I made the following contribution to Day 3 of the Budget debate, which focused on the theme of Global Britain and was led by Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson.
I am grateful for the chance to contribute to a debate about the kind of country that we seek to build in the exciting new era before us. Too often, Britain’s decision to leave the EU has been mischaracterised as a backlash against modernity, and the reflex of a nation still mourning an imperial past. Now is the time to counter that miserable misperception with an unashamed vigour and a sense of urgency. We shall need both UK businesses and Government to engage with one another as never before, understanding that neither the private nor the public sector alone is a panacea in addressing the challenges and seizing the global opportunities ahead. The launch today of our industrial strategy marks a positive step down that road and builds on the foundations laid by this Budget.
Last week, the Chancellor recognised that strategic infrastructure will play a critical role in unlocking housing and economic development and connecting us to new opportunities overseas. The Government have already committed themselves to delivering the lower Thames crossing, which will not only open up new pockets of housing development, but link to state-of-the-art port and logistics facilities in nearby London Gateway and Tilbury Port, and to the expanding London City airport and continental crossings in Essex and Kent. I am working with the Department for International Trade and businesses in my constituency to take advantage of these local trade routes by exploiting UK Export Finance, improving exporters’ access to capital and enabling suppliers to fulfil new orders. Meanwhile, by lifting housing revenue account borrowing caps for councils in high demand areas, my local council in Havering will be able to take advantage of Crossrail’s arrival by maximising the benefits of its ambitious housing and estate regeneration scheme.
The new spirit of collaboration extends to the increasing interaction between our schools, universities and public services, opening commercial opportunities at home and abroad. I recently returned from Guangzhou in China, where I visited a high-tech women and children’s hospital that is working with academics at the University of Birmingham in genetic research and new medical technology. Opportunities abound to build even deeper economic ties with China and other international allies in this field through knowledge transfer partnerships and our new international research strategy. The NHS’s sheer buying power, the Government’s commitment in this Budget to higher research and development spending, a large and hyper-diverse patient group in cities such as London, and collaboration between universities and health services all create the ideal environment for international investors in the UK and the potential for more exportable expertise.
I welcome the Budget’s emphasis on productivity and technology, particularly the additional resource for lifelong learning, computing and the core subject of maths. However, a number of my constituents have expressed concern that the focus on core subjects such as maths is leading to the neglect of non-core subjects in our schools such as art, design and technology, and the humanities. This could risk skills shortages in our world-beating creative industries—sectors that have benefited enormously from targeted tax credits in recent years, and from which we derive enormous soft power.
Finally, a truly competitive global Britain must be one that nurtures our competitive advantage in services. For all the promise of the EU single market, provisions for services and digital technology are far from advanced. We have an enormous opportunity, should we secure a trade deal with the likes of the United States, to set out comprehensive agreements on services that could act as a template for global standards and regulation, particularly in new technologies.
I welcome this Budget and its complementary industrial strategy for their recognition that a truly global Britain will be one that invests in the kind of collaborative partnerships that transform the knowledge of our private and public sectors into growth and prosperity for our citizens.