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"We will make it easier for people to set up new enterprises by cutting the time it takes to start a new business. Our ambition is to make the UK one of the fastest countries in the world to start up a new business."
I shall now discuss the regional development agencies. I must say, as the Member for Banbury, which is on the edge of three geographical regions-the west midlands,
the east midlands and the south-east-that RDAs have been of almost no use to my constituency. They have been inflexible, rigid and expensive. The creation of local enterprise partnerships-joint local authority-business bodies introduced by local authorities to promote local economic development-will ensure much more flexibility. My local district council is currently in negotiations with another district council, which lies in another geographical area but is contiguous to us, and the new arrangement will give us a lot more flexibility. It also goes with the grain of what local people want.
It is also excellent news that this Government will try to encourage more green industry and green-collar jobs and the creation of a green investment bank in my constituency. We hope that we will see the start of a new eco-town at Bicester, because things can be built upon green-collar jobs.
We are therefore going to see access to money, a reduction in the regulatory burden and the other thing that most businesses in my constituency want: improved and enhanced skills. An excellent start has been made with funding for 50,000 apprenticeships having already been made available. In addition, the Government are going to seek ways to support the creation of apprenticeships, work pairing, and college and working training places, as part of our wider programme to get Britain working. I am going to ensure that my constituency gets as many of those apprenticeships as possible, because it is incredibly important to enhance the skills base.
We will not be able to spend or tax our way out of the current situation. What we must do is have a business-led recovery, which also means having an export-led recovery. I very much welcome what my hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell said about the space industry, but this country can take the lead in exports in all sorts of other areas. Only a very small amount of what we produce goes to China. We need to tackle the huge markets that exist in the world, and China is just one example. Since the election, I have started to establish a north Oxfordshire export club in my constituency, so that everyone in the constituency can share advice and collaborate to see how we can collectively help to promote exports and to try to ensure that a far larger part of our output goes overseas. It is those exports-the hard cash earnings that we get from exporting goods overseas-that will help to pay for the recovery here.
This Government have a positive agenda that is going to help a business-led recovery. They are doing and proposing to do the sorts of things for which businesses in my constituency have been crying out for a very long time, and I wish the Government well in their endeavours.
Julie Hilling (Bolton West) (Lab): I cannot begin to explain what an honour and privilege it is to be making my maiden speech as the new MP for Bolton West. Of course, I follow in some august footsteps. William Tyson Wilson was elected as the Member of Parliament for Westhoughton in 1906, as one of the first 29 Labour MPs. Do not worry, Madam Deputy Speaker, I am not going to talk about every one of my predecessors, although it would be good just to mention Baroness Ann Taylor, who came from Johnson Fold, one of the big estates in my constituency and was the Member of Parliament for Bolton West for nine years from 1974.
Anyway, back to William, who, like me, came from the trade union movement and was particularly passionate about education. One of his greatest achievements was the introduction of school meals, because he recognised that children could not learn and flourish if they were hungry or undernourished. My immediate predecessor, Ruth Kelly, also made a real difference to education. She was involved in schools throughout the constituency, but it was as Secretary of State for Education that she made real changes. She oversaw the healthy eating agenda and introduced the extended schools programme, now often known as "Kelly hours".
Ruth represented Bolton West at the highest level of Government for much of her career, including a long stint in the Treasury, and as Communities Secretary and, latterly, Transport Secretary. She was the youngest woman ever to sit in Cabinet and somehow found time to become mother to four children. Ruth championed the cause of hard-working families and I wish her well in her new career.
The constituency of Bolton West has had many boundary changes over the years, but I am delighted with the last one, which has brought the town of Atherton, which has been my home for the past 24 years, into Bolton West. The constituency also has the town of Westhoughton, where the residents are called "keawyeds"-I had better translate that; it means "cow heads". Legend has it that a cow got its head stuck in a five-bar gate and because the farmer could not get the cow out, he sawed its head off. People thought that that was just because he was stupid, but it was not at all-it was because the gate was worth more than the cow. The cow now has pride of place on the badge of Westhoughton high school. The town has also just been named as one of the best shopping centres in the county.
