The other issue that I am worried and upset about is that a Liberal Democrat occupies one of the highest offices of state, and the hon. Gentleman mentioned that Ministers often visit the area. They do not afford me the courtesy of saying when they are coming. When the

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Secretary of State visited my constituency, I was not advised in advance and I was not in a position to lobby him with bids from my area. However, I have taken that up separately. I will now try to make progress because I know that many hon. Members want to contribute.

I remind hon. Members that unemployment in my region is up by 8,000 to 145,000—a rate of 11.3%, which is higher than the national average. Under the Labour Government, the gap between the economy of the north-east and those of other regions was closing, with private sector business growth and employment. The Member for Redcar quoted some figures. In fact, after 10 years of Labour Government, the unemployment rate in the north-east was 5.7%—Labour came to power in 1997, and in November 2007 to January 2008 it was 5.7%—which was only 0.5% higher than the UK average. Now, though, it is 11.3%, which is 3.3% higher than the national average.

I did want to start on a positive note—[Laughter.] I am sorry about this, Mrs Brooke. I wanted to welcome the invaluable contribution that Nissan has made to our regional economy. Nissan is located in the constituency neighbouring mine to the north, represented by my hon. Friend the Member for Washington and Sunderland West (Mrs Hodgson). Nissan’s presence has some benefits for the supply chain in east Durham. I commend Nissan for its tremendous commitment to our area. It is a shining example of what the north-east is capable of achieving with the right support from local and national Government. As hon. Members will be aware, the two new car models that are to be built will create more than 3,000 jobs across the UK over two years. Some 600 of those will be at Nissan’s Sunderland factory, with the remainder in the supply chain. I do not wish to criticise that success story.

I am looking to the Minister—[Hon. Members: “The Whip.”] Well, I will afford him the courtesy of calling him Minister. Welcome though they are, those new jobs do not come close to countering the job losses in my constituency. Over the past few weeks, I have referred to the haemorrhaging of private sector jobs in east Durham. That should be a real concern—it certainly is for me and all those who are affected. I cannot remember so many job losses in my constituency since the pit closure programmes, which is indicative of the desperate situation faced by many constituencies such as mine.

The Government’s Work programme does nothing to address the fact that unemployment is often focused in communities with the weakest local economies. The problem in the north-east is not so much one of joblessness as one of worklessness. My hon. Friend the Member for Hartlepool mentioned the ratio of the number of people out of work and the number of vacancies, which is limited. I refer the Minister to an excellent report on that subject published by Sheffield university, which makes some positive suggestions about what could be done.

The Work programme has been in operation for one year, during which time the number of people in Easington claiming jobseeker’s allowance has risen by 20%. About 1,000 job losses have been announced in the past month, and that will affect my constituency, where 3,195 people are out of work. Companies closing down include Cumbrian Seafoods, JD Sports, Dewhirsts, Reckitt

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Benckiser and Robertson Timber. Some of those companies—all private sector—are closing as a consequence of the decline in the building and construction industry, but mostly it is a consequence of a reduction in demand.

There is yet another side to the story. Easington has a strong manufacturing tradition, with companies such as NSK, Caterpillar, GT Group, Actem UK and Seaward Electronic. Those companies are looking to the RDA replacement bodies and the Government for signs of support that will enable them to take on more workers. There are some large-scale private sector regeneration projects in the offing, but again we need leadership and support from the Government, because many of those programmes are suffering unjustifiable delays.

I will not embarrass the Government by mentioning the centre of creative excellence that could have created 500 jobs south of Seaham, but I will mention retail developments such as a new Tesco supermarket on the former site of East Durham college. That would create 400 new jobs and a new library—a much needed community facility at a time of spending restraint in the public sector.

Dalton Park phase 2 also offers a glimmer of hope for my constituency. Once the development is complete, it will support more than 100 construction jobs and 450 new retail jobs. It will provide new facilities that will greatly benefit the local community such as a new supermarket, hotel, cinema, and associated leisure facilities. Such planning applications are often controversial, but—incredibly—this one received the unanimous support of the local authority, as well as massive support from the local community and other county MPs, and I am thankful for that support. The development was also passed by the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government. It is a rare phenomenon in that everybody seems to support it, but it is being delayed as the result of an application for a judicial review by Salford Estates, which owns Peterlee town centre. As I understand it, the founder of Salford Estates is a tax exile based in the tax haven of Monaco.

My point is that the communities in the north-east continue to be hit the hardest by Government policies that are driving down demand across the region. The promised private-sector led recovery has simply failed to materialise in our region, and the austerity and cuts agenda is taking money out of our local economies and making any potential recovery harder to realise. A decade of progress made under Labour to reduce the north-south divide is being reversed.

Mrs Jenny Chapman (Darlington) (Lab): Is my hon. Friend alluding—perhaps not this explicitly—to the fact that problems of entrenched unemployment are very hard and take an awfully long time to fix? The north-east probably knows that better than any other region. The problem is not only worklessness but crime, mental ill health, homelessness and all the other associated problems that we know occur when there are high levels of unemployment.

