Economic Growth: East of England

Part of Asylum Accommodation Contracts – in Westminster Hall at 5:10 pm on 10th October 2018.

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Photo of Chi Onwurah Chi Onwurah Shadow Minister (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) (Industrial Strategy) 5:10 pm, 10th October 2018

Exactly. As we heard, the east of England contributes nearly 10% of the UK’s gross value added and has experienced cumulative growth of 13% since 2010—slightly higher than average. It boasts enormous strengths, from world-leading science and innovation to agriculture and food production, as was highlighted by Dr Poulter. With the right support, the region can continue to thrive and contribute to the future prosperity of our country, yet it appears that uncertainty, particularly over Brexit, is causing economic growth in the region to stall, with both business creation and GDP growth down since 2016. That effect is seen in the news that both Robinsons, which has been in the region for 90 years, and Colman’s, which has produced mustard in Norwich for 160 years, are to leave the region, taking jobs with them.

Meeting the challenges of Brexit requires a positive industrial strategy. Unfortunately, what has been put forward so far does not cut the mustard, as Colman’s might say. Let us look at just three aspects of the Government’s industrial strategy. First, if the Government stick to their current policy of arbitrary migration targets with no concern for economic need, and if they press ahead with the Prime Minister’s plans to cut what she calls low-skilled—earning less than £50,000 a year—immigration, businesses will have huge problems recruiting and retaining staff. That is true not only of agriculture, which employs tens of thousands in the east of England, but of research in the region’s great universities and development in the Silicon Fen tech cluster around Cambridge worth £1.54 billion. The Government’s industrial strategy does not try in any meaningful way to address the huge skills gap caused by the Government’s Brexit position.

On skills, it would be easier to plan for future skills need if the Government offered any real devolution or economic decision-making powers to the region, such as the

“massive devolution of the skills agenda and funding” that the all-party parliamentary group’s Budget submission calls for. The Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority does not have the powers or autonomy enjoyed by others in England, and there has been no visible effort from Government to consult on or put forward regional industrial strategies. I look forward to the Minister explaining how that will happen.

The Government’s approach contrasts starkly with what Labour is doing: we are putting regional need first, with plans for a network of regional investment banks with real money behind them and decisions made locally. We will hold the first in a series of regional industrial strategy conferences in Newcastle next month, and another business conference in the north-west in January. The shadow Chancellor and the shadow Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy are touring the country holding regional economic conferences and roundtables.

Thirdly, as the Government are paying scant attention to the spread of growth within regions, the all-party parliamentary group’s submission to the Budget argued that the key issue for the east of England is

“how to manage and spread Cambridge’s growth to market towns and coastal communities in a strategic and effective manner.”

My hon. Friend Daniel Zeichner gave a detailed account of the economic strengths his city brings to the region. It boasts as many private-sector research and development jobs as the whole of the north, which has 50 times more people. He also highlighted the key challenges of the unaffordability of housing and poor transport links, both of which deter talent and investment. Tory-led Governments have failed to address either of those issues in eight years, but Labour will build 1 million affordable homes over five years and transform our country’s transport infrastructure with our £250 billion national transformation fund. According to the comments of Priti Patel, Giles Watling and the hon. Member for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich, that transformation is much desired.

As shadow Science Minister, I am keen to see an industrial strategy that maintains current centres of excellence such as Cambridge. Our strategy would do that, but it should not end there. Last year, research from Sheffield Hallam University found the Government’s pledges as part of their industrial strategy would have an impact on just 1% of the economy. By focusing on a small number of elite technologies and industries, the Government have failed to provide a vision for how workers in Clacton-on-Sea, Yarmouth or Lowestoft can share in the prosperity and growth generated by Cambridge. Labour is committed to building an innovation nation where prosperity, high productivity and good quality, high-skilled jobs are shared across the nation.

The east of England deserves a real industrial strategy that lays out a vision for a shared prosperity across the region: a high-wage, high-skill, high-productivity region that leads the way to a more prosperous post-Brexit future. That is what Labour offers and I hope the Minister will be bold and follow our lead.