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13 Feb 2003 : Column 1025—continued

Aerospace Industry

9. Helen Jackson (Sheffield, Hillsborough): To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry if she will make a statement on the prospects for the aerospace industry. [97626]

The Minister for Employment Relations, Industry and the Regions (Alan Johnson): The UK aerospace sector's prospects are good, despite the many challenges that the industry faces. The aerospace innovation and growth team published its interim report recently, which suggested that there are real opportunities for future growth.

Helen Jackson : My hon. Friend will know that the high-grade steel produced by the Corus plant at Stocksbridge in my constituency is significantly dependent on the health and well-being of the aerospace

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industry for its markets. Its orders dropped by about a third following 11 September, and the effect is still working its way through the steel capacity of the plant. What further action will my hon. Friend take, especially in the South Yorkshire region, to promote aerospace and the markets in order to restore the health of that core manufacturing sector?

Alan Johnson: My hon. Friend is absolutely right about the importance of the very specialised steel production in her constituency. I am advised that, although there is cause for concern, the sector is not suggesting that major difficulties will be caused, partly because there has been huge investment on the defence side. In particular, the joint strike fighter is a huge investment made jointly with the USA.

My hon. Friend will know about the development of the advanced manufacturing park, as the site is very close to her area. Significantly, Boeing is making a major investment to encourage and develop innovation in aerospace manufacturing. That is one of the most important developments that we have seen in this country for many years.

Mr. Laurence Robertson (Tewkesbury): The Minister may be aware that the aerospace industry is very important in my constituency, although a number of jobs have been lost in it over the years. The industry tells me that the best thing that the Government can do is ensure that it can compete on a level playing field. Fair trade was mentioned earlier, and it is extremely important that companies in Europe do not get help from their Governments in meeting start-up costs and winning orders when such help is not available to companies in this country. Will he ensure that we can compete on a level playing field? Will he also make sure that companies involved in joint projects get paid on time when they do the work?

Alan Johnson: I agree that aerospace, of all industries, needs a level playing field. That is fairly obvious. In terms of the issues that the sector faces, the innovation and growth team is very important. I stress that that is a body not of politicians but of the industry itself, and it is considering all the problems that it faces with a view to the future 20 years hence.

On the issues that the hon. Gentleman mentions with regard to assisting our aerospace industry, Governments of all persuasions have seen the need to support aerospace because of the particular problems that it faces. The innovation and growth team has a very important role in that respect and its report will be published in May. Since 1997, £1 billion of launch investment has been put into Rolls-Royce and Airbus. From talking to aerospace companies, I find that they are very appreciative of the efforts that we have made in this country—this is not merely a party political point—because they have made our aerospace sector second only to the US in the world. While we should look at our difficulties and consider how to resolve them, we should not downgrade the successes that we have had in this country.

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Social Enterprise

10. Mrs. Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside): What support she is giving to social enterprise. [97628]

The Minister for E-Commerce and Competitiveness (Mr. Stephen Timms): My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I launched a three-year strategy for social enterprise in July. We are now working on the delivery of that strategy and the co-ordination of its delivery across government.

Mrs. Ellman : Will my hon. Friend ensure that the support given to social enterprise by his Department, including the Phoenix fund, works together with support from other sources, including the Merseyside special investment fund, which has recently set up a special section devoted to community businesses? Will he support the Co-operatives and Community Benefit Societies Bill, which is currently being promoted by my hon. Friend the Member for South Derbyshire (Mr. Todd), as a very important way of supporting social enterprises?

Mr. Timms: I agree that the Bill is important. Social enterprises are making very good use of the support provided from the Phoenix fund. That includes a number of enterprises in my hon. Friend's constituency; I have noticed the Cats Pyjamas and Train 2000 projects in particular. She is absolutely right that that support needs to be allied to support from other sources. Let me also draw her attention to the community investment tax relief, which was introduced a few weeks ago and which I think will be significant in tilting the playing field in favour of commercial viability for investments in some social enterprise projects that would not otherwise be viable.

Mr. Christopher Chope (Christchurch): Does the Minister accept that socialism and enterprise are mutually incompatible? If the terms being used are new Labour speak for not-for-profit bodies and charities, why is his Secretary of State not campaigning for the removal of the evil congestion charge, which is undermining the work of charities in central London?

