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20 Jan 2010 : Column 76WH—continued

I know that the Government have helped Leeds. There has been a stimulus of £20 million from the future jobs fund, and that is Government action. There
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was no Government action in the 1980s; we on the local authorities acted on our own. Recently, 79 small businesses in Leeds got help worth £8.6 billion from the enterprise finance guarantee scheme. Seven of those are in west Leeds. Twelve businesses received investment of more than £17 million from the capital for enterprise fund equity scheme. With the pressure on Yorkshire Television, Screen Yorkshire and Studio 81 have helped to get the film industry going again. That is the kind of stimulating investment that I want to see. If I may make a jaded remark to the hon. Member for Croydon, Central, it is that investment that we need, not Tory tax cuts just for those families bequeathed more than £2 million; those cuts will be worth nearly £500,000 to them. My priorities are about investing in the skills of the future.

The Centre for Cities report emphasises the need for a clear skills strategy, and it suggests that it needs to be targeted better and based on an understanding of the city's role in the UK economy. I plead with the Minister to consider the need for local skills centres, because in my neighbourhood, through subcontracting, the skills centre has been moved to another district of Leeds, and is now not accessible by my constituents in the same way. That means that we cannot develop the links with local employers that we need to ensure local skills training, so some pockets end up without the training that they need. Can we look again at local skills training, advanced apprenticeships and, indeed, the whole lot to ensure that people are not left behind, as the Centre for Cities report suggests we should?

The report acknowledges that Leeds has a strong infrastructure. The infrastructure has been provided-primary schools, secondary schools, universities and hospitals. We have digital and fibre-optic networks. We have quality business, office and enterprise space. However, the area needs skills training to move us into the bio and nanotechnologies, the green technologies, the new jobs of the future in industrial biology, health care technologies and environmental technologies, as we now shift again from consumers to producers. We need to meet the new demands for products and services in response to not only technological innovation in the digital age, but changing social and living patterns in a fast-growing young city. We need to shift the skills training up a gear or two.

I shall briefly mention high-speed trains. I do not have time to go into internal public transport links, but if 100,000 people are coming into the city and 100,000 are going out, we need good public transport, and we are not there yet by a long mile. We need to do much more to ensure that Leeds has a proper system for bringing people in and out of the city. I tell the Minister that we need the link to London, as the hon. Member for Croydon, Central, said. Before a decision is made on high-speed trains, we need to be sure that there is a phased introduction of a network for the UK that does not jeopardise the east coast line. If we decide on the west coast, Leeds will be left out on a limb, so we need to ensure that there is a high-speed link between Leeds and London in the 21st century.

Mr. John Grogan (Selby) (Lab): I seem temporarily to have been promoted to the Minister's Parliamentary Private Secretary-it is the highlight of my career. Does
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my right hon. Friend agree that there is a fear in Leeds and the wider city region, of which Selby is a proud part, that if a high-speed rail link were announced predominantly for the western side of the country, Leeds and the Leeds city region could lose out? Is it not unacceptable to produce a plan that does not clearly state that the east coast will have a high-speed rail link and, ideally, that there will be a high-speed link across the Pennines? If it is a case of putting Crossrail on hold and saving £5 billion, that would be well worth doing if it meant that Leeds got its high-speed rail link.

John Battle: Amazingly, the same suggestion that we keep those connections to Leeds going was made in 1968 to the Secretary of State at the time. It took the Government until 1972 to accept the report, and then there was still no action. I agree with my hon. Friend. May I say to the hon. Member for Croydon, Central, that if there is pressure on budgets, Leeds should come before the Crossrail project? It should take top priority; otherwise Leeds is cut off. That is why, if choices are to be made, I am in favour of the Leeds high-speed link. Crossrail would have to wait, because Leeds is more important.

Mr. Pelling: As the right hon. Gentleman must recognise, it is important that Crossrail have a role. I am not a member of the Conservative party-he attacked me as though I were a Conservative-but is it not to the credit of the Conservative party that it is the one party that is willing to consider a smaller Crossrail and to be mindful of the importance of value for money?

John Battle: We could go down that road, but I am putting down a marker to say that Leeds has sometimes been left out because it has not been seen as being as important as London and the south-east. It is time to invert that ratio. That is what I am suggesting.

I thank the Minister for answering a wide range of written questions that I have tabled in the past few weeks on the Leeds economy. The subjects of those questions ranged from the effects of the recession on financial services in the city to an analysis of where everybody works in the city and the region, in terms of each of the standard industrial classifications. Those questions and answers have been helpfully set out in the Library debate pack. I am grateful to the Minister for her response, because it gives us a picture of where Leeds is up to now.

