Finance No. 2 Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:00 pm on 18th May 2023.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
Clause 331 stand part.
That schedule 23 be the Twenty-third schedule to the Bill.
Clauses 330 and 331 will make changes to ensure that tax sites in investment zones can benefit from an optional single five-year offer of tax reliefs, identical to those available in freeports. That will mean that businesses within the tax sites can benefit from tax and national insurance reliefs to incentivise investment and reduce the cost of hiring employees.
The Government have set out an ambitious plan for growth and prosperity, rooted in boosting the UK’s potential as an innovation nation, growing strengths in key industries to support national priorities and levelling up communities across the country. At the spring Budget, the Chancellor confirmed that the investment zones programme will catalyse 12 high-potential, knowledge-intensive growth clusters around the UK, including four across Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Each investment zone will bring together local partners to drive the growth of our key future sectors, bringing investment into areas that have traditionally underperformed economically. Each English investment zone will be able to benefit from access to interventions of £80 million over five years, which can be used flexibly between spending and a single, optional five-year tax offer. The changes made by clauses 330 and 331 will enable special tax sites in English investment zones to have access to that single, optional five-year tax offer.
Clause 330 will amend existing legislation to allow investment zone tax sites to be designated via secondary legislation in the same way as freeport tax sites. Clause 331 will allow the sunset date for the investment zones, tax reliefs and special tax sites to be set in that secondary legislation. Businesses investing or hiring new employees in investment zone tax sites will have access to the following tax reliefs: first, a full stamp duty land tax relief for land and buildings bought for commercial use or development for commercial purposes; secondly, a 100% relief from business rates on newly occupied business premises, and certain existing businesses where they expand in investment zone tax sites; and thirdly an enhanced capital allowance, a 100% first-year allowance for companies’ qualifying expenditure on plant and machinery assets for use in tax sites.
Furthermore, there is an enhanced structures and buildings allowance, which provides accelerated relief to allow businesses to reduce their taxable profits by 10% of the cost of qualifying non-residential investment per year, relieving 100% of their cost of investment over 10 years. [Interruption.] It is always delightful to hear from the Speaker.
Finally, there is employer national insurance contributions relief—zero-rate employer national insurance contributions on salaries of any new employee working in the tax site for at least 60% of their time, on earnings up to £25,000 per year, with employer NICs being charged at the usual rate above that level. The relief applies for 36 months per employee. The precise costs of tax sites will vary by site; however, the estimated value of 600 hectares of tax reliefs is £45 million, to be deducted from the overall £80 million funding envelope available to an investment zone.
These clauses will help to enable the investment zones tax offer to operate in special tax sites in England. That will drive private sector activity in investment zone tax sites, which will be key to catalysing the agglomeration of businesses in high-potential, knowledge-based sectors in investment zones across England.
As we have heard, clause 330 and its associated schedule, schedule 23, will extend the power to designate special tax sites to allow designation of such sites in or connected with investment zones located in Great Britain, while clause 331 makes provision related to the sunset date for tax reliefs available in special tax sites.
We know that these provisions are being introduced effectively to extend the tax reliefs available in freeport tax sites to such sites in or connected with investment zones. We know that those tax reliefs include an enhanced capital allowance for qualifying expenditure and plant machinery; enhanced structures and buildings allowance for qualifying expenditure on non-residential buildings and structures; and a stamp duty land tax relief for certain acquisitions of land. Furthermore, a secondary class 1 national insurance contributions relief for eligible employers on the earnings of eligible employees up to £25,000 per annum, which is available in freeport tax sites, is also being extended to special tax sites in or connected with investment zones.
It is worth being clear that the investment zones with which the Government are currently proceeding are different from the investment zones that Elizabeth Truss announced when she was Prime Minister. A significant number of councils put in bids for investment zones when they were announced under her premiership. According to the Association of Local Authority Chief Executives, councils had to spend an average of £20,000 to £30,000 on each bid, and may well have lost staff hours to work on preparing the submissions. Since then, investment zones have been relaunched, but it seems clear that the process for proceeding with the relaunched investment zones is entirely separate from the bidding process in operation for their former incarnation.
