsive, dynamic, free enterprise economies are more resilient.
Investment in new technologies and innovation will build on the Government’s long-term commitment to R&D. The allocation of £1.6 billion in this Budget to strengthen the UK’s global leadership in science and innovation is hugely welcome. This ensures that we remain at the cutting edge to compete internationally, none more so than in the ceramics industry and, especially, in advanced high-tech ceramics products, where I am afraid that we are behind our competitors, including the US, Japan and other developed economies. We must invest in projects such as a UK research centre for ceramics to retain this international competitivity and to help cities such as Stoke-on-Trent to embrace more of these new technologies.
Far from being industries of the past, modern advanced manufacturing is reviving so-called post-industrial localities. Since 2010, the ceramics industry’s economic contribution has increased in real terms by 44%, but this is not unique to ceramics. A whole range of industries in Stoke-on-Trent are doing exceptionally well. Whether in precision engineering, automotive supply or distribution, we are seeing companies succeeding and delivering for our communities. In a city where over 15% of employment is in manufacturing—nearly twice the national average—the success of these industries is critical to our future prosperity.
Investment must truly be investment, however, and not merely spending. It is certainly more important that public policy does not crowd out private investment or erect barriers to enterprise. It must help to catalyse further successes and strengthen the strong growth that we have seen in prosperity and jobs. Workers will share in the benefits of growth, whether through boosting the national living wage to £8.21 per hour or increasing the personal tax allowance to £12,500 a year early. This is about ensuring that families in cities such as Stoke-on-Trent have more money in their pockets.
In Stoke-on-Trent, the local partnership between public and private sectors has moved the city forward since the Conservatives took control of the local council, jointly with independents, in 2015. I was therefore pleased to see on page 66 of the Red Book an explicit reference to Stoke-on-Trent as a shortlisted city for the transforming cities fund, because fully realising the city’s ambition requires us to improve our transport infrastructure. This is a fundamental requirement for improving labour mobility in the city, increasing productivity and decreasing the time lost to and the misery of daily congestion. This funding will help to ensure that we are better connected as a city, making better use of our rail network and ensuring that our bus network improves significantly to connect all our communities. This comes alongside the £420 million pothole fund, which will build on the significant work the local council has already done.
On high streets, Stoke-on-Trent is unique in comprising six market towns and has a significant number of Victorian and Edwardian properties that are structurally sound but none the less in quite a poor state. Far too many are not suited to meet the demands of modern retail and the challenges of online and out-of-town shopping, so I have been pushing Ministers for a dedicated fund for regeneration, restoration and conversion, and I am delighted it has come about. As I have argued, measures to increase footfall in town centres such as Longton and Fenton in my constituency, including increasing the number of residents and new businesses, are critical. Some 25% of employment in Stoke-on-Trent South is in wholesale and retail, so the relief on business rates for small retailers and the fund for high streets will be especially welcome in Stoke-on-Trent.