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Enterprise (Wakefield)

12.59 pm

Ed Balls (Normanton) (Lab): I am grateful for the opportunity at this my first Adjournment debate to raise an issue that is of real importance to my constituents and to our district. It is about how we can boost levels of enterprise in Normanton and the Wakefield district, and help more young people to fulfil their dreams while making our economy stronger and fairer. I am also grateful to the Minister for agreeing to the debate. His commitment to the area was testified when he toured Yorkshire on 4 November to see our local progress in enterprise, skills and technology. He said:

My right hon. Friend shares my belief, as do my hon. Friends the Members for Wakefield (Mary Creagh) and for Hemsworth (Jon Trickett), that enterprise and skills are critical for the future economic success of not only my Normanton constituency, but the Wakefield district and Yorkshire.

Last week was national enterprise week, a campaign backed by the Government as well as the Confederation of British Industry, the Institute of Directors, chambers of commerce, the Federation of Small Businesses, Business in the Community and the Prince's Trust, which organised 2,000 events throughout the country—twice as many as the year before—that involved young people in enterprise. It focused, in particular, on women's enterprise and social enterprise.

The make your mark campaign is about bringing together an unprecedented coalition of businesses, charities and education bodies to make enterprise a reality for young people aged 14 to 30. In my constituency, many school pupils and college students were involved in enterprise activities last week, not least at Wakefield college, where on Friday an enterprise fair was organised at which I was interviewed by music students from the college who were learning how to run their own radio station. The interview was tough, but fair.

The Minister might ask why I chose this week to debate enterprise in the Wakefield district, when last week was national enterprise week. Last Friday, an important announcement was made that could have profound and historic implications for the district. The national enterprise campaign decided that, over the next two years, it will run and fund local enterprise campaigns throughout the country that can act as demonstration hubs of what can be done locally. It chose four areas for the hubs: Liverpool, Coventry, Lowestoft and, of particular importance to me and my colleagues, the Wakefield district.

The national enterprise campaign plans to invest £500,000 over the next two years in a local campaign to promote enterprise among young people. It will work with schools, local businesses, youth organisations, the local council and Members of Parliament. It will be based on the same principles that inspired the national campaign over the past few years—to motivate young people, to inform them and to allow them to make connections, and to influence local bodies to come together and support them. The same will happen locally.
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The Minister might wonder why the Wakefield district has been chosen as the place to demonstrate to the rest of Britain how successfully a local enterprise campaign can be run. Our district has been chosen for three reasons. First, it has great economic potential. It is a great location in which the M1, the M62 and the A1 all intercept. It is truly the crossroads of Britain. We have a good industrial, mining and manufacturing tradition. There are many fine local companies, but new investors have also come into our district, such as Asda, Coca Cola, Next, Pioneer and Xscape, the second indoor ski centre in Britain. We have great skills and a hard-working work force. Over the past few years, unemployment has fallen below the national average as employment has risen.

At the same time, everyone in our district accepts that we have not yet taken proper advantage of our potential. Levels of adult skills in the work force lag behind the Yorkshire national averages. Too many young people still leave school at 16 without going to college, undertaking an apprenticeship or staying on in some form of education and therefore obtaining skills for the future. We have lower levels of business creation than other parts of the country. We have only 29 new businesses per 10,000 residents. In Yorkshire and Humber, the number is higher at 32 new businesses, while the United Kingdom average is 38. The highest number of start-ups in our region is 49, which is almost twice as many as in our area. Therefore, the second reason why our area was chosen is that we have the potential to change.

The third reason is the determination in our district to turn around statistics and to take advantage of our location and potential, and for Wakefield to lead again in the economy of the future, just as the north of England and our district led industrialisation in the 19th century. In our district, we are determined that we should lead again in the new industrialisation of the 21st century, not only closing the north-south divide, but allowing Wakefield to catch up with and even surpass our neighbours. That is not just my view. A year ago, our local authority decided, in response to the northern way initiative, to set up what we call the Wakefield way, to work out how our district should respond economically to the regional and national challenges, and look, for example, at how we can tackle the numbers of people on incapacity benefit and boost skills in the adult work force, regenerate our town centres and boost levels of enterprise in our community.