I would be grateful if the Minister confirmed how much money is estimated to have been wasted by councils, and indeed by central Government civil servants, on the now-abandoned bidding process for the original incarnation of investment zones. I assume that councils will be left out of pocket with respect to any money that they have spent on bids, and that the Government will not be considering refunding any of those costs, but I would be grateful if the Minister at the very least apologised to taxpayers for the money wasted as a result of this aborted policy.
I know that apologies can be hard to come by. Just last night, in fact, we heard the former Chancellor, Kwasi Kwarteng, brazenly denying the harm that the mini-Budget last autumn caused to family finances. He refused to take responsibility for the impact of soaring rates on mortgage payers across the country and on renters, who are seeing higher costs passed on to them. However, I urge the Minister to do the right thing and take this opportunity to apologise more generally for the harm caused by the mini-Budget last autumn, and indeed by Conservative failures over the past decade.
Would the hon. Gentleman like to clarify whether it is Labour party policy to intervene in Bank of England decisions?
Order. I did not realise that that was an intervention; I thought the hon. Gentleman wished to make a speech. The shadow Minister had sat down. If the hon. Gentleman wants to make a contribution, I will be happy to call him, but otherwise I will call Angela Eagle.
There is an ongoing issue in this country, and in our economy, with investment and with the ability to ensure that we can remake our prosperity as a country and make our way in the 21st century as we did in previous centuries, thereby maintaining our position in the G7, perhaps, as the rise of other economic powers in other parts of the globe puts that under pressure. [Interruption.] Everybody cheers for that, Mr Stringer. Everybody on this Committee wants to see positive progress in this area.
This Bill is enacting some of the Budget—that is why we are in Committee, considering this legislation—but the OBR report on it had a pretty grim picture to show us of how investment has stalled in our country. On page 48, at chart E, it states that
“business investment stalled…after the EU referendum”.
By the time this document was published, investment was at fully 16.2% below the OBR’s pre-referendum expectations. Those who have sat in the main hot seat in No. 10, and those who have been progressing all too rapidly through the Chancellor’s hot seat, have been aware of that and have tried to do something about it. Most notably, there was the current Prime Minister’s super deduction, which paid people to invest in plant and machinery. It not only deducted the entire cost, but gave even greater tax incentives for them to invest. Effectively, it failed: it made no difference whatever to the stalling levels of investment in plant and machinery in our economy. That has now been replaced.
It is interesting to hear what the hon. Lady says about levels of investment in plant and machinery. From the point of view of my patch, Calder Valley, where we have 19.2% of people working in manufacturing, the super deduction has been a huge boost to manufacturing. Will the hon. Lady acknowledge the huge investment of £17.7 billion that has been achieved only this week by the Prime Minister’s trip to Japan? That is an amazing boost to our economy.
I am glad that there are positive examples of investment, but what I am talking about is the macroeconomic levels, which demonstrate that we are not where we should be. Essentially, investment has “stalled”—that is the OBR’s word, not mine. That stalling is not disproved by individual examples of investment in particular places. I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman and all the people who have been involved in doing whatever has happened in Calder Valley—no problem—but I am talking about the macroeconomic effects. The investment zone policy that we are discussing is presumably designed to kick-start investment in particular areas where the zones are marked out, which hopefully will create local prosperity. That is my understanding of what the Minister said.
Unfortunately, there is not an awful lot of historical evidence that this kind of zoning system particularly works in terms of the overall levels of investment. It may move investment from one place to another. There is an entire debate that we could have about regional policy and trying to focus investment in particular areas, but I will not have it now, Mr Stringer, because you would call me to order. There have been many attempts to do that over the years, some of them more effective than others, but there is no real evidence that the freeport innovations that happened in the ’80s were an example of that.
