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Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:24 pm on 12th March 2020.

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Photo of Alok Sharma Alok Sharma The Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy 1:24 pm, 12th March 2020

I am a modest man. I do not like to boast—I just like to state facts, and the fact is that we have record levels of employment in our country.

Let us talk about what has happened for businesses. Since 2010, we have seen corporation tax come down by 9% to be the lowest in the G20. Business registrations are up by over 60%, with nearly 150,000 more firms registered in 2010. Wages growth has been outpacing inflation for 23 consecutive months. The UK is in the top 10 countries in the World Bank’s ranking for ease of doing business and in the top five of the Global Innovation Index. [Interruption.] I do not know—maybe the shadow Chancellor finds that funny, but I do not. I think it is something that we should be very proud of in this country.

I certainly am delighted to be part of the most business-friendly Government ever, and of course, we want to go even further. We are extending the British Business Bank’s start-up loan scheme for a further year, supporting up to 10,000 loans. We are providing another £200 million for life sciences and more funding for growth hubs. In short, we are on the way to making the United Kingdom the best place in the world to start and grow a business.

Of course, the best businesses need the best ideas. Research and development drives up productivity, which leads to high-value, high-wage employment and an increase in exports. That is why I am delighted, as I know Government Members are, that we are committing to spend £22 billion a year on research and development by 2024-25. This is the fastest and largest increase in Government R&D spend ever and there is a multiplier effect, for every pound of public R&D spend delivers around £7 of economic benefit for the country as a whole.

Britain is home to four of the world’s top 10 universities. We are a world-leading nation when it comes to winning Nobel prizes. The UK has produced around 14% of the world’s most impactful research. UK researchers and businesses are cutting carbon emissions, curing genetic diseases and pushing the frontiers of artificial intelligence. Ours is a country that gave the world penicillin, the steam railway and the worldwide web, and we are turbo-charging this tradition of invention and discovery by establishing a brand-new research funding agency, letting researchers pursue high-risk, high-reward projects. We are betting big on Britain’s pioneers and problem solvers as they seek to transform every aspect of our lives, from the journeys we make to the medicines we take.

We have already seen how public R&D funding can create centres of excellence right across the United Kingdom. In Coventry, the UK Battery Industrialisation Centre will soon be developing new ways of scaling up factory production for electric vehicles. In Manchester, the Graphene Engineering Innovation Centre is helping to make cutting-edge composites for affordable electric vehicles. In Harwell near Oxford, our Satellite Applications Catapult is working on applications to remove space debris from orbit. In Scotland, we are backing a world first medicines manufacturing innovation centre, which will help new drugs to reach patients faster. In Northern Ireland, our Digital Catapult is providing mentoring and advice to help cyber-security firms to scale up and succeed. In Wales, we are backing the first compound semiconductor cluster anywhere in the world—a technology that could underpin everything from wearable health sensors to autonomous vehicles in the years ahead.

I am determined that as the UK forges a path as a science superpower we use that opportunity to level up centres of excellence across our whole country. As part of that, my Department, with the Treasury, is committing to creating a northern campus, but I want to be clear that levelling up and having staff across the country has always been part of my Department’s agenda. Some 84% of its partner organisations are already based outside London, while BEIS itself already has sites across the UK, including in Aberdeen, Birmingham and Cardiff.

In the coming years, we will need to make the most of ideas, innovations and solutions from each and every corner of our United Kingdom. The shadow Chancellor will agree that nowhere is that more true than in tackling climate change. Part of my Department’s mission is to deliver clean energy and to lead on the path to net zero emissions by 2050. Since 2010, as a result of the actions we have taken, the United Kingdom has cut its carbon dioxide emissions by around 30%. Driven by investment in renewables, 99% of the UK’s solar photovoltaic capacity has been deployed since 2010. Today, the UK has more installed offshore wind capacity than any other country in the world.

Our contracts for difference auctions have helped to reduce the price of offshore wind by two thirds in the last five years. The UK already has more than 460,000 jobs in the low-carbon sector spread right across our country. From Siemens in Hull to MHI Vestas on the Isle of Wight, we have seen hundreds of new jobs making turbine blades, and last year Ørsted launched the world’s largest offshore wind operations and maintenance facility in Grimsby.

In yesterday’s Budget, the Chancellor announced that he would more than double R&D spend in the energy innovation programme. The Budget backed nuclear fusion to develop and build the world’s first commercially viable fusion power plant by 2040. It backed low-emission vehicles, including with funds to support the roll-out of a fast charging network for electric vehicles, and it will fund a new heat network scheme and put £800 million behind two or more carbon capture and storage clusters, one by the mid-2020s and a second by 2030. [Interruption.] I hear Jonathan Reynolds chuntering, if I may call it that—I do not mean to be rude—from a sedentary position. I hope he will appreciate that carbon capture and storage will have to be part of the mix going forward, which is why we are investing almost £1 billion in it.