|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
Mr Bailey: Yes. The days when the economy could be divided between the public and the private sector are long gone. Engagement between them is subtle, sophisticated and often mutually supportive. The livelihoods of millions of workers in the private sector could be affected by decisions about public investment, but public utterances fail to take that into account.
Let me say something about individual schemes. Although it would obviously be unreasonable to expect the Secretary of State to present a comprehensive plan for support for manufacturing industry, I should have liked to hear a greater indication of the priorities that he would identify in his new role. The fact that the Government have begun by calling into question a range of initiatives taken by the last Government to support strategic industries does not augur well for the future. The argument that some of the grant and loan guarantees provided through either the automotive assistance programme or the strategy investment fund were in some way politically motivated prior to the election is a canard.
Before the election I was a member of the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee, which was chaired by a Conservative and which operated on an entirely cross-party and consensual basis. It criticised the then Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton South East, for taking too long to implement some of the loans and grants under that scheme. I debated publicly with the Minister at the time and was vigorous in my criticism of him, and I shall be vigorous in my criticism of the current Secretary of State for trying to imply that there was anything political in that process. In my view, the delays were due to an exaggerated consideration of due diligence and other complicating factors.
There are two helpful things that the Secretary of State could do. First, he could ensure that his colleagues do not damage demand, public confidence and industry by their public utterances. Secondly, he could resolve not to call loans and grants into question and create doubt and uncertainty in areas where they have been allocated by implying that they are there for a political purpose, because that would inevitably lead local people to believe that they are likely to be withdrawn following the change of Government. It would be playing political football not only with the livelihoods of individuals but with the strategic significance of the companies involved, particularly Sheffield Forgemasters.
I am running out of time, but let me make one more point. There was considerable debate about the regional development agencies. Yes, it is fair to say that there were some patchy performances, and yes, in the new climate there will be reductions. However, I hope that when the Minister winds up the debate, he will give a commitment that if RDA functions are to go to local deliverers, the funds that they are currently scheduled to receive will go with them.
Dr Phillip Lee (Bracknell) (Con):
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for allowing me to catch your eye so that I can make my maiden speech. I am grateful for the courtesies that the Chamber shows to new Members when they make their maiden speeches, but, being a doctor, I am reminded of the occasion on which I stood
outside the human dissection room. I feel like that now: rather anxious, rather excited, and perhaps too eager to get stuck in.
It is customary for new Members to pay tribute to their predecessors. My predecessor, Andrew Mackay, served in the House for 29 years, representing Birmingham, Stechford for two years between 1977 and 1979, Berkshire, East from 1983, and Bracknell from 1997. It is fair to say that his reputation for constituency work was outstanding. His will be a tough act to follow, and emulating it presents a challenge that I hope to meet.
The name "Bracknell" comes from the Anglo-Saxon word Braccen-Heale, which means "bracken-covered secret place". It was first mentioned in a boundary charter in 949 AD. A thousand years later Bracknell was designated a new town, and ceased to be a secret place. Its has grown significantly since then, and has managed to attract many companies: Honeywell, General Electric, Cable & Wireless and 3M, to name but a few. But Bracknell is not just good at business; it is also a regional centre for culture, and South Hill Park is within its confines.
The theatre at South Hill Park is named after Oscar Wilde. He is reputed to have stayed locally, and may have named his most famous stage character, Lady Bracknell, during his stay. Like, I fear, many present and former Members, I have a past in amateur dramatics. I can assure the House that I did not take the role of Lady Bracknell, but I did take the role of Jack Worthing in the same play. Members may recall that that character had two names, Ernest in town and Jack in the country. I can assure the House that I will be Philip in all places, but that I will always remember, when speaking,
"the vital Importance of Being Earnest".
My constituency includes two other towns, Crowthorne and Sandhurst, and the delightful village of Finchampstead. Crowthorne is perhaps best known for being the site of Broadmoor hospital and Wellington college. Sandhurst, of course, has the Royal Military Academy, but in addition it has a remarkable series of events and community activities under the banner of Sandhurst Pride. Finchampstead is a delightful part of the world. It is famous for its association with Tudor royalty, who hunted there, and is also the site of a remarkable community centre, the Finchampstead Baptist Centre. It provides wonderful views of the Hampshire countryside from Fleet Hill.
Let me now talk about a topic that is allied to this debate. Next week we shall all be in the Chamber to listen to the Budget statement, and to hear about the dreadful finances of the country. Of course we need to make some decisions very quickly to deal with not just the deficit but with the debt, but I believe that we also need to make decisions about the future balance and direction of the economy so that we can secure greater stability, sustainability and strength, an emphasis on a creation of wealth that is real rather than transitory, and more energy-related and knowledge-related independence from friend and foe alike. That is why I want to mention the space industry, which I think merits Government support. As I look around the Chamber, I suspect that there are quite a few BlackBerrys in operation. I look at the cameras and delude myself into thinking that millions have tuned in to watch my maiden speech. Both forms of communication need satellites. Someone had to make the decision to put the satellites up there, and we are really good at making them.
