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Our universities need stability in funding to invest in research. We need to increase the economic impact of our science base, and to implement the recommendations of the Sainsbury review, which is
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looking at the effectiveness of our science base and at the opportunities and challenges of globalisation.

We know from the emerging conclusions of the review that delivering skills to raise further standards in STEM—science, technology, engineering and mathematics—teaching is important. I am extremely fortunate in having a science learning centre in my constituency, which is doing the most amazing work in adding to teachers’ qualifications and skills in science teaching. Obviously I want to make sure that the Government continue to invest in science learning centres.

We need more knowledge transfer, so I am pleased that the Budget sets out how the higher education innovation fund can be improved, as it must be if we are to have the better application of science research that we need globally and domestically. However, we do not always manage to make the transition to science-based industries as we should, so I am also pleased that the Red Book mentioned supporting entrepreneurship and industrial development and set out how the regions can be more involved in science innovation. That is particularly important for us in the north-east, where we shall need to rely heavily on a knowledge-based economy if our region is to catch up with the rest of the country, which needs to happen.

Of course we have the Newcastle science city, which is to be applauded. However, Durham university has an excellent science base that is not sufficiently recognised by Newcastle science city, so I hope that the Chancellor and his team will pay some attention to Durham university and its science base, which is important for future economic development because it centres on physics and materials research and has an excellent renewable energy research centre.

Mr. Kevan Jones: Does my hon. Friend agree that although we need that expansion in places such as Durham we do not need the artificial boundaries on development that are outlined in the regional spatial strategy?

Dr. Blackman-Woods: I entirely agree, and I shall mention the regional spatial strategy later on.

I am pleased that the Budget encourages international collaboration in advancing our science base. Durham university does that work excellently and I should like further investment in that field.

I want to talk next about education and skills. We need to enhance skills if we are to improve social mobility. The Leitch report was extremely important in drawing attention to the need for higher level 2 and 3 skills and, crucially, for employers to contribute more to the training of their staff. We have the measures to improve the new deal and in-work training, and, in particular, to move from the new deal to in-work training to “train to gain”, and to build on the 14-to-19 curriculum. All that has to happen if we are truly to get the skills base up to the level that we need to compete globally.

I am pleased that the Budget announces an early CSR settlement for the Department for Education and Skills, which, again, will see education spending rising
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by 2.5 per cent. in real terms—up from 4.7 per cent. of GDP in 1997 to 5.6 per cent. in 2010. That is important because it is against a background of spending on education that has almost doubled in the past 10 years. I should tell the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) that my experience of education under the Conservatives—I was a vice-chair of education in a large unitary authority and a governor at a school—was one of decreasing budgets, having to close schools and continually having to make cuts. It is only in the past five or six years as a governor that I have seen real investment in our schools. The Government are continuing to invest at record levels. The figures have increased from £2,500 per pupil in 1997-98 to £6,600 in 2010-11.

That is not all that the Government are doing. Sometimes Opposition Members ask us to demonstrate what the money has delivered. Well, it has delivered expanding early years provision, impressive and rising results at key stages 3 and 4, an improvement in post-16 staying-on rates, Sure Start centres, personalised learning, and extended hours and extended schools in every community. Schools in my constituency are simply being transformed, not only by additional teachers and classroom assistants, but in respect of the fabric of buildings and the consumables that schools are able to use.

The next area that I want to mention is regional development and planning. The Budget report mentions city regions. Clearly, cities are important to our future economic development, but I would have liked to hear more about what is going to happen to smaller towns. Page 47 of the Red Book states that

is important, as is

and improving regional accountability. However, it is not clear how any of that is going to happen. We need to hear more about a regional policy that is going to improve areas such as the north-east and truly invest in them so that all the growth does not go to the south-east—not that I have anything against the south-east, but it does not seem to make sense not to develop massively those areas of the country that are very much in need of improvement.

Mr. Kevan Jones: Does my hon. Friend agree that one step forward would be to abolish the unaccountable regional assembly in the north-east, which takes something like £2 million a year, and to redirect that money into actual community development in constituencies such as hers and mine?

Dr. Blackman-Woods: Absolutely—I agree totally and would very much like to see that on the agenda.

I understand from the report that a review of regional development agencies is taking place. I would like to hear from the Minister what role Members of Parliament will play in that review. As I have said, in the report there is a lack of strong mechanisms to reduce regional inequalities. The regional spatial strategy in the north-east is a case in point.

