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1.44 pm

Mr. Kevin Barron (Rother Valley) (Lab): The speech that we just heard from the hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) was quite brilliant, and I agreed with much of what he said. However, a lot of what he proposes in respect of public building has been done under this Government. For example, there has been a great deal of investment in council houses; those in my constituency are being fitted with double glazing to make them fit for the future.

The hon. Gentleman did not explain what the leader of his party was talking about months ago when he said that savage cuts were needed in the economy. I do not think that he has changed his line, although I did not listen to everything that he had to say yesterday. I know that he is in opposition, and so has to say what his party would do in office, but the Government made clear yesterday their plans for the future. I hope that they will be able to carry them out after the election. Those plans represent a sensible approach to the problems that the recession has created.

The recession has been international, but it has hit our economy. The Government's sensible approach is far better than the response mounted by the Conservative Governments of the day to the two recessions that we have experienced since I became a Member of this House in 1983. Those Governments did anything but try to ease the problems that existed in those periods: they did not seek to provide employment or look after the needs of the unemployed or anyone else.

I listened to what the Leader of the Opposition said yesterday in response to the Budget. I know that that is a most difficult thing to do, but he said absolutely nothing about what a Conservative Government would do in response to the recession from which I hope we are emerging now. We must not dip back into recession, but the right hon. Gentleman said nothing whatsoever in that regard.

I listened to the shadow Chancellor, both on Radio 4 this morning and at the start of the debate this afternoon, and he said nothing either. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions asked him what the Opposition mean when they talk about making cuts in 2010-11. All she got was absolute silence.

At the moment, the budgets are in place for our public sector. There are plans for more new schools in my constituency, on top of the ones that we have just
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had. There are three in the village that I live in, but the major Opposition have said nothing at all in that regard. If they were to be sitting on this side of the Chamber in a few weeks, what would happen to the 2011 Budget? What would happen to the money for the Building Schools for the Future programme? That has not been mentioned yet in this debate.

Would I get the new schools in my village? The primary school that I went to in the 1950s has been completely rebuilt. It was near to my home, which has been taken down, but we have a new primary school now and it has had the best report from Ofsted that it has ever had. It is a school that, in its building, environment and so on, is fit for education in the 21st century. It replaced one that was built in 1914 to educate people in what was then a mining community.

The three schools that I am talking about are in the same village. The former comprehensive school-or community school, as it is called-is an academy school now and is going to be completely rebuilt. At the moment, it uses the old secondary modern school building that I went to in the 1950s, and the grammar school that was just next door. I think that both were built in the 1920s, and the buildings are not fit for education in the 21st century. I am not talking about the education provided by the schools, as all of them have improved in that regard. I believe that the buildings themselves are not fit for people to work in, never mind for people to sit in and get educated.

The Opposition are silent about what they would do, saying only that they would bring in cuts in 2010-11. Public sector infrastructure replacement has changed my constituency and helped to change the education of young people there far beyond what I imagined could happen under any Government. The Opposition have made it clear that they would do things differently and look at public sector cuts in the next financial year, but I believe that that leaves them open to the charge that the changes seen in my area-and the same things can be seen in most of my communities-would be in danger.

I listened to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, and I listened to the Chancellor as well. I wholly support what they are doing on behalf of my constituents and the communities that I represent. They have been hammered by, and blamed for, recessions in the past. They have been made to pay for them far more severely than has been the case in the past two years.

Simon Hughes rose-

Harry Cohen rose-

Mr. Barron: I give way first to the hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey, and then to my hon. Friend the Member for Leyton and Wanstead (Harry Cohen).

Simon Hughes: The right hon. Gentleman and I came to the House in the same year. I will not deny that there has been fantastic investment in schools, in the health service, and in the decent homes programme to improve public sector housing, but does he not agree that everybody
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has a duty to tell the electorate exactly where the cuts will be? That includes his party, the Conservative party-as he rightly says, it has been silent-and our party. That way, people will know which budgets will go down. They should also be told what expenditure will be, so that they know which budgets will go up. We need to give both sets of information to the electorate. His party has not yet done that fully; the Tory party has hardly started to do it at all.

