Previous Section Index Home Page

20 Jan 2010 : Column 138WH—continued

20 Jan 2010 : Column 139WH

My concern is not necessarily about the airport itself, but about the consequences if the airport expands. Because there is no infrastructure, expansion would create major problems in the area, and I have always been suspicious that it would be a substitute for Rugby. Nevertheless, whatever I think about the airport, there are many small businesses there and they depend on that site. There is a lot of concern about that.

We went through a period of post office closures in Coventry; everybody has been through that. We welcome the fact that the Government have invested £150 million per annum to support the Post Office. The fact remains that the Government certainly did not pursue their proposal on privatisation, and we do not know what will happen in the future. The Opposition certainly want to privatise the Post Office. That could have consequences, but nobody ever voted for post office closures in the House, as far as I can remember.

Nevertheless, many positive things are going on in the Coventry area, as I have said. Not only in the Coventry area but nationally there is empty property relief, for which many small businesses campaigned for many years. I know that the Minister will want to give me a detailed response, but I have a few more points to make before I finish. It is heartening that Rolls-Royce has been awarded a £258 million contract to build engines for Royal Navy sea helicopters, some of which will certainly go to Ansty. We should consider some of the other things that the Government have done. The car scrappage scheme has been a major success, with about 15,000 transactions in the west midlands alone. I therefore welcome the scheme and the fact that the Government will extend it, as that is a positive measure.

Let us consider the green economy. Lots of exciting work is going on in low-carbon technology, particularly in the Coventry area. E.ON is working in partnership with a Coventry company-Advanced LEDs-to develop a low-carbon LED streetlight, known as Marlin, providing local authorities with low-carbon and energy-efficient streetlights. Another good aspect is that Remploy, which has struggled to survive for many years, will play a major part in the production and shipping of the lights. Again, there are lots of positives about what is happening in Coventry and other parts of the west midlands. In fact, some of the technology to which I have just referred will be used not only in Coventry but in Rutland and, later this month, possibly Blackpool. Such innovation needs to be promoted.

The CABLED-Coventry and Birmingham low emission demonstrators-project is an electric car trial in the west midlands run by E.ON. It, too, has been awarded Government funding from the ultra low carbon vehicles demonstrator competition, and is a trial of 110 electric vehicles with ordinary drivers in Coventry and Birmingham, with 25 cars being tried out in Coventry. The idea is to study how practical and efficient those vehicles are. Charging points will be installed in Coventry in a mix of car parks and kerbsides. That will no doubt generate quite a bit of debate.

We need to encourage such innovation and keep the results in the west midlands-we need to ensure that nobody tries to pinch the patents, use them abroad, then export things back to this country. Other investment is going on. Regional bodies such as Advantage West Midlands contributed regeneration funds of £296 million from 2006 to 2009. I end by saying that it is very
20 Jan 2010 : Column 140WH
important that the Minister unlock the banks, as it were, particularly to give support for small businesses in the west midlands and nationally. Unless that is done, we in the west midlands will face major problems. Again, it is the small businesses that suffer the brunt of decisions taken by companies such as Ericsson. It is vital to get that money to them as soon as possible.

5 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Mr. Ian Austin): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, South (Mr. Cunningham) on securing this important debate.

My hon. Friend is an excellent constituency MP. He has made it his business, in a lifetime of public service, to ensure that the challenges and opportunities that face the local economy are at the top of everyone's agenda in Coventry and the west midlands. I do not know whether it is widely known that he left Scotland in 1959 and travelled south in search of work. He wanted to go to America, but his parents would not let him. America's loss was Coventry's gain. Since arriving in Coventry, he has-first as a worker at Rolls-Royce, then as a trade union leader in the city, a councillor, and leader of the city council, and now as an MP-always fought unstintingly for more jobs and greater prosperity for people in his area.

My hon. Friend is right to say, as he did today, that the west midlands has been hit hard by the recession. We have been hard hit, like every other region. However, some areas have been hit harder, not as a result of mistakes or decisions made over the past few years, but because of mistakes made over the past 40 years, with the accompanying structural weaknesses in skills, transport, trade, and levels of innovation in the regional economy.

The structural weaknesses of the past four decades mean that, on a like-for-like basis, output in the west midlands has lagged behind the national average since 1976. That is why the economy in our area has been hit harder than that in some other areas. However, the good news is that today's figures show that unemployment in the west midlands fell by 20,000 over the last quarter-the second highest fall in the UK.

Every job lost during the recession is a tragedy for the families affected. Nobody can promise-no one would believe us if we did promise-to protect every job and save every company, but we must be able to say to those who lose their jobs that the Government are on their side. We will step in with more help, and more support with training and so on, to help people back into work as soon as possible. That has been our approach in the region over the past 18 months or so.

Our No. 1 priority has been to help the region's businesses through the downturn and get the region focused on modernising our economy. Ours was the first region to establish a taskforce to bring all public-sector partners together with the business community, trade unions, local authorities and universities, so that we could co-ordinate the region's response to the downturn.

My hon. Friend spoke about Ericsson. Like him, I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, North-West (Mr. Robinson) for the work that he is doing on the issue. I am pleased to say that a similar approach to that which my hon. Friend the Member for
20 Jan 2010 : Column 141WH
Coventry, South, spoke about is now being taken in Coventry by the Ericsson partnership to address the redundancies. I thank and pay tribute to him for the support that he has given to that partnership.