Mr. James Gray (North Wiltshire) (Con): I welcome the fact that the hon. Lady would like to see the
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abolition of the regional assemblies, which are worthless organisations, but does she agree that, if the regional development agencies are to fulfil any useful function, it is important to have them only in those areas that need them? Having RDAs covering every inch of the country, including the most prosperous parts, by definition means that RDAs in less prosperous parts of the country will not do so well.

Dr. Blackman-Woods: That is an interesting proposition and I am sure that Ministers will give it consideration, even if they ultimately reject it. Some redistribution might be helpful to areas such as the north-east.

The regional spatial strategy for the north-east is in danger of emphasising too much growth in the city regions at the expense of areas such as County Durham, the growth potential of which is neglected absolutely in the current strategy. Such areas have seen housing numbers reduced and there has been an impact on significant developments, such as the Tursdale rail freight depot. I hope that the Government will consider the matter again.

It is welcome that there is a section in the report on investing in housing and planning. However, I hope that the new housing and planning delivery grant will pay attention to the quality of housing delivered as well as the amount. We see too often that poor-quality housing is being put up. If we are to meet the targets on carbon-neutral housing, the standards will have to improve.

The report explains how there are improved affordability measures, including shared equity. There is a new competition for producing housing for first-time buyers, which is welcome. However, attention must be paid to the way in which the stock of councils that have not transferred their stock will be brought up to a decent standard. That will require us to build on the decent homes standard. How will councils be able to deliver more rented housing when there is a demonstrable need to do so?

Sir Paul Beresford (Mole Valley) (Con): Does the hon. Lady accept that many local authorities have not transferred their stock because there has been huge support from local tenants for it not to be transferred, given the quality of the stock?

Dr. Blackman-Woods: That is the case. Tenants in my city voted against a transfer some years ago. However, those tenants desperately need money to be invested in their properties. A lot more affordable housing needs to be delivered in Durham city. The absence of such housing is partly due to the fact that the Lib Dem council has built and delivered little in the past few years. Nevertheless, we must consider improved mechanisms to deliver more social rented housing.

Paragraph 3.130 of the Red Book gives a commitment

That is much to be welcomed, as is the support for the Eddington and Barker reports. We obviously need more transport and investment in buses. In areas such
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as mine, which is a largely rural community, investment in bus services has reduced. Alternatively, investment increasingly goes towards subsidising services that do not meet the needs of the local population. We also need more investment in trains, especially local trains that can transport people throughout the region more efficiently than those on the main line.

I want to pay particular attention to Barker. We are told that there will be a White Paper later in the spring on improving responsiveness and efficiency in land use planning. That makes me very nervous. I realise that it is sensible to take a more strategic approach on economic development and the need for planning. Positive planning for economic development needs to happen and an improvement in the processes of economic development is required. However, planning, by its nature, is a very blunt instrument. Different places have different economic development needs. I hope that the White Paper will acknowledge the difference between areas. My constituency is a historic town, and while it needs economic development, it needs a particular sort of such development to protect and enhance its heritage. Having read Barker, I am not convinced that that will happen. Many people in my constituency are fed up with the increasing number of blocks of luxury flats, which do not meet housing need and impact negatively on the heritage of the city. That movement has to be stopped. Planning policy statement 3 is a step forward, but the regional spatial strategy needs to address that issue in the north-east. We need additional housing if there is to be growth in the north-east, but the area needs to be developed sensitively.

My last point but one is about the planning gain supplement, which is another subject that makes me nervous. I agree that we should have a betterment tax; in fact, I have long argued for one, but I am worried about local authorities being given incentives to approve planning applications. A percentage of the money will come back to them, but that is a dangerous thing to do, because it could allow local authorities to sell every bit of green space and brownfield land that they have for development, as they will get a percentage of the money.

Of course it is important that money should be spent on infrastructure, but I was concerned about paragraph 3.150 of the Red Book, which says that all local authorities and partners will have to work together locally to improve the infrastructure. That does not happen often at local authority level, particularly where there are different tiers of government. It is bad enough if the tiers of local government are of the same political party, but if they are of different political parties, it is just not likely that they will work together to increase infrastructure. I would appreciate it if the Government took that proposal away and looked again at how money from planning gain can be allocated sensibly throughout the country to support development.