We also have regional support. Yorkshire Forward, our regional development agency, is a member of the Wakefield way and has backed the local make your mark campaign. Many local businesses are actively involved. I have had commitments in the past week from a number of businesses, not least from Coca Cola, whose bottling plant in my constituency is the largest in the world, actively to engage in our local enterprise campaign and visit district schools, and many other companies are willing to do the same.

We also have interest from schools, where head teachers are enthusiastic about the new opportunities that our make your mark campaign can bring, and from young people. To give one example of the commitment in our area to tackling these issues, only last week Connexions organised a careers fair for modern apprenticeships, which took place on a rather cold
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Thursday evening last week, and between 100 and 200 people were expected to attend. In fact, the queue looped round the streets of the Wakefield district as more than 500 people came to find out about apprenticeship options and see how they could take up those opportunities. There is a real desire among young people to engage.

Last week I visited Sheridan, a company in my constituency that was started in Leeds by two Normanton residents to make bespoke table tops and work surfaces for kitchens and bathrooms. Their company now employs more than 150 people and it is relocating from Leeds to Wakefield with a £4 million new investment, because they decided that if they wanted the business to expand and grow, with the space to do so, an authority that would back them, and the available skills, it was better for them to come to Wakefield. That is another sign of local commitment to enterprise, the strengths of our area and also the strengths of young people who have made their mark and started businesses that are now flourishing in our district.

Two weeks ago, in a local school, I met a young former pupil from Freeston school, who is now playing professional rugby at Warrington, and a 16-year-old from my constituency called Leeanne Newton, who, while studying for A-levels, is the number one in England at karate and the number three in the UK, with the potential to win a gold medal, if we can persuade the International Olympic Committee to allow karate at the 2012 Olympics.

As well as commitment from young people, we also have real commitment from the wider community. Our make your mark campaign is backed not just by the Yorkshire Evening Post and Ridings FM, our local radio station, but also the Wakefield Express, which is a high-selling local newspaper with some of the best regional business and enterprise coverage of any local newspaper that I have ever seen. So, we have a real commitment to make the initiative work. The national enterprise campaign was inspired by our potential, the gap and the ground that we need to make up, and also by the local commitment across the community to make it work.

I am sure that the Minister agrees that building an enterprise culture is critical if every young person in our district and throughout the country is to fulfil their dreams, whether they want to get an apprenticeship, go to university, write a film script, start a rock band or run their own business. If we in Wakefield could raise our game to the Yorkshire average, 1,500 new businesses would be created every year, and if we could raise that to meet the UK average, 3,000 more businesses would be created every year. Our target for the next few years  should be to raise our game to the Yorkshire and then the national levels. As well as encouraging more young people to start businesses, if we can find in our district the next Kaiser Chiefs, and make sure that they come not from Leeds but from Wakefield, we will be putting Wakefield on the map for culture, too.

I thank the Minister in advance for replying to this debate. Can he assure me and my colleagues that the Government will continue to support enterprise among young people, the national enterprise campaign and the four local campaigns over the next two years? Will he encourage our regional development agency to give strategic support to our area, so that we can fulfil our
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potential, and the potential of our young people? Will he encourage his colleagues at the Department for Education and Skills to throw their full weight behind the initiative in order to boost enterprise and education in the curriculum? Also, will he encourage all schools to back the campaign, and in particular ensure that all teachers have the training and resources to back enterprise in the curriculum?

Finally, will the Minister come and visit our district in the next two years to see how we are doing, to encourage us in our efforts to boost local investment and jobs, and to back us as we fulfil our ambition to make Wakefield district the enterprise capital of not only Yorkshire but Britain?