Atherton and Westhoughton share a piece of tragic history. In December 1910, 343 men and boys perished in the Pretoria pit, which was situated between the two towns. The centenary of this disaster will be commemorated this year with the installation of a monument.
We also have the village of Blackrod in Bolton West. I hoped to find out that that was the ancestral home of Parliament's Black Rod, but no such luck. Wikipedia does not have too much to say about the village of Blackrod, except that it has a dialect
"very far removed from Standard English."
We have the town of Horwich, which was once a major centre of train building at the loco works-sadly gone-but is now the home of the Reebok stadium and Bolton Wanderers. We also have several parts of Bolton itself: Smithills, the home of the haunted coaching house; and Heaton and Lostock, probably the most affluent part of the borough and home to many footballers.
The whole of Bolton West has a proud industrial heritage, particularly in coal mining and textiles: the pits and the mills, which were largely destroyed during the last Tory regime. However, we have companies that have managed to change and develop and to be part of a diverse local economy, including companies such as the Richard Threlfall Group, a family firm which has been trading for 175 years. The firm started making machinery for the textile industry and continues to supply valves-although now to the oil industry-and manufactures silicon products. Companies such as Web Dynamics, which manufactures technical textiles, are
able to succeed and thrive due to the support from the regional development agency and Government grants. It has become a world leader in the development of insulation.
We have Watson Steel Structures, which is providing the steelwork for the Olympic stadium and has also given birth to Wenlock and Mandeville, the two mascots for the Olympic games. Two of our local companies recently won regional apprenticeship awards-the Green Team and MBDA. MBDA is a shining example of a company dedicated to work force development. All employees are encouraged to undertake training to fulfil their potential and it has the most amazing apprenticeship programme. The company really concentrates on the personal development of its apprentices as well as their industrial skills. This means that it has young people who are a real credit not only to themselves but to MBDA-they are confident and capable. Half the apprentices are female and as part of their programme they go into schools to encourage other girls to make a career in engineering. MBDA has received widespread recognition, not least from the previous Labour Government, for its outstanding record and I only wish that every company could follow its example.
Companies like those and others in my constituency have developed and thrived because of the support they have received from the Labour Government, the Labour council and the regional development agency. Work-based learning through apprenticeships, the union learning fund and graduate training programmes have made a real difference to their ability to compete in these challenging economic times. I am disappointed that the Government are cutting the future jobs fund but I hope that they will continue to support the union learning fund, a fund that enables trade unions and employers to work in partnership to increase the skills of the work force and that is particularly effective at getting to hard-to-reach groups. Cuts to the future jobs fund, cuts to the regional development agency and cuts to Government support for industries in Bolton West will not help the budget deficit. They will simply mean that there are more people out of work and more businesses closing.
I was a youth worker during the last Tory Government. I worked with unemployed young people in the '80s and '90s when we had generations of them with no jobs, no hope and no future-young people whose lives were so damaged that some of them never recovered. I hope that the Government have learned from the past and that they do not let this situation happen again.
I am ambitious for my constituency. I believe it is a tragedy that young people who live on my estate of Hag Fold do not believe they can become brain surgeons, solicitors or teachers. If only we could overcome the poverty of aspiration, it would make a huge difference to the lives of many people in Bolton West.
I have spent the majority of my working life as a youth and community worker and as a trade union activist. Six years ago I went to work for the trade union movement. My last job was for TSSA-the Transport Salaried Staffs Association-the union for people in travel and transport. So hon. Members can see that I have spent all of my adult life fighting for people with disadvantage or in difficulty. I shall continue that fight and hope I can be a real champion for the people of Bolton West. I hope that I can do justice to the faith placed in me by them.