I also thank the chamber of commerce, which provided information, the city region project and particularly Yorkshire Forward. As I say, there is the city region project, but at least Yorkshire Forward recognises that Leeds is larger than the region; it is not to be confined to the Leeds city region. Its role in the UK economy is acknowledged by Yorkshire Forward, which is doing a brilliant job. I want it to go forward, not, as I think Opposition parties have suggested, be shut down.

Colin Challen: Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Conservative party's proposal to abolish the regional development agencies would be very damaging? The agencies may need reform and improvement, but the city region of Leeds surely calls for a regional development agency to underpin its development, which is so important, as he said, to the whole country.

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John Battle: Most hon. Members would concur with that view; I certainly do. We need Yorkshire Forward. Like all organisations, it has to improve. It has to be more accountable and challenging. It should challenge us, just as we have to challenge it, but it must keep its focus on the fact that Leeds is an economic driver for the country as a whole. If Yorkshire Forward does that for Leeds, it will be continuing to do a good job. I am grateful for the work that it has done so far.

To continue to contribute to the UK economy, Leeds will need to be backed up, so that it remains a means of leading the UK out of recession into a more prosperous and sustainable economic future. That refers to the quality of jobs in the future, not just to the value that is placed on them. It refers to the work that people do in the service industries, which is undervalued.

I would have liked a fiscal stimulus that invested more in, for example, care for the elderly, which would put money into revenue. We should value such jobs, which will be the jobs of the future. The New Economics Foundation has published a report about the jobs of the future and their value. We should take them seriously, so that we do not weigh a care worker against a banker and say that the banker is more valuable. In the future, we might find that it is the other way round.

It is perhaps not well known in Leeds that I am not actually from Leeds. I have hidden that fact, not too conspicuously, from my constituents, but my passport says that I was born in Bradford, which is true-I was born in a hospital there. I did not grow up in Leeds either, but in a place called Batley Carr in Dewsbury. For me, Leeds was the big smoke; it was like London, and if I went there for a ride on a tram, it was like visiting London. For about a third of my life, I thought that Leeds was where the Queen lived. However, I have spent my life working in Leeds and I am proud to be part of the golden economic triangle there. That is because of the people who work there and because of their imagination, energy, commitment and damned hard work.

In my region of Yorkshire, which covers Leeds, Bradford, Wakefield and Dewsbury, we really have something going for us, which we have protected through the centuries. We have made a massive contribution to the UK economy over the centuries and we are well positioned to take the country into the 21st century. However, we need the Government to be a bit more focused on skills, training and transport so that we can continue to play that role.

10.1 am

Colin Burgon (Elmet) (Lab): I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West (John Battle) on securing the debate. I want to speak for two reasons. First, I am a Leeds MP. Secondly, I am proud to say that I was actually born in Leeds-I am quite a phenomenon-and I have lived my whole life there.

Over the years, I have watched the changes that have taken place in the city, and it has changed quite dramatically in my lifetime. I was brought up on the Gipton estate in east Leeds, and my father was a tailor at Montague Burton, at a time when it employed 10,000 people under one roof. Although I was not aware of this at the time, there was a certain social cohesion in Leeds, which, if I am honest, I cannot detect today. Leeds is in danger of
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becoming two cities, with thousands of people left out of the so-called economic miracle that we keep hearing about.

Obviously, some of the changes that have taken place have been good. As a teenager, I would never have dreamed of going into the city centre, which was quite a rough place. If people go there now, the only danger they face is being bumped into by groups of mainly young women who are having a nice drink and a nice time. So the city centre has changed for the better. However, the collapse of the manufacturing industry in Leeds has had an impact. I taught in east Leeds in the mid-70s and that was when the decline really started. The city's manufacturing base in engineering, textiles and clothing began to collapse and its place was taken, for the youth of Leeds, by what I can only describe as pathetic youth training schemes, which have left their mark on the whole notion of training in my city.

I do not want to appear like someone out of the Monty Python sketch about the Yorkshire men living in a shoe box, and some things have changed for the better. I compliment the regional development agency on its work and I compliment the Minister, who has been a proud champion for our region. The figures-they are just rough figures-show that the city has about 100,000 jobs in the financial sector, 40,000 in manufacturing, 20,000 in construction, 80,000 in catering, distribution and related trades, and 130,000 in public services. Of those jobs in public services, 33,000 are in Leeds city council and about 14,000 are in the NHS, and I will draw a political lesson from that when I conclude my remarks. I do not want to go on too long, however, because other hon. Members want to speak.

We also have 60,000 students in our city, which is excellent, and they are based at two universities with worldwide reputations. The paradox, however, is that we also have 12,000 younger people who are labelled as NEET-not in education, employment or training-and that is 2.8 per cent. above the national average. Why are 12,000 of our young people in that category when about 400,000 jobs are generated in the city? There has been a failure to focus properly on the youth of Leeds, to give them proper training and to create the economic conditions in which they can find work, and we must address that. By April 2010, the local authority will have got funding from the Learning and Skills Council to address the problem, and I assure Leeds city council that many of us will be closely monitoring the effectiveness of its work. We need to know now what plans are being put in place to get our 17 and 18-year-olds into employment.