Grahame M. Morris: Absolutely. My hon. Friend makes an excellent point much more forcefully and directly than I could, and I completely agree with her.

It is up to this Government to learn lessons from those things that worked in terms of regeneration and growth and saw our region prosper in sectors such as

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exports over the past decade. I find it quite offensive when members of the governing coalition denigrate Labour’s efforts over the past decade, as if that Government produced no overall success.

I did not intend to quote statistics, but I shall put a couple on the record. Based on gross value added per head, the rate of growth in the north-east went from being the lowest of all regions during the 1990s to the second highest during the past decade. Let me also put to bed another myth propagated by the Tory party which claims that our public sector was squeezing out the private sector. That is just not true. As other hon. Members have indicated, in our view the public and private sectors are not mutually exclusive but mutually supportive. Between 2003 and 2008, private sector employment rose by 9.2% in our region, while at the same time public sector employment grew by only 4.1%. Between 1999 and 2007, the number of businesses in the north-east rose by 18.7%—a huge increase that compares favourably with London’s business growth of about 19.6% over the same period.

Bridget Phillipson: May I give one example from my constituency to illustrate the link between public sector investment and private sector job creation? A local electrical company, Alex Scullion Electrical Contractors, carried out a lot of work with contracts to renovate social housing, apply the decent homes standard and build new social housing through labour investment. Now, however, times are difficult because that investment has dried up. That company played an important role in securing private sector jobs and supporting apprentices, and there are clear linkages between money that the Government spend and the creation of jobs in the private sector.

Grahame M. Morris: Absolutely. That is a terrific point and there are many similar examples. In my constituency, Carillion was involved in infrastructure projects including Building Schools for the Future and hospital building programmes. I did not mention it earlier but that company has announced 130 redundancies.

There is no doubt that the north-east was hard hit by the global downturn of 2008, but the policies of this Government are entrenching a north-south divide. To quote a Nobel prize-winning economist, Paul Krugman:

“The urge to declare our unemployment problem ‘structural’—a supply-side problem of some kind, not solvable by the ‘simplistic Keynesian’ notion of just increasing demand—has been quite something to behold. It’s rapidly entering the category of a zombie idea, which just keeps shambling forward no matter how many times it has been killed.”

The problem is that demand has been depressed. We need to stimulate demand in the economy. Quite simply, communities and areas such as mine throughout the region cannot pull themselves out of the mire without Government support. Targeted support and intervention are what we need.

Annette Brooke (in the Chair): Order. I propose a time limit on the remaining speeches, initially of five minutes. Each of the first two interventions accepted will stop the clock and give the hon. Member who gives way another minute; but clearly there will be reductions in the time limit if that happens. The Clerk will ring a bell when a Member has one minute left.

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3.19 pm

Sir Alan Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed) (LD): I am glad to follow the hon. Member for Easington (Grahame M. Morris), who always manages to sound a little more cheerful than some of his colleagues in his constructive contributions. I congratulate the hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr Wright) on introducing this timely and necessary debate. I have a lot of regard for him, but he and his colleagues must face the fact that if they were in power now they would be making substantial public sector cuts. Their own spending plans demonstrate that. We would all be facing the same problem of a shrinking public sector, which has a particular impact in an area with high public sector employment.

The Berwick constituency is a large one, and includes the area around the Lynemouth smelter, whose closure has already been mentioned, as well as what were in my time four working pits. We have lost a lot of jobs in the mining industry. Yet the constituency is 404th for unemployment levels. That still represents more than 1,300 unemployed claimants, but the fact that the constituency has managed not to be among the worst hit owes something to the current stability of agriculture and the associated trades, and also to the fact that we have a large proportion of economically inactive—retired—people. Among the economically active, unemployment is hitting significantly.

We were hit, of course, by the Alcan closure, which had a direct impact on my constituency. Following that I worked a great deal with my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary to the Treasury on the extension of enterprise zones. The area identified was in the constituency of the hon. Member for Blyth Valley (Mr Campbell), because there are sites around the port of Blyth that are potentially attractive. Getting the enterprise zone extended was part of the strategy. We need the capital allowances that must go with it, and that is partly a decision for the local enterprise partnership. If projects come along that need those capital allowances, and they are not in the original LEP area, I want the LEP to make sure that they go to any good new business that comes into the extended area. If that means that the amounts are used up, we will get some more out of the Treasury; I am confident that we shall be able to do so.

The north-east region is enjoying significant business success—the highest value ever in exports. However, it is heavily dependent on public sector jobs. A good friend of many of us, John Mowbray, who is currently chairman of the chamber of commerce—incidentally, he was recognised in the honours list last week, which we are delighted about; we look forward to congratulating him, probably this evening—said:

“The onus has been placed on the business community to pick up the slack from these cutbacks and while we have had a great deal of success across the private sector in the past 12 months, it is almost impossible to keep pace with the impact of what has been happening across public organisations”.