My last point is about child poverty. I am proud that the Government have set ambitious targets to reduce it; it is better to have very ambitious targets and not meet them than not to have any targets. Ideally, we would like to meet the ambitious targets, but we should recall that under the previous Government, child poverty more than doubled. It will be difficult to reduce child
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poverty to the level of the Government targets, but I am pleased that that is firmly on the Government’s agenda, and that measures in the Budget will improve the incomes of the poorest families by about £425 a year, and of all other households with children by about £250 a year.

In conclusion, we should applaud the Chancellor for the Budget, which is about investing in education and science and helping us to deliver the skills base that we need for the future if we are to be competitive in a global economy. However, it also looks after the needs of pensioners and the poorest families with children, and we should all welcome that.

9.43 pm

Mr. Brian Binley (Northampton, South) (Con): I congratulate the hon. Member for City of Durham (Dr. Blackman-Woods) on her wide-ranging speech. May I say how much I welcomed her remarks on unelected regional assemblies? Her remarks on supplementary planning gain were interesting, and although I, too, have concerns about it, mine differ from hers.

I will not speak on a wide range of subjects. You may be pleased to know, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that I will limit my remarks to the narrow issue of small business and the way in which it has been treated at the hands of the Chancellor in the Budget. I wish to put the case for small business simply and straightforwardly, in the hope that I can create some understanding of that important issue among Government Front Benchers, because I fear that they do not have a great understanding of that area of economic activity. I wish to articulate the concerns of the many people in my constituency of Northampton, South, who have built up businesses that started off very small, as most of them do. They express great concern about the Budget that the Chancellor delivered.

Finally, I wish to appeal to the Government. Although I recognise that the chances of changing the Chancellor’s mind this year are not very great, I hope that the Government will rethink their attitude to the issue, not least because they burden even further an area of economic activity on which they, their children and their grandchildren will rely in the years to come. In that context, their actions are extremely short-sighted.

I was about to say that I was a small business man myself, but even with your well-known generosity, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I reckon that you would not have accepted that, so I shall say that I am a business man who founded two small businesses. I shall give a little background about those businesses in order to underline the credibility with which I hope I speak and which I hope those on the Government Front Bench will recognise.

My wife and I started the first business in 1989, and we used the small amount of equity that we had in our own house to start that business. So we know about risk-taking. We know about the worry that risk-taking creates for people who start small businesses. We know the hard work that those people put into the business, not least because their very livelihood is at stake; the
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very home they live in is at stake, in many cases. Indeed, we knew that we could have lost everything. I am delighted to say that that business now employs about 140 people. We succeeded, and no doubt the Chancellor is delighted that we succeeded, because we collect for him and we pay to him a considerable amount of tax in very many ways.

Let me tell the House about the second business, which we founded with a rather crazy South African in 1993. It was a publishing business, another great risk, and again we put on the line all the gains that we had made from the first business. It may seem that we are gluttons for punishment. We worked hard for many long hours—burned the midnight oil—and spent sleepless hours worrying about cash flow, which is one of the greatest problems for small business. However, we again succeeded, much against the odds, and that business now employs over 80 people.

What are the lessons I have learned from those experiences? What can I bring to the House to help the Government create policies that are friendly to small business and that encourage people to create them in their turn? I will tell the House the lessons that I learned so that hon. Members have an understanding of what small business people think about. The lessons might surprise hon. Members. They are different, I fear, from the lessons that they might think I learned.

I learned that a successful small business is not about chasing volume. Of course one needs to work to earn the money, but volume is not the prime objective. The prime objective for a business man is to look at the bottom line and make sure every month that he is successful with the volume that he creates. The second lesson that I learned is that it is not about sales. Indeed, sales can easily be given away. Unless he is very careful, a business man can easily price his product or service at a level that does not create what he really needs in a small business—a steady, credible, managed cash flow. The third priority that I learned was that running a business is not necessarily about investment in things, such as new equipment—it is about investment in people. Those are the prime concerns when an entrepreneur sets up a small business.

I see that Government Front Benchers are talking among themselves. I hope that that means they have taken my comments on board and will change their view as delivered in the Budget, although I am doubtful.

Mrs. Villiers: Does my hon. Friend agree that the hit on small companies in the form of increased taxes in a more complex system could constitute a real blow to local shops, which are already struggling to be viable in a climate of intense competition from the big retailers?

Mr. Binley: I accept that entirely. Indeed, many of our local shopkeepers now come from another culture, and the Government are making it more difficult for them to run their businesses. I believe that that is of great concern, and I think that the Government do as well. Perhaps they had not thought about it before. I hope that we have put another thought into their minds.

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