The Autumn Statement delivered by Jeremy Hunt was not one that many of us wished to see delivered. However, the cost of the pandemic, the energy crisis and the war in Ukraine has meant that fiscal responsibility is the order of the day, and that statement was born out of necessity. Supporting eleven million households and hundreds of thousands of businesses during the pandemic was always going to come at a cost, as was the universal approach to the energy crisis which is estimated to cost £10bn a month.
The Chancellor outlined the Statement for “stability, growth and public services”, a point that was reiterated by the Prime Minister in his speech to the CBI on 21st November. In it, he specifically spoke about the need for innovation to spur on growth which in turn would create “more jobs, higher wages, and better opportunities for people” and that in doing so it would “improve our schools and NHS” and “create more productive public services”.
“Growth” is a term that has been bandied about for better and worse over the last few months, as though it is a genie in a bottle that can be uncorked and let loose across the nation’s businesses and public services. The reality is, of course, more nuanced and complicated. For growth is the prize that every nation aspires to, which is why the Prime Minister spelt out how it could be achieved through innovation.
The UK’s productivity increases over the last 50 years have largely come from innovation. That innovation is encouraged through research and development investment and incentivisation. This is why the Government’s Autumn Statement protected R&D’s £20bn budget and why it is investing further in the Advanced Research and Invention Agency.
Within the confines of South Devon, there are clear-cut examples of where local businesses will benefit. Whether it be the pharmaceutical, photonics or engineering industries that are based in South Devon, all will have the opportunity to scale up, expand their operations and attract new investment and support. Such an approach will not just help the national economy but will further enlarge our local economy creating new jobs and opportunities.
It is not just about the big businesses, but also our small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). Napoleon attempted to smear Britain by stating that we were a “nation of shop keepers”. Well, we are, and we should rightly be proud of this. But our high streets need support and cultivation. This is why last week on Small Business Saturday I was out and about speaking with local businesses to make them aware of recently announced initiatives like Help to Grow and Made Smarter that are designed to help how our small businesses innovate and create. After all, “the more we innovate, the more we’ll grow”.
While businesses large and small can take steps to help themselves grow, it is also about what is on offer to help people acquire the skills they need in a 21st-century economy. Already £2bn extra has been invested within our schools, but we must also raise awareness of our incredible Further Education colleges and the courses on offer that help people upskill and retrain throughout their lives. Equipping people with the tools to help them change careers will not only help create the skills we need, but will enhance the knowledge of each and every one of us. We must, as the Prime Minister stated, end the notion that “learning is something you finish at 18”. Rather we are offering a Lifetime Skills Guarantee to ensure that no one who wishes to retrain or upskill is ever denied the opportunity to do so.
Growth is hard to deliver, but through a combination of public and private sector cooperation, investment, incentivisation and responsibility we can create a landscape of innovation that helps large and small businesses, and equips people with the tools they need to do the jobs they want.