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Andrew BridgenMain Page: Andrew Bridgen (Conservative) - North West Leicestershire)
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(2 years, 8 months ago)Commons Chamber
I will indeed. Throughout my time in this House and in this Government, I have promoted the importance of places and local leadership and of ensuring that investment decisions benefit from local knowledge and local decisions. The Budget and the industrial strategy reinforce that. To have a prosperous United Kingdom, every part of it needs to be maximising its potential, so the strategy very much works with cities, towns and regions across the UK. We are inviting areas to promote local industrial strategies that state what needs to be done locally to make a particular town, city or county fit for the future and able to attract new business investment.
I will take that representation. My hon. Friend is right that the performance of the east midlands has been extremely positive. Some of its institutions—I think of universities in Leicester and Loughborough—are having a huge impact on the local economy. I look forward to visiting Leicestershire again soon to have discussions as part of the plan for local industrial strategies. I mentioned the fund for improving transport connections between city centres and the towns around them, and that is essential investment in the future competitiveness of our economy.
Break in Debate
I am going to make some progress.
The strategy identifies infrastructure as the third foundation of productivity and outlines £31 billion of investment through the national productivity investment fund, with some ring-fenced for the necessary infrastructure for electric vehicles and boosting digital infrastructure. As I outlined yesterday, TUC analysis shows that that £31 billion increases investment to just 2.9% of GDP, whereas the average spent on investment by leading industrial nations in the OECD is at least 3.5%. In addition, it is unclear whether the extra £7 billion announced in last week’s Budget is new money at all, rather than a re-allocation from other areas of capital spend which was previously budgeted—it would help if those on the Government Front Bench listened to this question, as it is important. Perhaps the Secretary of State can confirm the meaning of footnote 3 in table 2.1 of the Budget Red Book, because it does not appear to be very clear.
Key policies to improve the business environment are sector deals; a £2.5 billion investment fund incubated in the British Business Bank, as announced in the Budget; and yet another review of encouraging growth in small and medium-sized enterprises. That is, sadly, another case of lacking ambition—
I applaud the hon. Gentleman’s attempts at crowbarring that in there. I was talking about access to SME finance, so I will carry on.
Break in Debate
Order. I must now reduce the speaking limit to four minutes.
When the British people voted to leave the European Union, they did not vote to damage the Good Friday agreement, they did not vote to undermine the public finances, they did not vote to run the risk of falling off the edge of a cliff without a deal, and they certainly did not vote to end the benefits to Britain of the customs union and the single market. None of those things are inevitable consequences of the vote in June 2016: they are the result of political choices, made by the Government, that will have profound consequences for the future of our economy, our public services and the people we represent. Those choices and consequences dwarf this Budget and will determine the shape of just about every Budget in the years ahead.
The truth is that the Government have been far from transparent and open about those consequences. The simple question for the House is “Why not?” Why have the Government been so unwilling to acknowledge that the decisions that they have made will produce that result, and why have they been so reluctant to share that analysis? We know what the benefits of the customs union are: it gives us frictionless trade. The Government say they want frictionless trade, but we have it now through the customs union. We know it gives us access to a load of agreements with other countries in the world negotiated by the EU. We know—referring to the point made by the hon. Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Damian Collins)—that it enables the lorries that come off the ferries at Dover to move out seamlessly to help to turn the wheels of industry and stock our supermarket shelves.
Some 60% of our exports go to Europe and those markets we access through the trade deals. Is it possible to imagine any business saying to its biggest customers, “Well, we’ll try and keep on doing what we are doing with you at the moment, but actually we’re more interested in trying to sell stuff to other people around the rest of the world.”?
The place where this falls into the starkest relief is in Northern Ireland. The Government say that they do not want a border, yet they also say that they want to leave the customs union and the single market. When it is pointed out to Ministers that that could be a bit of a problem, they say that technology will come to their rescue, even though their ideas are untested. One organisation has even suggested that airships and drones could hover above a non-existent border. I hate to say this, but I do not think that tethered Zeppelins or other airships are going to deal with the problem in Northern Ireland. The truth is that, whatever the weather and no matter how radical the technology is or how much the Government spend, it is hard, if not impossible, to see how this problem can be reconciled if we are to avoid a return to a hard border. That is why there is a crisis in the negotiations with the EU, and why the Irish Government are pushing so hard.
This is what lies behind the argument we are having about the impact assessments that apparently never existed. That is what this debate is about. It is not about process, or about what has been released to the Select Committee. We know that what we have been given has been edited, filleted and sanitised. What this is really about is the process by which the Government took the decision to leave the single market and the customs union. Did they consider the fiscal, economic and employment consequences of the two most important decisions that have been taken since the vote in June 2016? If they did not consider them, why not? And if they did, when are we going to see them? None of us knows how this is going to turn out, but frankly, the Government owe it to the House and to the people of Britain to come clean about how they reached that decision.