1.11 pm

Jon Trickett (Hemsworth) (Lab): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Normanton (Ed Balls) on securing this debate and on the role that he has played in encouraging enterprise, both as part of his present duties as a Member and in his previous role in the Exchequer.

If I may reflect on my own life for a moment, I left school with no qualifications; in fact, the head teacher said: "Trickett, perhaps you shouldn't return for the exams, since you're clearly not going to be too successful." For a while, I wondered what to do, and eventually I joined my father and grandfather in the building industry. I became self-employed and ran a business for a number of years during the Conservative Administration. That was a time when small businesses such as mine suffered from a surfeit of regulation, but that is another story.

Wherever I go in Wakefield—I represent the south-east of the district—I encounter people with similar life histories to mine. They have a dream and they have skills; all that they need is a little advice and support to realise their dream of running a small business that will perhaps one day grow into a larger one. We very much welcome the initiative and thank the Government for making it possible.

I want to reflect on another aspect of enterprise. We can define enterprise as someone having a dream, and then making that dream happen. Wherever I go in the 22 small villages and towns that I represent, I encounter people who have a dream, and who, occasionally, are struggling to make it happen. I describe those people as social entrepreneurs. They tend to invent a series of mechanisms to achieve what they want. I will briefly describe some of them.

In Upton there is a piece of land worth £2 million. It belongs to the local parish council. If it can be developed, that money would be used to develop sports facilities for the local rugby club, but there is no mechanism to achieve that at the moment. In Moorthorpe, St. Luke's church has created a crèche providing care for very young children whose mothers need to go out to work. A small surplus generated from that was used to open a shop selling second-hand clothes to very poor people in the area. Ten per cent. of the profits from those two enterprises go immediately to Romania, of all places, to help women who have fallen into prostitution.
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In Featherstone, a range of local sports clubs have joined with the Featherstone Rovers in an attempt to build a sporting village. The village is badly in need of regeneration, and people there have very poor health. It would be wonderful to encourage sport and exercise, and to achieve our ambitions to create a healthier community. The facilities are very run down, but the land is there, as are the buildings, although they need investment. People of the area now understand that they need some sort of corporate vehicle in order to take their ambitions forward.

In Hemsworth, there is the Spring Life group, a small, church, faith-based group. It has created a healthy living centre. Again, we are talking about an area of very poor health. That now employs one person. There are a number of volunteers working there, in a local shop right in the middle of Hemsworth. Again, some small employment is being achieved, which gives assistance to those living in hell as a result of the long-term effects of the mining industry, in which all the villages that I represent were involved.

All those and many other schemes have been started by people who are not motivated by profit, but want to create something in their community, having recognised a need. Another scheme was started in Fitzwilliam. Kinsley, a former pit site, was in a shocking state, with the land derelict and poisoned. Two women, Anne and Margaret, got together and found the money, which, through their initiative and entrepreneurial skills, they converted into a wonderful park. What those entrepreneurial people need most frequently is a corporate vehicle—a not-for-profit company, co-operative or some other mechanism—to help them to achieve their objectives. I hope that, as well as stimulating private entrepreneurs, we do not forget that our communities need social enterprises of that kind. If we are to define enterprise as having a dream and then making it happen, I hope that that kind of initiative will help all those people and many others.

1.17 pm

Mary Creagh (Wakefield) (Lab): I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Normanton (Ed Balls) for initiating this timely debate and for his excellent work in this area. I attended with him the launch of the make your mark campaign at Outwood Grange college last Friday and was really impressed by the young people and business representatives whom I met.