By working together, ours was the first region to extend lending to businesses, saving thousands of jobs through the regional loan fund. Ours was the only region able to extend funding to businesses in that way. We brought banks and businesses together, as my hon. Friend asked us to do, to try to get lending moving again. As a result, 680 businesses have been offered loans worth almost £70 million through the enterprise finance guarantee scheme. In Coventry, 22 companies have been offered loans totalling almost £3 million. Ours was the first region to launch a regional housing action plan to keep the construction industry moving.

As my hon. Friend said, our region has benefited from additional Government investment-£1.5 billion extra-to keep the housing industry moving and to save jobs in the construction trade with a number of new schemes, including the kick-start scheme and the local authority new-build scheme. They have all provided much-needed new homes for people in the west midlands.

Ours was the first region to launch a programme of subsidised jobs, training places and low-cost university courses for graduates struggling to find work last summer. That initiative is now being copied by other regions and extended by the Government nationally. Since November 2008, the Jobcentre Plus rapid response service and the Learning and Skills Council have worked with 700 employers to help more than 54,000 employees at risk of redundancy try to ensure that their jobs are not lost.

Bids for support from the future jobs fund will create almost 10,000 jobs in the west midlands, 500 of which will be in the Coventry area. That is the second highest number of any region in the country, which means that I am delivering on my pledge to ensure that the west midlands gets more than its fair share of available resources.We have accelerated spending on major public-sector infrastructure projects, such as Coventry's new deal for communities, to ensure that new investment can go ahead and new homes can be created.

My hon. Friend talked at great length about the car industry, using his expertise and knowledge. He lobbied hard for the introduction of the car scrappage scheme, so he will be pleased to hear that it has generated more than 240,000 orders already, and has helped many component companies in the west midlands.

Through the regional development agency, Advantage West Midlands, we are providing £30 million over the next three years to support the low-carbon vehicles plan from the new automotive innovation and growth team. There are also encouraging signs that Coventry is well placed for recovery because of the work that people in the region have done to modernise the sub-regional economy.

At a national level, a whole range of measures will assist businesses in Coventry. For example, the pre-Budget report extended the enterprise finance guarantee scheme for a further 12 months. That will hopefully address the access-to-finance problems that my hon. Friend highlighted this afternoon. "Going for Growth: Our Future Prosperity"
20 Jan 2010 : Column 142WH
builds on the strategic approach set out last year in the policy document, "Building Britain's Future-New Industry, New Jobs".

Mr. Jim Cunningham: One of the things that the Minister might consider, and which would be helpful to Coventry and have a knock-on effect in the midlands, is the NUCKLE-Nuneaton, Coventry, Kenilworth and Leamington-project, or Ricoh Arena project. The business plans have still to be submitted, but could the Minister keep his eye on the project? There is a fear that with a looming general election, that project will be shunted away somewhere and never see the light of day, but it is vital to the people in Coventry.

Mr. Austin: I know how hard my hon. Friend has worked to build support and lobby for the NUCKLE project over the past few years, and he is right to identify it. As I understand it, we are still waiting for the business plan. As a result of his question this afternoon and the lobbying that he has done, I will ask for the scheme to be considered. We will go to the partners to ask for the project to be accelerated as soon as possible.

On the new industries and new jobs agenda, we are considering how we can turn opportunities in the digital media, and in low-carbon, high-tech manufacturing, into jobs and business opportunities in the west midlands. Late last year, I announced four working groups in the region to see how we can exploit the new industries and ensure that the west midlands does not lose out on investment opportunities in the future. I have asked Advantage West Midlands, through the taskforce that I established, to set up four working groups that bring together representatives from private industry and the universities to look at opportunities for the west midlands in those specific areas.

First, there will be a new low-carbon group chaired by Julia King from Aston university. Members will include Ministers from the Department of Energy and Climate Change. Secondly, we will have a digital creative industries group, which will be chaired by Jonnie Turpie from Maverick TV. The Minister with responsibility for creative industries has agreed to join that team. Thirdly, we will have a health-care technologies group, chaired by David Gleaves of MidTECH. I have asked the Minister of State, Department of Health, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. O'Brien), to play a part in that, as we work out how to bring the jobs and the new medical developments to the west midlands.

Finally, an advanced manufacturing group will be led by Harry Reilly of Brintons Carpets and my hon. Friend the Member for Stourbridge (Lynda Waltho). Mr. Reilly also chairs Beacon Manufacturing Group, which is planning how we can lead the way in new manufacturing technologies, just as we did in the past-something that my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, South, mentioned.

There are opportunities that Coventry can benefit from. We are supporting and encouraging innovation and investment-based projects in Coventry through AWM. For example, £4 million has gone to the Serious Games Institute at Coventry university, which has helped the west midlands become a leader in digital media. There was an investment of £6.4 million in the Rugby Power academy to meet the demands of the new low-carbon
20 Jan 2010 : Column 143WH
energy economy. There has been significant investment in Modec, the world-leading, Coventry-based manufacturer of commercial electric vehicles.

Through AWM, we are investing substantial sums to position the region to lead the country in science and innovation. There has been an investment of £77 million in the Birmingham-Warwick research alliance, through Birmingham science city, for the areas of energy, advanced materials and translational medicine. There is £20 million to support the development of clinical trialling and experimental medicine facilities in the translational medicine part of the science city programme. We are also investing in a health technologies design institute at Coventry university. The manufacturing technology centre at Ansty
20 Jan 2010 : Column 144WH
has received a £40 million investment. We are committing £40 million to a £2 billion programme to regenerate Coventry city centre, a key element of which is the Friargate commercial master plan for the area around the railway station, which recently received planning consent.

One of Coventry and Warwickshire's greatest strengths is the fantastic work of the Warwick manufacturing group at Warwick university and the work of Coventry university.

5.12 pm

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

    Index Home Page