Could the Minister tell us why the Government seem so certain that this policy, which takes away and gives up tax revenue, will lead to an overall increase in investment, rather than shuffling investment around from one place to another, which may or may not be a good thing in itself? Ministers often assume that this is a good thing overall that will lead to a net benefit, but it is not clear from historical evidence that that is the case. Will she explain that? Some very, very generous tax reliefs for investment have been tried in the near past and have not delivered the policy effect intended.
To illustrate to the Minister why I support the request of my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing North for an apology from the Government, I draw attention to my borough of Cheshire West and Chester, which made a bid for an investment zone last year. That zone would have been a real game changer for our region. It was in the constituency of my hon. Friend Justin Madders, and the business case specifically referred to a company called Stellantis—hon. Members may have heard of it. Unfortunately, that investment zone bid, into which council officers put a considerable amount of time and energy, has vanished like Scotch mist.
The right hon. Member for Calder Valley is fortunate that his investment zone was taken forward, but in my borough, the fact that the bid was not successful may have prompted some difficult decisions for the companies that were going to be located in the proposed investment zone. The leader of the council, Councillor Louise Gittins, wrote to the Chancellor asking for an explanation of why the investment zone was not taken forward. I am not aware that she has received a response.
I will keep my comments incredibly brief. There is a running theme to the debate. I thank my hon. Friend the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, because my area of the west midlands and the fantastic advocate that we have in Mayor Andy Street secured significant investment as part of the Budget. I put on record my thanks for the £22.5 million investment in Tipton town centre that the Chancellor announced in his Budget statement.
I appreciate what the hon. Member for Wallasey said about the broader parts of this discussion, and I defer to her much more considerable knowledge of the issue. But in terms of the more regional aspects of investment, it is a really important part of the investment package and strategy that we put confidence into our communities and that we say to those who want to bring inward investment into our areas—particularly post-industrial areas such as mine—that there is a case to do so. That £22.5 million, combined with the £60 million transport investment that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor also announced in the Budget as part of his broader package of resources, shows the confidence we need to see. Let us not forget that the west midlands has had a tough time, particularly post pandemic, and our productivity is still 3% down on pre-pandemic levels, so what this investment means for bringing in the inward investment that secures support for industry will be key to addressing the challenges that we face.
The efficacy and efficiency of this investment is key. We need to make sure that we set out tangible metrics of success so that not only the public, but industry can measure the effect of this important investment. As we go forward, particularly on the regional investment front, I ask the Minister and her officials to make sure that dialogue continues so we can make sure that areas such as the west midlands can see the money’s true benefit. It is all well and good talking about abstract figures of billions and millions of pounds, but we need to get across the real-life, tangible results for our constituents. We see that in the increased productivity, increased employment opportunities and upskilling in our areas.
We are very grateful for the investment that we have seen in our region, and I agree somewhat with the broader points raised by the hon. Member for Wallasey, but the key point in this broader debate is tangible, real results on the ground. We can have all the economic debates we want, but it is about delivery for real people.
I thank my hon. Friend for his comments, with which I agree. I will not pretend that the Labour party is in politics for different reasons from us. I genuinely believe that most Members of Parliament are in politics to do good for their local residents and for the country as a whole. The point of contention is on how we achieve that.
I am interested in the contrast between the submission of the hon. Member for Ealing North and the submission of the hon. Member for Wallasey. She represents part of Liverpool, and I grew up in the north-west, so I know Liverpool and Manchester very well. I think we would all agree that Liverpool and Manchester have seen a revitalisation over many decades. It takes a village to raise a child, as the old saying goes, and I fully accept that the previous Labour Administration may have done a great deal to help those areas. Going back a long way—a little before my time, perhaps—Lord Heseltine played his part in helping both Liverpool and Canary Wharf. We are trying to revitalise areas in the same way that Liverpool, Manchester and Canary Wharf, and indeed many other areas, have been revitalised.