As part of national enterprise week, I followed my trip to my hon. Friend's constituency with a trip to Wakefield college, which had been showcasing young businesses all day. I was there last year too, before I became a Member of Parliament. Wakefield college is a centre of vocational excellence in enterprise, which gives the district a head start in creating an enterprise culture. However, I was disappointed this year, because I arrived just as all the stores had shut up and I was too late to do my Christmas shopping. My disappointment increased when I discovered that the start-ups that I had missed included a shoe company called Kitten Heels, which I thought sounded promising, a lingerie company and, best of all, a chocolate company. The lesson for all politicians is to make sure they get there on time and have a chance to spend some money with these new companies. I shall make sure that I arrive a little earlier next year.
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I am particularly glad that enterprise week is a national event, as there was clearly an exponential growth in the number of people attending this year. We need more entrepreneurship education, so that young people have a greater financial understanding, as well as the confidence and the aspirations to go out into the world and achieve their dreams. I believe that the make your mark campaign will go a long way to providing that education and creating a solid foundation. However, we must also address the gender gap and encourage young women to start their own businesses. A couple of months ago I led an Adjournment debate in this Chamber that looked at the difference in the numbers of men and women who start their own businesses. Young women have all sorts of extra barriers to doing so, such as child care responsibilities, very low incomes and lack of capital.

A number of projects in Wakefield help young women to start their own businesses. As my hon. Friend said, Yorkshire Forward has a women's enterprise strategy, and West Yorkshire Enterprise Agency Ltd. has a women's network that brings women together from across the county. I attended its monthly networking meeting in September and met some of the women business leaders who are putting our area on the map.

To return to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Hemsworth (Jon Trickett), Wakefield has several excellent social entrepreneurs. A new community centre in St. Swithun's at Eastmoor now has a healthy living centre and a crèche, which my son attends. There is also a new Denby Dale centre, which has been given by the mill owner, where community enterprises can start their businesses.

In short, I would be keen to hear what plans my right hon. Friend the Minister has to address the gender gap in non-gender specific roles, and I wonder whether our education system can support social entrepreneurs and help young people to aspire and achieve their dreams.

1.21 pm

The Minister for Industry and the Regions (Alun Michael) : I think that this is the first time, Miss Widdecombe, that I have had the pleasure of serving under your eagle eye in Westminster Hall. I shall behave myself.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Normanton (Ed Balls) for initiating this debate. What we heard from him and from my hon. Friends the Members for Wakefield (Mary Creagh) and for Hemsworth (Jon Trickett) demonstrates that Wakefield is lucky to have such a strong team of representatives, who clearly believe in driving enterprise forward in the area.

I am extremely pleased that Wakefield was chosen as one of the first places in the United Kingdom to run a make your mark local enterprise campaign. I suspect that there are three reasons for that. The first is the partnership demonstrated today, with my hon. Friend the Member for Normanton being supported vigorously and knowledgably by his two colleagues. That makes clear their local leadership. Secondly, my hon. Friend referred to the determination to change the face of the local area and its statistics, because of the human misery that goes with underperformance. Thirdly, my hon. Friend showed leadership today by voicing the will and
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determination of the local area not only to be selected but to use the opportunity to the full. I congratulate him on that.

I will do all that I can to support national enterprise week, and the expansion of those activities throughout the year. I have met people from Enterprise Insight on several occasions to try to ensure that we do as much as possible this year, and to throw the full weight of the Department of Trade and Industry behind enterprise week. My hon. Friend may be interested to know that we will have a manufacturing day next year, as well as the social enterprise and the women's enterprise days that took place this year. Manufacturing is still crucial to the economy, and it needs that specific focus.

I also agree with my hon. Friend on the importance of working in close co-operation with colleagues in the Department for Education and Skills. The money going into enterprise education is crucial, but one of the messages that I have been trying to put across to business leaders is the importance of them engaging with schools that are undertaking enterprise education. We do not want enterprise talked about; we want young people to get the feel and the smell of enterprise from those who have done the work of setting up their own businesses. In that way, they will understand the options before them. I am happy to promise to visit Wakefield to see how it is developing. There are some real challenges in the Yorkshire and Humberside area, and a variety of approaches is being taken in a number of towns and cities, which will be particularly interesting for us all.

My hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield referred to a range of imaginative enterprises, and she rightly underlined the importance of women's enterprise. Were we to have the same proportion of women running businesses as the United States, we would have another 750,000 businesses. Think what contribution three quarters of a million more businesses could make to the economy. Promoting women's enterprise is not only a question of enterprise and economy; it is also a question of equality. I am pursuing the matter in conjunction with the Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Meg Munn), who is enthusiastically dealing with such issues in the DTI.

I was pleased to hear my hon. Friend the Member for Hemsworth refer to social enterprise. He spoke of having a dream and making it happen. People aspiring to live in a better society and making change in a business-like way is what underpins the community interest company that we launched recently. It makes it easier for people to become involved in real businesses—ones that address the triple bottom line of achieving commercial, environmental and community value. That contribution to the economy should not be underestimated.

Promoting enterprise involves engendering a can-do approach to life and business. Specifically, the make your mark campaign gives Wakefield a unique opportunity to promote enterprise and to inspire its young people to turn their ideas into reality by launching businesses and community projects and by developing new ideas in existing organisations.

Wakefield is one of only four places in England that have been chosen for these intensive local campaigns. The others are Liverpool, which I visited recently,
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Coventry and Lowestoft. Each has been chosen because senior local figures are willing to act as champions for the campaign. Moreover, key local and regional organisations are working in partnership to run the campaign. Importantly, each area has a sense of identity. Local people share a sense of place and community.

The aforementioned leadership is important, and Wakefield clearly has it. However, we must also promote activity in places where leadership is not so apparent. I look forward to working with my hon. Friends and others to promote ideas that spin out from what I hope will be considerable success in Wakefield. The make your mark campaign is the first business-led and Government-backed campaign of its type. It aims to kick-start an enterprise culture among the UK's young people, particularly those aged 14 to 30. The message at the heart of the campaign is that enterprise is about having ideas and ambitions, and about making those ideas and ambitions reality.

A coalition of business, charities, education bodies and Government supports the campaign to inspire young people to be enterprising, so that their ambitions can be expressed through business start-ups, through social and community enterprise and through becoming enterprising employees—people who make their ideas happen at work.

I have always favoured promoting the culture of an enterprising public sector as much as promoting the culture of an enterprising private sector. I hope that I contributed a little to that through my youth and community work. Life can be exciting in the public sector as well as in the private and third sectors.

The local campaign will use a proven coalition-building and campaigning approach. To summarise, the local enterprise campaign will seek to lead a coalition of partners that inspires young people to connect to the
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enterprise agenda. The campaign will bring together businesses, including regional development agencies, business links, enterprise agencies, local government economic development units and others to support and act to inform people who have a genuine desire to advance their ideas. It is important to form local networks to connect young people. Those networks will encourage peer-to-peer engagement and personal development.

We should not underestimate the extent to which peer influence brings about change. Young people look to their peers and to their peers' attitudes. The sky is the limit for a generation of young people who want to be enterprising. Enormous possibilities exist. It is also important to gather the necessary evidence in order to influence key players. We must lobby locally and nationally for resources to support what is essential work.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Normanton on forming such a strong group in Wakefield. It includes the council leader, Councillor Peter Box; the chief executive, John Foster; the deputy chief executive, Tony Reeves; the director of education, John McLeod; the director of regeneration, Jonathan Hall; and Yorkshire Forward's deputy chief executive, Tom Riordan.

As my hon. Friend said, enterprise week was a great success this year. I am very impressed by the range of activities that took place in Wakefield: Wakefield goes live for "Children in Need"; the Wakefield media challenge; and Wakefield enterprise goes live, which was a young people's enterprise radio station.

That is an impressive basis on which to continue with the campaign for which Wakefield has been chosen after winning the national enterprise challenge. The campaign will also form an important part of Yorkshire Forward's activity. We want the regional development agencies to drive the enterprise agencies—

Miss Ann Widdecombe (in the Chair): Order.
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