The space industry is a growing area. That is why it is vital for UK prosperity. There is a multitude of economic opportunities. The industry has grown four times the average since 2000. It adds £6.5 billion to the UK economy annually. My own company, Tektronix, in Bracknell makes sophisticated measurement gear for satellites. The key point is that the industry is growing. Why is it growing? It is because we are the best at it. We have to be the best in this global economy. We also need to anticipate the direction of technological demand in the world.
It is not just about the economy. The industry also benefits education. It inspires innovation. It inspires generations of scientists and engineers. In one poll of engineers, almost 40% cited it as the reason that they went into their chosen career. It also helps us with the environment, an issue that I am very interested in. It allows us to assess man's impact on the natural world. It also offers solutions, one example being the transfer of data into space, getting rid of terrestrial-based masts that are so energy dependent.
The industry is also strategic. It underpins critical parts of infrastructure. It allows Government to have intelligent ways of formulating transportation plans. It is hugely important in defence, of course, and it aids our ability to wield soft power in the world.
Space is indispensable; that is basically what I am saying. It is an open goal for us. We should be shooting at it repeatedly. The sky is not the limit when it comes to the space industry. It offers a new economy, a green economy that offers real returns, and a niche market that depends more on knowledge than on labour, which is relevant when competing with China, India and Brazil.
I am often asked why I stood for election to this Chamber and moved away from being a doctor to being a Member of Parliament. To my mind, people who come in here should want to make this country a better place. I want to put Britain first. I do not want to be part of a Government who manage decline. One way of doing that is by having a strong high-tech sector. Government's role is to reduce tax and regulation and thereby stimulate an increase in scientific knowledge.
I have no idea how long I have in this House. That is up to the people of Bracknell constituency to decide, but when I leave I hope that I will have contributed to putting the "Great" back into Great Britain.
Mrs Sharon Hodgson (Washington and Sunderland West) (Lab): I am thrilled to be able to welcome you to the Chair, Madam Deputy Speaker. I congratulate the hon. Member for Bracknell (Dr Lee) on his very fine maiden speech. Humour is welcome in the Chamber, especially today in such a serious and important debate, and I am pleased to be able to contribute to it.
People often talk about the north-east of England as the industrial engine room of Britain, or at least they used to. The 1980s put an end to that, unfortunately. A whole generation of workers were left without jobs by a Conservative Government who did not even see fit to try to reskill them, and told them that their "unemployment was a price worth paying". That is fine and well when you are not the one paying it.
We were not "all in it together" when I was growing up in poverty in the north-east in the 1980s, just as again we will not be all in it together if the Prime Minister and his Lib Dem hatchet men wield their axe with impunity, as the north-east and our constituents will once again suffer the most. It took time-13 years of a Labour Government in fact-to put my own region, the north-east, back on the map as the place to be if someone wants to do business, to innovate and to manufacture-so much so that, just as the north-east led the industrial revolution of the 19th century, it is also now leading the new green revolution of the 21st century.
I want to talk about the successful industries in my constituency and the wider region that are fine examples of that. It is clear that there are three reasons why we have a success story to tell. The first is the tenacity, skills and determination of the work force. The second is the co-ordinated work that has been done by the RDA, One NorthEast, and the ongoing commitment to the region by major manufacturers such as Nissan. The third is the support of the Labour Government for the steps taken to establish the region as a green economic zone.
Members do not just have to take my word for it. The North East Chamber of Commerce said only last week when talking about the north-east and exports that
"this simply emphasises the importance of continued Government support for new and existing exporters, even in the face of large scale public sector cuts."
Therefore, I am hoping that today the Minister will be able to assure me that my constituents are not going to lose the level of strategic support from the Government and from One NorthEast, in particular, that our economy needs to stay strong and to carve out its own niche in the economy of the 21st century.
I was delighted to hear in Prime Minister's Question Time last week that Nissan will still receive the grant-the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills confirmed it today-which will enable it to build the new LEAF car at its Washington plant in my constituency. I was also grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Houghton and Sunderland South (Bridget Phillipson) for using both her opportunities two weeks running at PMQs to raise that issue not only on behalf of me and my constituents, but on behalf of all right hon. and hon. Members in the north-east. She was able to force an answer from the Prime Minister at the earliest opportunity. This issue has major implications for all north-east Members, as we all have constituents who rely upon Nissan for their jobs, businesses and livelihoods.
The motor industry creates over £1 billion a year in value for the north-east economy and the 260 companies in the sector are estimated to employ 26,000 people across the north-east. The production of the Nissan LEAF will bring investment of £420 million to the economy and will maintain about 2,250 jobs at the plant. However, Nissan is not the only low-carbon motoring success story in my constituency. When Tony Blair visited my constituency in February 2007 and opened the Smith Electric Vehicles new production facility in Washington, he said:
"This will be a company that will really make its presence felt not just in the North East, but actually throughout the world".