Margot James (Stourbridge) (Con): I must congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell (Dr Lee) on his excellent maiden speech, with which I agreed in every respect. I also congratulate the hon. Member for Bolton West (Julie Hilling) on her excellent maiden speech, which was entertaining as well as informative.
I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute to this important debate on support for industry, but we cannot debate support for industry in a vacuum. I do not want to dwell on the past, but none the less we want to learn from it. A lot of the Opposition's schemes for supporting business when they were in office had a rather half-hearted effect, at best. Many of the schemes, such as the capital enterprise fund, were only subscribed to by 50%. The trade credit insurance fund, which had an original budget of £5 billion, only had a take-up of less than £20 million. Apprenticeships have been hard to fill. A lot of the problems with these schemes are caused by low awareness among industry, eligibility criteria that are far too complex and rule out far too many worthy applicants, and a bureaucracy that small enterprises simply cannot cut through.
Rachel Reeves: I thank the hon. Lady for giving way. I am surprised by what she says about apprenticeships, because in my constituency of Leeds West, the number of apprenticeships has gone up from 70 to 210 in the last decade. At Leeds college of building, 400 people started on apprenticeship programmes supported by businesses this year-more than they have ever had before. I am very surprised that she says that people are not taking up places.
Margot James: There is a big problem with apprenticeships for a lot of people in my constituency. The college funds NVQ level 2 and 3 training programmes and more and more students are trying to stay in college because they simply cannot get the apprenticeships outside as the employers are too hard up to provide them.
Andrew Percy: I am a former schoolteacher, and I am sure my hon. Friend will agree with me that what has happened in education over the last few years is that the gap between the best-performing and the worst-performing schools has widened, the number of children from poorer backgrounds going on to decent and good universities has fallen and more people are leaving school with poorer qualification levels and poorer standards in basic literacy and numeracy than did before the previous Government came to power.
Margot James: I thank my hon. Friend for that excellent intervention. I was going to go on to make that point myself, but I shall leave it to Sir Terry Leahy, the chief executive of Tesco, to make the point for me. He employs 41,000 people under the age of 20 in a total work force of 280,000. He said at the end of last year:
"Sadly, despite all the money that has been spent"
"standards are still woefully low in too many schools. Employers like us...are often left to pick up the pieces."
Let me go back to the points that I was making that follow on from the apprenticeship schemes. Stourbridge has a great many small to medium-sized enterprises. Indeed, in the metropolitan borough of Dudley, of which we are part, 90% of companies employ fewer than 50 people. It is all very well for business leaders to support regional development agencies, as some of them have in the past, but smaller companies cannot cut through the thicket of bureaucracy and have not benefited from them in any large number. In my constituency, where so much industry is classified as SME, that is a real problem.
"supporting businesses through the downturn".
I have already made the point that a lot of the measures that the last Government took under the umbrella of support for industry had a very limited effect at best when set against the disastrous macro-economic policies that they pursued. The macro-economic environment is really what affects business, not this scheme and that scheme.
Stealth taxes were a cardinal sin of the last Chancellor but one, and in my constituency they had a disastrous effect on industry. Empty property relief was abolished and that had a very negative effect. That, the rise in business rates and the spiralling cost of energy and fuel are the things that really make a difference to business. Business was really let down and was not supported by the last Government, so I strongly contest the wording of the motion. The point on education has already been well made thanks to my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Goole (Andrew Percy).
What business needs, first and foremost, is for sanity to be restored to the public finances. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State made that very clear in his response. A robust deficit reduction plan that will enable us to keep interest rates low is one thing that will support industry far more than this support programme and that support programme. I congratulate the Government on promising us-presumably we will hear more detail next Tuesday-a simpler and lower corporate tax regime, as that is crucial. Tax and regulation are two sides of the same coin, and I also applaud the regulation proposals of the new Business, Innovation and Skills team. My hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry) mentioned the one in, one out regulation rule that is going to come in. I am hopeful that it might even develop into a one in, two out rule over the next couple of years, and I set that as an aspiration for the new BIS team. I was also delighted to hear the Prime Minister announce this week a review of health and safety regulations, which have got out of hand. They are a burden not just on the private sector but on the public sector.