Mr. Barron: I agree on the latter point. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State mentioned-everybody knows this-there will be cuts in expenditure other than that on front-line services, which I want my Government to defend.

This afternoon, I want to go back a little bit further and say what the Government have done over the past decade in my constituency. There have not just been new schools. I want to talk about manufacturing. The Opposition Front Benchers, both yesterday and today, just discounted what the Government have done in the real world and the real economy in the past 10 years.

Harry Cohen: I am sorry to draw my right hon. Friend into a bit of a parochial matter relating to my constituency, but he makes an excellent point about Building Schools for the Future. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families offered Redbridge council Building Schools for the Future money a year up front, in this financial year. However, the council said that it was not in a position to do the work, and that it would do it next financial year. Is there not a great risk that, if the Conservatives come in and look to make cuts, the people of Redbridge might not get their Building Schools for the Future money in the next financial year?

Mr. Barron: That is precisely the case that I am making. I have grandchildren at the academy that I talked about. Just a quarter of a mile away, I have grandchildren in the infant school, which was built in the '30s. The infant and junior schools are coming down completely. They will merge and will have new school premises. There will be a new school for the academy, too. It is quite a large community or comprehensive school, in terms of numbers. There will be a new school for those with special needs on the same site, too. That is potentially under threat. The Opposition Front Benchers, who tell us every day that they will form the next Government, say nothing at all about those issues, which are on everybody's doorstep. If the issue affects my hon. Friend's constituency and mine, it must affect many of the constituencies of Opposition Members. We are not the only ones who should be asking what the Opposition would do in government; Opposition Members ought to do so, too.

I listened to the Budget speech yesterday, and to the Leader of the Opposition's vacuous statement that followed it. That statement derided what the Government have been doing in the real world. I mentioned manufacturing, but perhaps I could give one more example before I go on to what I want to talk about. I should like to talk about the prime thing that the Government have done. I assume that it would not happen in future, if there was a change of government, but the Opposition cannot put
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the clock back on what we have done. I want to talk about coalfield regeneration.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State's constituency would have been quite similar to mine, 15 or 20 years ago. In my constituency, under the Conservative Government, we lost coal mining jobs-and related service jobs, too. It was often said that there were two or three such jobs lost for every coal mining job lost. I lost 4,000 coal mining jobs in a very short period. My local unemployment levels were twice the national average, even when the coal mines were open. They are nowhere near twice the national average now. There is now a much fairer share of employment and unemployment, in this country and this economy, than there was traditionally.

Let me give a good example of what was done by a Government who did not care, and who drove the pit closure programme, even though we burn as much coal as we ever did. It just comes from abroad now, and not from our coal mines, although I have one coal mine left in my constituency. Dinnington colliery closed in 1991. The bulldozers went in and took it down, but nothing happened on that site until a Labour Government were elected. It took them a few years, too; they were working elsewhere. A Labour Government took £14 million on to that site. They cleaned it up and put some roads in it. They invited the private sector-they did not wheel in the public sector-to build things on that site and to create some jobs there.

Today, the Dinnington colliery site boasts Formula 1 racing. This year, Manor Motorsport, as it was, joined up with Virgin Racing. That colliery site was brought to life by this Government. On the same site, Johnston Press built a £62 million digital printing press. It prints daily and weekly newspapers, magazines and everything else. If it had been left up to the Conservative Government, nothing would have happened on that site. There were no plans to do anything. There are now hundreds of jobs on that site, some very high-tech. It has a diverse economy, which is great. When a coal mine is closed, it hits the economy and the people very hard.

