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13 May 2009 : Column 294WH—continued

5.18 pm

On resuming—

Claire Ward: I return to my point about the capital for enterprise scheme and the fact that the Government have been working with the European Investment Bank to help UK banks negotiate new credit lines. Under the “more time to pay tax bills” scheme, the new business payment support service sets out an affordable timetable in which viable businesses in temporary financial difficulty can pay their tax bills to Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs. In Gloucestershire, more than 1,800 businesses have been given agreements to delay the payment of tax worth some £27 million. That will help businesses deal with any cash-flow problems.

The Government have provided all sorts of other help through a range of different agencies. It is vital that businesses continue to invest in skills to survive the recession and prepare for the upturn. To support that, the Government have expanded apprenticeships; there will be more than 250,000 starts nationally next year. The Government have increased the training support available to unemployed people. They have provided £100 million for 40,000 extra places on employability programmes for those who are unemployed or under notice of redundancy; and £83 million for 75,000 high-quality training places for those claiming jobseeker’s allowance for more than six months to help them back into sustainable employment. Train to Gain also provides continuing support, with £925 million invested for 2009-10, and new support for small and medium-sized enterprises only. In respect of Train to Gain and the Business Link, as part of the Government’s Solutions For Businesses initiative—

Mr. Dhanda: I am grateful for the detailed information about some of those training exercises and the things that are available to keep people in work—they are very important—but I would be interested to hear the Minister’s answer to the question about gaps. What if the RDA
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does not find the money for the projects that I was talking about? That is really important.

I should also like to use this opportunity to get a message to Sir Bob Kerslake of the Homes and Communities Agency. There should be greater joint working between the agency, urban regeneration companies and the RDAs to plug any gaps that arise. Can the Minister do anything through her good offices to help that to happen in places such as Gloucester?

Claire Ward: My hon. Friend has made his interest in the issue clear. He made some good points about the need for local and regional powers to work together as effectively as possible to plug those various gaps. In a sense, he was saying that we need one vision for local areas, and for people to bring as much to the table as possible to help to deliver those things. He is keen to be part of any agencies, groups and organisations that will help, which the Government want. The Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Bill, which is in the House of Lords at the moment and due to arrive in the Commons, will help. I am also sure that officials have taken his point about the need for the HCA to work with the RDA—the message was loud and clear.

The national assistance that is being provided, including health checks for businesses and Business Links, will help many of his constituents. Other things are helping in the Gloucester area that are to do with partners other than the RDA. For example, a grant to improve the city gateway into Gloucester has been set up by the city council. The funding will be aimed at improving the look of businesses in lower Eastgate street, from which
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about 30 businesses are in line to benefit from improved shop fronts and reinstated architectural features. In addition, nearly £15 million of Government money has been awarded to Cinderford in the Forest of Dean to aid its regeneration, some of which will be used to decontaminate former mining land for redevelopment and to build a new road. A central feature of that redevelopment will be the Steam Mills lake, around which planners hope to attract a hotel. Perhaps that is a little off to the side of my hon. Friend’s area, but it will have a positive impact on Gloucester.

Mr. Dhanda: I am grateful for all the investment throughout Gloucestershire. I appreciate that the Minister is concluding her remarks, but after the debate, will she nudge my right hon. Friend the Minister for Employment Relations and Postal Affairs, when he comes back after his well deserved two weeks’ paternity leave, to arrange a visit, so that he can see some of the local projects that she mentioned and to follow up matters with our local urban regeneration company, which would be keen to see him, especially following the 18 May meeting?

Claire Ward: I would be happy to ensure that my right hon. Friend the Minister is aware of the kind invitation that my hon. Friend has extended to him. I will strongly advise him to take it up—as his Whip, I will do whatever I can to support and encourage him. My hon. Friend has done as much as he possibly can to support some of the projects that he would like my right hon. Friend the Minister to visit, such as the latest business centre—

5.25 pm

Sitting suspended without Question put (Standing Order No. 10(11)).

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