Mr. Timms: The hon. Gentleman is wrong about that. The great attraction of social enterprise is that it combines the creativity and energy that characterise the entrepreneurial private sector at its best with a strong commitment to public service. Bringing those two together creates a powerful combination from which the whole country can gain.


The Minister for Women was asked—

Social Enterprises

18. Tony Cunningham (Workington): What steps she is taking to support women in setting up social enterprises. [97608]

The Minister for Women (Ms Patricia Hewitt): We are already supporting women as well as men to set up and

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run social enterprises through a variety of activities. This will be strengthened through the implementation of the social enterprise strategy, to which my hon. Friend the Minister for E-Commerce and Competitiveness referred a moment ago.

Tony Cunningham : I thank the Minister for that reply. I have some very successful social enterprises in my constituency, which are fully supported by my local council, Allerdale borough council. What additional support can be given to women establishing social enterprises in rural areas? These women suffer not only from the normal problems of access to finance but from peripherality, rural isolation and general access to support mechanisms.

Ms Hewitt: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I am glad to say that there are already successful social enterprises in rural areas, such as Rascals, the after-school care club in Northumberland that was set up by a group of mothers to provide child care in that rural area. More generally, the Small Business Service is already delivering—through the business links network—the farm business advisory service, which is funded by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Countryside Agency. This is helping women and men in rural areas to move into new enterprises—both social enterprises and for profit.

Mrs. Caroline Spelman (Meriden): The fact that we have just dealt with the subject of social enterprise during Trade and Industry questions and that we are now dealing with it again underlines the point that having the important cross-cutting role of Minister for Women shackled to departmental questions is not working. It allows me, however, to comb through the Government's document, "Social Enterprise: a Strategy for Success", which states that social enterprise can contribute to "socially inclusive wealth creation". Women are not mentioned once in this document. Nor are they mentioned in the social enterprise strategy work plan for July 2002 to October 2003—very inclusive, that! Will the Minister admit that women and social enterprise were just an afterthought?

Ms Hewitt: No, of course not. I am disappointed that the hon. Lady seems to be suggesting that she does not think that Women's questions are useful. Perhaps she would like to join me in discussions with the House authorities to create a longer Question Time on women's matters. I would be delighted to do that. Our business support strategies and our social enterprise strategy are, of course, designed to support women as well as men. The variety of examples in the social enterprise strategy includes a number of companies—I have just referred to one that provides child care services—developed and run by women.

Mr. Chris Mole (Ipswich): Given the important role that women can play in social enterprises, will my right hon. Friend explain how the business support services for which the Department of Trade and Industry is

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responsible can provide support to ensure that social enterprises have the management and financial skills and other capabilities of mainstream businesses?

Ms Hewitt: We have looked particularly at the needs of social enterprises. In some respects—access to finance, for instance—they are pretty much the same as for any other business. In other respects, such as the legal framework in which they operate, they have quite different needs. Through the regional development agencies and through business links we are ensuring that business advisers have the necessary specialist knowledge to support entrepreneurs who want to set up a social enterprise. I am glad to say that a number of the regional development agencies are already creating support networks designed to encourage social enterprise.

Sandra Gidley (Romsey): Social enterprise, according to the Minister,

I totally support that sentiment. The latest figures clearly show, however, that women are not becoming enthusiastic participants in managing public services. The number of public appointments of women has remained disappointingly static, at 34 per cent. over the last year, which shows a failure on the part of the Government. Will the Government give their full attention to this issue, or shall we continue to see part-time results from a part-time Minister?

Ms Hewitt: Oh dear. I am sure that the hon. Lady is aware that in 1991 only 23 per cent. of public appointments were held by women. We succeeded in increasing that to one in three by March last year, but change takes time. Unless we take positive action, it will not happen fast enough. That is why, last year, my hon. Friend the Minister for Social Exclusion and Deputy Minister for Women and I launched a series of seminars and programmes to encourage thousands of women to put themselves forward for public appointments. The hon. Lady will understand that only about 15 per cent. of public appointments fall vacant each year, but I have no doubt, given the hugely enthusiastic reception we received at those events, that many more women will come forward and be appointed.

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