I am very pleased to say that he was not wrong. The company has worked with major car manufacturers such as Ford on concept vehicles, and has repeatedly secured business from companies such as Sainsbury's
and TNT. The company has weathered the recession, and is now making further inroads into Europe, with new product launches all the time.
There can be no doubting the importance of low-carbon vehicle engineering and its central role to the economy of Washington and Sunderland West. It is estimated to contribute over £500 million to the wider regional economy. Without Nissan, we would have struggled to attract businesses in the supply chain, many of which have set up a manufacturing base in the north-east. The company is estimated to provide around 13,000 manufacturing jobs in total in the supply chain. Although I am pleased that the Government will go ahead with the grant to Nissan, I cannot help but wonder why they ever thought about taking it away in the first place. The grant for Nissan to produce the new LEAF in Sunderland was delivered thanks not only to the company's commitment to the region, but because One NorthEast pushed for ultra low-carbon vehicle manufacture across the region.
A cursory look at the latest edition of The Sunday Telegraph makes it clear that plans are afoot to scrap all nine regional development agencies. That has been confirmed by the Government today. That is despite us being told just a few weeks ago that where RDAs work they would remain. In yesterday's edition of The Journal-today we have had it clarified-I read that the RDAs will be scrapped but that a new body will be formed in regions where they can be justified, such as, I would imagine, the north-east. What is the point of that-dismantling one body that is doing the job perfectly well and replacing it with another, just so that it can have a different name? Talk about bureaucracy and wasting time and resources.
Whenever I speak to local politicians, business leaders and entrepreneurs in the north-east, I am told the same thing, which is that One NorthEast is working well as it is. During my time serving on the North East Regional Committee-that is another thing that the coalition Government have decided to scrap-I heard glowing reports in our evidence sessions from a diverse range of individuals and organisations about the valuable work of One NorthEast. The only reason that I can see for it to be scrapped is an ideologically driven one; this is about a commitment to making cuts, regardless of whether or not those cuts are needed.
The case I am making is not just bluster from those of us in the north-east who believe that the region needs a strong voice, because PricewaterhouseCoopers estimates that for every pound invested by regional development agencies the return for the economy is £4.50-I reckon that the differential is even greater for One NorthEast. We know, too, that One NorthEast has played its part in the creation of more than 160,000 jobs. It is also vital to note that when jobs have been lost in the north-east, One NorthEast has led the response and taken the initiative to get people back into work as soon as possible. Therefore, the Government are not only taking away a proven job-creation scheme at a time of public sector cuts, but scrapping one of the most effective means of support that newly redundant workers have.
There is no reason why we cannot continue to improve the long-term prospects of the region's manufacturing base, but it seems clear that removing the strategic level of planning and support that One NorthEast provides would be counter-productive. I wanted to say a lot more today, but our time has been curtailed so I shall merely say that I look forward to hearing the Minister's response.
Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell (Dr Lee) on a truly outstanding maiden speech.
This Parliament will be overshadowed and dominated by the budget deficit and the consequent need to make cuts in public spending, but we should never forget that it is a Labour deficit and that these will be Labour cuts. The speeches made today by Labour Members have displayed a total inability to recognise that we have a serious budget deficit and that action needs to be taken as a result. The only comments made by those on the Labour Benches-I suspect that this will be the same throughout this debate-have been in support of more public spending. They do not appear to have recognised that that is not sustainable any longer.
We need to examine what businesses in our constituencies want. I think that we are all agreed that, as the motion says, we need
"a clear deficit reduction plan, and that such a plan must have at its heart measures to foster growth and create the conditions for a strong business-led recovery".
What do businesses want? First, they want access to bank lending. The coalition agreement clearly states:
"We will develop effective proposals to ensure the flow of credit to viable SMEs. This will include consideration of both a major loan guarantee scheme and the use of net lending targets for the nationalised banks."
So the Government are going to address the issue of ensuring access to bank lending for businesses.
The vast majority of businesses in my constituency want to see red tape cut and the burden of regulation lifted from businesses. The coalition agreement clearly states:
"We will cut red tape by introducing a 'one-in, one-out' rule whereby no new regulation is brought in without other regulation being cut by a greater amount".
We will end the culture of 'tick-box' regulation...We will end the so-called 'gold-plating' of EU rules, so that British businesses are not disadvantaged relative to their European competitors...We will give the public the opportunity to challenge the worst regulations."
Small and medium-sized businesses in my constituency have been crying out for all those things for many years.
Businesses want a simplified tax system. The coalition agreement clearly states:
"We will find a practical way to make small business rate relief automatic."
"We will reform the corporate tax system by simplifying reliefs and allowances, and tackling avoidance, in order to reduce headline rates. Our aim is to create the most competitive corporate tax regime in the G20, while protecting manufacturing industries."
Again, that is very much welcomed by the business community.
What will also be welcomed in a business-led growth approach is the following coalition Government intention:
|Next Section||Index||Home Page|