The Minister would be very, very unpopular in my constituency if she referred to it as Liverpool. I represent the Wirral, which is over the river, where the Mersey ferry goes when it ferries across the Mersey. People can still listen to Gerry singing “Ferry Cross the Mersey” on the ferry as it goes from Liverpool to the Wirral. I appreciate her comments, but the people of the Wirral regard themselves as a bit different from those in Liverpool.
I apologise to the hon. Lady. I meant to refer to the wider area. I thoroughly respect the independence of the good people of the Wirral.
We saw the regeneration and revitalisation of the great city of Liverpool in the wonderful displays at last weekend’s Eurovision celebrations. The regeneration of that great city has, of course, had a much wider ripple effect.
We want to channel the focus and private sector investment to which the hon. Lady rightly refers in revitalising these areas. We want to do that in a way that takes notice and full advantage of the opportunities of the 21st century. The Chancellor set out the sectors that we will concentrate on, because we want to build that investment for the future. There is some extraordinarily good news in our economy in terms of innovative technologies, life sciences and advanced manufacturing. Indeed, I saw in a WhatsApp group only this morning that Rolls-Royce has just unleashed its latest aircraft engine, to great acclaim, here in the UK. That is an extraordinary achievement, which we want replicate across the country. That is the thinking behind investment zones.
When the shadow Minister talked about these exciting proposals, he said nothing about the principles of the investment or the enormous opportunities for communities outside London. I know that he is a Member of Parliament for London, so perhaps he does not have the natural affinity with constituencies outside London that Conservative MPs have, and which I certainly have as a proud Lincolnshire MP. We really want to focus on the excitement for what we can achieve around the rest of the country. The shadow Minister, however, just focuses on process.
The point I want to make to you—[Interruption] Sorry, the point I want to make to the Minister is that the areas that have been referenced have mayoral combined authorities. My borough sits in a sub-region of Cheshire and Warrington, which, despite strenuous efforts, has not managed to get those powers devolved to it. Under this Government, it appears to have lost out on an investment zone. Upper-tier authorities were encouraged to submit bids. They did so, but none of them were successful and they have not been given an explanation of why.
The work on the new investment zones is ongoing. The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities has begun discussions on hosting investment zones with local partners and the Treasury. That is because we want those areas to operate at a regional level, as has happened in the past with other examples. We want them to be regional examples, as I said. We are looking forward to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland having their investment areas. From that, many other measures will flow. Investment zones will also sit alongside freeports. Some investment zones may include freeports, but some freeports may stand independently of them. We want to ensure that we spread innovation and a drive for growth across the country.
I want to add to the Minister’s response to the hon. Member for City of Chester. I do not necessarily disagree with some of the hon. Member’s frustrations. However, as a Member who sits within a combined authority area, I know that even when the combined authority is involved in those bids, the upper-tier authority does not just vanish from the picture; it is very much involved. The investment we had came from upper-tier authority submissions that went into the Government. I appreciate what the hon. Member said about the assistance that a combined authority might give, but it is still very much on the upper-tier authority to be in the game with some of this stuff. It does not just vanish with the creation of a combined authority area.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his intervention. This is about teamwork across the various authorities, and working with local businesses. We are very open to the idea that different investment zones will focus on different sectors and specialisms. We want them to be driven at a local level by people who know their areas best. For example, they know what their local university specialises in, what local manufacturing there may be and so on. This must be driven from local areas.
At the risk of repeating myself, the bid put in by my local authority, in partnership with two other upper-tier authorities, was fully cognisant of both the business interests in the sub-region and the HE factor. It was an excellent bid. It vanished, and no explanation has been given. It is extremely frustrating.
I will commit to our trying to get an answer to the hon. Lady’s local authority about that. She will appreciate that other bids are run by other Departments. I am not intimately involved in what happens after a bid has been announced, but I will certainly try to get some answers for her. For the future, that is how we can ensure that the investment zones and other investment opportunities best work for local people. I am happy to commit to trying to get her an answer, although it will probably come from another Department.