While I am on youth unemployment and wider unemployment, I should say that I detect a tightening of the social mobility that I experienced. I very much doubt whether a kid in Gipton today would become, or think about becoming, a Member of the House of Commons. There has been a tightening of social mobility as significant sections of our city have been left off the map of economic development, and I refer particularly to my old stamping ground of east Leeds. That really concerns me because social mobility has virtually come to a stop in places such as east Leeds, where people used to move up the social ladder and out into places such as Garforth in my constituency. That has real implications for the cohesion of the city. Unless we address the poverty in our city, all the fanfare and all the statistics
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showing how much progress has been made will sound pretty hollow to many Leeds citizens.

John Battle: I would not like to give the impression that the skills in Leeds were all lightweight. One thing that made a difference in the '80s was the skills centres-the east Leeds skills workshop, the Harehills tech project, the Tech North project and the Seacroft skills project. The problem is that they have been allowed to decline. Although they did not tackle the whole problem, there was a focus on skills and training, and we need to refocus on that. These were not just lightweight jobs; some real jobs came out of those skills centres. That was a council programme and it should be replicated. Does my hon. Friend agree?

Colin Burgon: Yes. I am all for the intervention of councils, RDAs and the Government, because the market will not deliver for the citizens of Leeds. The Conservatives in our city may well practise free-market capitalism, but if we are subjected to it, it will be bad news for the citizens of Leeds.

On the wider question of poverty, the RDA has produced an excellent briefing, which says:

which means that approximately 92,000 households in my city

The briefing goes on to say:

We have to face up to that. The shining image of Leeds city centre has to be reflected right across our city.

Two years ago, we failed to get national renewal funding, even though 150,000 people were living in deprived conditions at the time-I dread to think what the figure is today. That illustrates the fact that this is almost the tale of two cities. I do not want to be too negative, because we should point the way forward. However, my intuition says that the financial sector, despite the image that it has given of itself, will not address the needs of 10,000 young people or of others who are in semi-unemployment or poor employment conditions. Only a strategy of returning an expanded manufacturing base to our city will address their needs.

In that respect, Leeds is uniquely placed to develop green-collar jobs. We are told that low-carbon industries in Britain already employ almost 900,000 people and represent 7.4 per cent of the UK's GDP. I would argue, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West did, that the historic manufacturing base of Leeds, alongside its world-class universities and its proximity to the North sea offshore wind farms, for which huge expansion is planned, means that it is well placed to benefit from growth in highly skilled and semi-skilled green-collar jobs. Those are precisely the jobs that the young-and middle-aged-people in Leeds who have been left outside the city's economic regeneration can plug into. I make a plea for Leeds city council, the
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regional development agency and the Minister to develop a strategy to get those green-collar manufacturing jobs into the city.

The significant part played by the public sector in our city has been remarked on, and I warn my fellow citizens of Leeds that if a Conservative Government are elected in June, with their 10 per cent. cuts across the board, the people of Leeds will feel the full harsh effects of Conservative free-market economics. I urge them not to go back to the dark days of the 1980s. I am proud of my city and want it to march forward united-that is not a pun on the football team. I realise that the market will not deliver for the citizens of Leeds. It is Government intervention that will underpin the development of my city. I hope it goes on to great things.

Several hon. Members rose-

Mr. Mike Hancock (in the Chair): Several hon. Members want to get into the debate, and I intend to try to allow that. I can, under the rules, limit the Front-Bench contributions to five minutes, instead of 10. I know that the Minister is keen to speak for more than five minutes. However, because of the specific issue I want to give Leeds Members every opportunity. I hope that the Front-Bench spokesmen will concede that; I shall allow them as much time as I can.

Lorely Burt (Solihull) (LD) indicated assent.

Mr. Mike Hancock (in the Chair): I am getting an indication from the Liberal Democrat spokesman that she will settle for five minutes. If we can proceed in that way we shall be able to achieve what we set out to.

10.12 am

Colin Challen (Morley and Rothwell) (Lab): I shall try not to go on too long, Mr. Hancock, or to lower the tone in any way after two powerful contributions to this important debate.

I wanted to intervene earlier about the London love affair. I notice that the hon. Member for Solihull (Lorely Burt) is not here now-[Hon. Members: "Croydon."]-I mean the hon. Member for Croydon, Central (Mr. Pelling). It is not too difficult for me, being from the north, to mix those places up. We should not confuse London, the great metropolis, with the City of London. It is the neo-liberal policies that we have unfortunately fallen into the trap of following so enthusiastically that have done so much damage, as my hon. Friend the Member for Elmet (Colin Burgon) made clear.

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