I make a plea for the protection of our science base and our research and development base, so I am delighted that my right hon. Friend the Minister for Universities and Science is present. I will pay tribute to the last Government in one respect regarding the science base. The shadow Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton South East (Mr McFadden), mentioned the new patent box tax incentive for drugs and biotechnology products that are researched in the
UK. That tax break of 10% in corporation tax is a very useful and proper incentive that might help to stem the tide of research and development that is, tragically, going overseas, despite our having one of the best science and research bases in the world. The last Government belatedly came up with a solution and I very much hope that our Government will continue with that support.
I support the amendment to the motion, particularly in relation to the skills agenda. I am delighted that we will be giving additional funding for apprenticeships to drive business more in the direction of taking them up, as that is badly needed. I am also pleased to see at least some rescue of capital funding for the further education college sector. Stourbridge college in my constituency made a fantastic bid, and was encouraged so to do by the old Learning and Skills Council. It spent a lot of money pursuing that bid in quite a proper manner only to find at the death that all its plans had to be put on hold because the old LSC had over-committed its budget by at least four times. Stourbridge college is pursuing some of those plans, and I wish it all the best. I hope that I can find the right corner of the BIS Department to lobby for our college to get some of the additional £50 million in capital funding that is being made available.
The new skills agenda, the diversion of money from Train to Gain into apprenticeships and the diversion of money from RDAs into local enterprise partnerships will enable small firms and students in my constituency to access that funding directly, to operate under a lighter inspection regime and to get on with the job of training our young people so that they are fit for business. That is what I really applaud about the skills agenda, and I support 100% the amendment to the motion.
Ian Lavery (Wansbeck) (Lab): First, I congratulate the hon. Member for Bracknell (Dr Lee) and my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton West (Julie Hilling) on their excellent contributions, and I thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for giving me the opportunity to make my maiden speech today, particularly during the debate on industry.
I worked in a traditionally heavy industry-the coal industry-which, although it is now struggling for its very survival, is very strategic in terms of security of indigenous energy supplies for electricity generation in the UK. Coal still produces, on average, 33% of the electricity generated in the UK and at peak times it is not unusual for the coal that we burn to produce up to 50% of the nation's electricity requirement. Sadly, as a nation we are now a net importer of energy, importing up to 40 million tonnes of coal and burning approximately 60 million tonnes per annum. Clean-coal technologies, particularly carbon capture and storage techniques, need to be implemented without further delay if we are serious about saving the planet from its own demise.
The Houses of Parliament have many traditional and historic protocols, one of which allows me to pay tribute to my predecessor, Mr Denis Murphy, who represented the people of Wansbeck for more than 13 years. He was a hard-working Member of the House, who at all times worked with passion, diligence and dedication for the constituents of Wansbeck. On behalf of those constituents, I should like to place on the record my heartfelt thanks to Denis and take the opportunity to wish him and his
family the very best for the future. I am proud to follow in the footsteps of Denis Murphy, Jack Thompson and other Wansbeck MPs such as the much-revered Northumberland Miners Association leader Thomas Burt, who became the first ever coal mining MP in 1874. When he retired in 1918 he was the Father of the House, following a long and distinguished career that lasted for more than 44 years.
I have worked in the coal mining industry, having been a coalface worker from an early age before graduating to that fine old school of moderacy, the National Union of Mineworkers, of which I was the elected national president up until the general election in May. I can think of no finer people to represent than those in my constituency and the miners of the UK, and I can think of no finer privilege than representing them in this House-a challenge that I greatly relish.
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