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The Economy

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:14 pm on 24th October 2019.

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Photo of Luke Graham Luke Graham Conservative, Ochil and South Perthshire 3:14 pm, 24th October 2019

It is a pleasure to speak in this debate. I obviously want to praise the Government for their Queen’s Speech. Some of today’s announcements on infrastructure and broadband will bring real benefits to Scotland, actually delivering where the devolved authorities have failed on so many measures—failing on their R100 targets, failing on their landfill targets, failing on their education targets, failing on their mental health targets. Even in areas that are exclusively devolved, the SNP continues to underperform, and that is why it is so important that the UK Government make it clear that they are there for every constituent in Scotland, as they are for those in England, Wales, Northern Ireland and anywhere else in our the United Kingdom and overseas territories.

Unsurprisingly, we will talk about Scotland, and we have been talking about Scotland today, but I shall focus on some aspects in the Queen’s Speech that will improve our infrastructure and help boost our productivity. The broadband investment and the increase that, hopefully, will be coming through the shared rural network will help increase mobile connectivity in the most hard-to-reach parts of my constituency and also further north up into the islands. It will also give us the opportunity for further investment in our local communities, which I will come on to in just a minute.

Labour Members were taking issue with the economic literacy and performance of the United Kingdom Government. I would just like to say that, even in spite of some of the issues and challenges that are exposed through Brexit—let’s face it, GDP growth has slowed since the referendum was announced in 2015—the UK is still performing pretty strongly in a European context. Its performance is still stronger than that of Germany, which is not facing Brexit and is a well-known advanced economy. So I do not think Brexit is the cause of all our ills. It is also not right to blame any of our European partners for some of the structural weaknesses in our country, such as our productivity and labour market capacity, which, of course, we need to increase.

The Queen’s Speech is important and the Budget will be even more important in showing my constituents why the UK Government actually work for them. Yes, over the past two years we delivered the VAT changes to get £35 million back for our police and fire services; yes, we corrected the historical injustice of 2013 to make sure that our farmers got the right amount of convergence funding, and got £50 million on top of that to put us on a fair footing looking forward, so our agricultural and rural communities get the funding they deserve; and yes, in this last spending review alone we got £1.2 billion more put to the Scottish block fund, which is more than we received in EU structural funding between 2010 and 2016. That shows the value of the United Kingdom and the performance of this United Kingdom Government.

Meanwhile, back in Edinburgh we have a Government who continuously underperform. Business confidence has been trailing behind that in the rest of the UK since before 2014, and we have a £1 billion tax gap that was exposed just in the last year. So the SNP consistently asks for more powers, but every time it gets them it underperforms. On economics, we have that £1 billion tax gap and, as I have said, business confidence is way behind the rest of the UK. On welfare, we were told that a welfare agency could be established within 18 months yet it has been deferred for over seven years. So the SNP is completely underperforming for our constituents.

It is vital for my constituents to understand that the UK Government are there for them. Whether in our rural towns such as Crieff or in formal industrial areas such as Alloa and other towns in Clackmannanshire, it is clear the Government mean to deliver. I hope that in the Budget they will expand the stronger towns fund to Scotland, and I also hope they will continue to look at the Budget references and proposals from the Scottish Conservative and Unionist group, which will support our whisky industry, help our rural towns and communities and give us the opportunity to show that, actually, when our Government work together—central, devolved and local—we can perform for all our constituents and be proud to be Scottish and British together.