Economic Growth: South-west — [Albert Owen in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:39 pm on 5th February 2019.

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Photo of Chi Onwurah Chi Onwurah Shadow Minister (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) (Industrial Strategy) 3:39 pm, 5th February 2019

I thank my hon. Friend for emphasising the importance of Airbus to the south-west; I absolutely accept that point. The warnings of industry leaders and companies such as Airbus and Nissan need to be taken seriously by the Government, and listened to.

As Neil Parish emphasised, the south-west has one of the highest skills gaps in the UK, with a third of all small and medium-sized businesses having difficulty hiring people with specialist skills. That will only worsen after Brexit, if the Government press ahead with plans to slash so-called low-skilled immigration. Businesses will be even harder pressed to find and retain labour, as we have heard.

More than that, the south-west has been a major beneficiary of EU funding, receiving the second largest share of regional development funding and social funding. The key economic hubs of Bristol and Swindon are among the largest UK recipients of Horizon 2020 research grants, from which we get more back than we put in. After the UK leaves the EU, that hole will be filled by the Government, but the existing institutions exhibit the kind of south-eastern bias that means that, for example, the south-west receives half the per-capita UK Research and Innovation funding that London got in 2016-17. How will the Government ensure that funding is replaced in a way that does not exacerbate regional inequalities?

At the heart of all those challenges is the need for a strong, positive industrial strategy, capable of building and rebuilding the economy to meet the challenges of the future and of Brexit. Unfortunately, we have seen no evidence of one. Labour has the answer. [Laughter.] Hon. Members should listen. We are committed to raising spending on research and development to 3% of GDP by 2030—an additional £1.3 billion in public investment. That will get us part of the way, and will certainly benefit the region’s burgeoning tech industry, which grew 47% from 2014 to 2016.

Much of that additional spend will draw on our industrial strategy, which is about investing in areas such as nuclear power as part of our commitment to low-carbon energy, ensuring that we have the skills for Somerset’s Hinkley Point.