All that work was done and encouraged by organisations funded by the Government, such as Yorkshire Forward, the regional development agency. We are told that the Opposition will remove RDAs; they do not think that RDAs have a role to play in our economy. They ought to look at what has happened in the real world, beyond these green Benches, in communities such as mine, which were effectively left for dead generations ago.

I want to pick up on what the Chancellor of the Exchequer said yesterday about us as a manufacturing nation. Everybody keeps knocking this country down as a manufacturing nation. It is not manufacturing as it used to-that is true. Manufacturing activity is lower now than it ever was, but this country is still the sixth biggest manufacturing country in the world. It has some great strengths in manufacturing. I know from my work in Parliament that pharmaceutical manufacturing has great strength, and it earns a lot of money for us.

Let me tell hon. Members what has been happening on one of the old colliery sites in my constituency in the past 12 years. There is the advanced manufacturing park on the Waverley site. It is based where the old Orgreave coke and chemical works are, and where, before that, the Orgreave colliery site was. Obviously, the colliery was closed after the miners' strike. It had a
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symbolic role in that strike; many thousands of people were on strike there for 12 months, as people will be aware. It eventually closed, and as a consequence, it became an open-cast mine.

At the initiative of the Government, through the regional development agency and the coal owners, now UK Coal, it has been changed dramatically into something that really shows the way forward. It was, as I say, a joint venture between public and private sector organisations, and its aim is to create an internationally recognised centre for engineering, innovation, research and manufacturing excellence. The advanced manufacturing park's goal is to capitalise on the advanced engineering and manufacturing expertise that has amassed in south Yorkshire, and further to strengthen that capability so that the area's companies can remain globally competitive in the 21st century. When I hear Members on the Opposition Benches deriding this Government and saying that they have done nothing, it makes me really angry. They should come and look at constituencies such as mine, which were left in a mess by the Conservative Government.

The advanced manufacturing park is a hub, and it has some of the world's leading materials and structures research and development organisations. It enables manufacturers of all sizes from all sectors to take advantage of advanced technologies and new market opportunities so that they are better able to create local jobs and export the best of the region's manufacturing, design, technology skills and innovation throughout the world. It boasts a highly skilled and knowledgeable work force of more than 300, including more than 100 graduate engineers and PhDs, from countries such as the USA, China, Germany, Israel and Mexico.

The wide range of high-quality property available at the park includes small offices, workshop and lab space, through medium-sized, hybrid and light industrial units, to larger custom-built design and build options. That provides growing companies at every stage of their development with the opportunity to locate their operations at the UK's recognised centre of excellence for advanced manufacturing, and to benefit from their proximity to industry innovators and international brands. It regularly demonstrates exactly how Yorkshire's advanced manufacturers have a world-class reputation for innovation and excellence.

The site was visited recently by an organisation that supports UK and German companies that want to trade and invest overseas, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will be more familiar with it than me. The Government's UK Trade and Investment organisation helps UK companies to win export business globally and overseas businesses seeking to invest in the UK. It markets this country's strengths as a world-class source of products, services and partnerships, and as a business location. The director of UKTI in Germany, Mr. Malcolm Scott, recently visited the advanced manufacturing park, which is the only one of its kind, and is attracting millions of pounds of investment to south Yorkshire.

According to UKTI, Britain is Europe's No. 1 destination for inward investment, and Yorkshire comes high on the list of preferred locations. Rotherham is one of only 16 places in the world, and the first in England, to be recognised as a world leader in welcoming inward investment. It holds the soft landing zone accolade, awarded by the USA's National Business Incubation
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Association, for its support for businesses to arrive, survive and succeed in the town. That is international recognition of our great sense.

Mr. Scott, during his visit, saw for himself why the park has a global reputation for engineering, innovation, research and manufacturing excellence, and why it is attracting interest from around the world. Last year the Government announced that Rolls-Royce had chosen that site as the location for its new £25 million nuclear advanced manufacturing research centre. When that opens, it will sit alongside other world-leading materials and structures R and D organisations, including the university of Sheffield's advanced manufacturing and research centre, which is a joint venture with Boeing, the TWI technology centre and Castings Technology International.

