Stephen Mosley:Corporate tax rates, of course, are one incredibly important area, but there are many others. In my speech, I shall concentrate on some of the issues that the right hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr Denham) talked about, to do with investment.Many people rightly ask, “How will we, in Britain, earn our living in the global marketplace of the future?” Like the Chancellor, I believe that there are sectors in which the UK can take a global lead, in which we have the ability to excel, and that have the potential to generate growth for future generations. The one that I will concentrate on is the digital economy.
The UK’s information technology and telecoms industry makes a gross value added contribution to the British economy of some £81 billion a year. That is around 9% of the total economy—it is a very similar figure to that for the financial services industry. Around one in 20 members of the work force—1.5 million people—are employed in IT and telecoms. There are around 100,000 unfilled job vacancies being advertised, and it is estimated that more than 500,000 new IT and telecoms professionals will be needed over the next five years. By exploiting the full potential of the technology industry, we could boost the UK economy by an additional £50 billion over the next seven years.
The Chancellor’s speech gave extremely encouraging signs that investment in information and communications technology is set to continue, but more needs to be done if we are to harness our real potential to make our country a global leader in the digital economy. We have a world-class base from which to grow further, but we require proactive engagement from the Government if we are to speed up growth and increase the economic potential of ICT businesses. We must be much more vigorous in promoting the industry to stimulate wider and sustained economic growth.
Stephen Mosley:Ultra-fast is, I think, the current term. Mr Deputy Speaker, I know that you have been involved with the Parliamentary Internet Communications and Technology Forum. We recently arranged a series of meetings with parliamentarians and industry representatives, including the UK chief executive officers of some the world’s leading IT businesses—for example, Facebook, Intel, IBM and Fujitsu, among many others.The universal message emanating from the meetings was that the UK technology industry must be promoted by Government whenever possible, and that greater care is needed if the UK is to attract, train and retain the highly skilled individuals who will help our economy to grow. Specifically, five key recommendations were made. The first had to do with the broadband issue: the Government must speed up the roll-out of superfast broadband. I totally support that, which is why I am absolutely delighted to welcome the Chancellor’s commitment to investing more than £780 million in broadband infrastructure to make sure that Britain has the best superfast broadband network in Europe by 2015. I am also pleased about the Government’s commitment to start the roll-out of 4G mobile networks, with the spectrum auctions planned for later this year.
Stephen Mosley:It is funny that my hon. Friend should say that, because our group’s second recommendation was that the Government should increase investment in ICT in schools. I was pleased to hear the Chancellor highlight the importance of education in building our skills base, because if any industry hopes to compete and thrive, the fundamental basis is the skills base of the domestic work force. My right hon. Friend the Education Secretary recently announced a shake-up in the way that computing is taught in schools. That follows calls from industry and academia, who suggest that ICT in schools is too focused on the use of specific software packages, and not focused on the underlying technologies or on learning the computer programming skills that will help to encourage young people to develop their own products and be on the cutting edge.Rebalancing the curriculum is a vital step, but there also needs to be greater emphasis on the quality of ICT teaching in schools, along with a concerted effort to champion future careers in the sector. I have already outlined the huge significance of IT for the wider UK economy, yet since 2002 there has been a 33% reduction in applications for computing degree courses. More must be done to encourage our young people into an ICT career if we are to reap all the potential benefits to our economy.
Stephen Mosley:The English baccalaureate covers the key core skills we want people to learn. ICT is an important skill, but I do not think it should be included in the baccalaureate, which covers maths, English, basic sciences—the basics. IT is a highly skilled area. Some people might be suited to study it, but others might not. Those who have an aptitude for it should pursue it and achieve.Thirdly, it is imperative that the UK trains and retains world-class individuals. Over the past decade, the UK has become a receiver of technology developed abroad, which has slowed down the development of technology in the UK. The overriding message coming from industry is that the single most important criterion when deciding where to make new investment is whether the skills to support the investment are available in that location. We have the broad skills base in this country to push on and achieve great things, but without the right commitment and investment—such as in ICT apprenticeships—the UK risks being left behind by our global competitors.
Fourthly, we need a strategy to encourage the take-up of new technology by small and medium-sized enterprises, and to encourage their growth and development. Specifically, it was recommended that the Government can assist by encouraging venture capital investment for the longer term. We have a huge wealth of talent in the UK but, in order for our entrepreneurs to grow their ideas into successful long-term businesses, they often have to sell their ideas and businesses abroad. A prime example of that is the once globally dominant UK computer games industry, which is now mainly foreign-owned and seeing future investment disappearing offshore. I was therefore extremely pleased to hear that the Chancellor will focus on that industry. If we want our smaller businesses to flourish, we should be encouraging investment to help nurture existing small businesses to become medium-sized businesses, and medium-sized businesses to become large ones.
I pay tribute to the Government for their catapult centre programme. We in the UK have always been on the cutting edge of technology, but our inability to transfer intellectual advances to market has often proved to be a stumbling block. The new catapult centres will help to commercialise the results of research in technology areas where there is potential for multi-billion pound global markets, including the digital economy. That is to be wholeheartedly welcomed.
Finally, the Treasury must emphasise and reiterate the importance of technology to the economy and commit to the long-term opportunities that the sector has to offer. We in the UK are attracting world leaders in new and emerging technologies to our shores. We have the skills base, the flexibility and the economic foundations to encourage more companies to invest here. The Government must champion the technology sector more vigorously if we are to harness its great potential to act as the catalyst for long-term growth in the United Kingdom. I am delighted that, as spelled out in the Budget, the Chancellor and the Government are now grasping that opportunity.