At that site, Boeing and the university of Sheffield are undertaking leading-edge projects on the Boeing 787 Dreamliner. That is what is happening in the real world and in our economy. Mr. Scott also saw 17 high- tech companies, including Fripp Design and Research, a product design, research and business consultancy, and many others. The Boeing-university of Sheffield joint venture is a £100 million project that leads the world in that area of R and D.

Without Government intervention, none of that would have happened. We would not have had Boeing in south Yorkshire-at the leading-edge of aerospace technology; and we would not have had Rolls-Royce coming in to build on that site a manufacturing plant that is estimated to be the size of four football pitches. That is the reality of what this Government have been doing in communities such as mine, which past Governments left to rot. When I listen to people talking on the radio or in this House, I deeply resent the fact that they do not have the decency to say that massive mistakes were made in the past in constituencies such as mine, and that this Government have been putting them right.

We may have borrowed a lot more money in the past few years, but that may have some connection not only with what has happened on that site in my constituency, but with the new schools that it is getting. The issue is not just about bad debt; it is about the future. I accept entirely that the debt has to be managed, but this is about the future of our people, our communities and our children, and we ought to recognise what this Government have done.

That 100-acre advanced manufacturing park is on the site of the old Orgreave works, and neighbouring local authorities have also given planning permission for a massive development of office space on the site. Alongside yesterday's Budget, the Chancellor also announced the publication of a report called, "Relocation: transforming where and how government works". He said that the Government were looking at finding savings by relocating civil servants from expensive London offices to elsewhere in the country, and that as a first step 15,000 posts would be relocated in the next five years. Planning permission for the offices on that site is now, I think, at the Government office for the region, or it may be on its way down to a Minister's desk, and that development fits ideally with a programme of relocating civil servants outside London.

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I read yesterday's report, whose author is Ian R. Smith. He commented on why every Government over many years have wanted to relocate civil servants to different parts of the country, and on some of the difficulties that there have been. However, he gave three reasons why civil servants should be located in London and elsewhere. First, Ministers need their ministerial back-up teams, and civil servants from their Departments obviously need to be in London, close to Ministers, this House and the other place, because that is how the system works.

Secondly, Mr. Smith mentions other areas just outside central London, which is an expensive place, as he explains. They include the London gateway and Stratford, where more could be done, and where the Government are undertaking great regeneration work. Again, however, the Opposition do not seem to recognise that. Thirdly, he says that after that second scenario we ought to be more serious about relocating people to different parts of the UK, including Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and the different regions.

So, I am not going to miss this opportunity to plug the planning application to which I referred, and which has gone through the local authorities, because it would enable not just a set of civil servants to relocate to Yorkshire, but public sector bodies to cluster, share accommodation and facilities and provide shared services. The developers, Helical Governetz, say:

They go on to mention the NHS and everything else.

That site could deliver the government of the future, be that local government, regional government-although we are a long way from an elected regional chamber, and long may that remain-or central Government. They could be delivered out there, in that area, and that new form of government should be delivered throughout the United Kingdom; it should not be centrally based, as it currently is. I thought that I would include that plug. I do not expect that much will be said about this in the wind-ups. However, I hope that we will look to ensure that where there are sites with planning permission we can get engagement by Government, particularly Regional Ministers, to ensure that this process goes ahead.

I am now going to sit down after what has been rather a long speech. I felt that given that we are very close to a general election that will decide who sits in Government, I ought to have my say on behalf of my constituents and many thousands of other people in constituencies such as mine that were laid to waste in the last two recessions; indeed, recessions were created to lay them to waste. It would be wrong of me not to get up and say to this House that when we go to the ballot box in a few weeks' time we should not forget the lessons of history, because some things look just the same to me.

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