There is a major task to undertake. If I ask business men in Northumberland what the obstacles are to their creating more jobs—what three things that are somewhere in the grasp of Government, because, obviously, they will mention the international economic situation, which is beyond Government’s control—they will refer to the difficulty in getting capital from banks, the infrastructure problems in our area, and skills shortages.

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Grahame M. Morris: All Members have had discussions with companies and industrialists, and the issue that comes through to me is lack of demand and consumer confidence. It is not so much the impact of the eurozone, and so on—it is lack of domestic demand. Government policy is exacerbating that.

Sir Alan Beith: That is partly true, particularly in retail and parts of the construction industry. It is not true in some of our exporting industries, which are still finding demand and achieving sales in many parts of the world. Clearly, we want to increase demand. What we cannot do is simply pump more and more money—because we do not have it—into the economy.

I want to refer to some of the ways in which we must tackle the three weaknesses I mentioned. One, of course, is bank lending. My right hon. Friend the Business Secretary has devoted a lot of effort to trying to get banks to lend to small business. However, he has met resistance and difficulty, and the Governor of the Bank of England has announced new measures, which I hope will take us further. The regional growth fund supplements the availability of capital, and I particularly welcome the efforts of the Newcastle Journal to bring together smaller businesses to create a bid to become eligible for the regional growth fund. It was successful the first time round, and I hope it will be a second time. The banks need to lend to small businesses on reasonable terms that recognise the viability of the projects that are being brought forward.

We have a pretty obvious candidate for infrastructure spending, where we can clearly show that there would be a benefit to the economy, and that is investment in the A1. It is seen as a handicap by many businesses when they are trying to attract other businesses into the area. If we think that Scotland and the UK benefit from being in the Union, surely we must link up effectively with Scotland.

Finally, for the development of skills we are very dependent on Northumberland college, which serves my area as well as those of neighbouring MPs. It has had something of a crisis of governance lately and gone through a difficult period. I am glad that the Further Education Minister has shown a willingness to help the college. We need it to expand its activities generally out into the areas that are closer to the homes of young people, who cannot be expected to travel 30 or even 50 miles each way to get further education. The Government are doing practical things—and they need to do more of them—to tackle those problems, which we all agree need to be addressed.

3.26 pm

Phil Wilson (Sedgefield) (Lab): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Brooke. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Hartlepool (Mr Wright) on securing an important debate. I welcome the Liberal Democrat Members for north-east constituencies. It is a disgrace that the Conservative Members are not here to speak up for the north-east on the issue.

I want to be quick, and make some general points. In Sedgefield, unemployment has gone up by nearly 25% in the past 12 months. The number of people who have been out of work for six months or more has gone up 100% over the same period. There is something I would

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like the Government to do; I do not know whether the Whip is also the Whip at the Department for Transport, but areas such as County Durham and Darlington have a big issue with buses. People might wonder what that has to do with unemployment, but it is about getting to work. The cutting of subsidies from public bus services means that I have constituents who cannot get to work, and who must consider packing in their jobs. Secondly, Jobcentre Plus says it has funds set aside to buy bicycles for people, so that they can get to work. A bit of joined-up thinking is required between Departments.

The question of demand in the economy, to grow the private sector, has been touched on in the debate. The average wage in County Durham is £418, whereas the national average is £503. Cuts in benefits—and we know that welfare benefits are going to be reformed—will affect 120,000 households in County Durham. That is half the households in the county. About £150 million will be taken out of the local economy. That is something to bear in mind if we want the private sector to grow.

I want to refer to the same speech that the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Sir Alan Beith) quoted, by John Mowbray. I congratulate John, as well, on being made an OBE in the honours list. In the same speech he went on to say that the public sector has been hit incredibly hard by the Government’s austerity purge. We must say that is true.

The way to get the private sector to grow is through the private and public sectors working together. I want to draw hon. Members’ attention to two initiatives in my constituency. One is the Hitachi factory, which will create 500 jobs, with thousands in the supply chain, the vast majority of which will be in the private sector, obviously. However, that would not have come about if it were not for public sector procurement.

The other initiative involves Durham Tees Valley airport. As Tees valley Members of Parliament will know, things have been difficult for the airport in recent years. The number of passengers using it has gone down from just under 1 million to about 200,000. Peel Airports has gone to the regional growth fund in the new round for a grant of some £60 million. It wants to invest over time some £60 million in developing the airport. It wants to develop the freight and logistics side of it, to the south of the airport. That requires the input of some £60 million of taxpayers’ money. That is the public and private sectors working together.

I want to quote from the assessment that Durham Tees Valley airport has pulled together of the impact that the development could have. The impact assessment states:

“Once fully developed and occupied, alongside the current operation of the airport, the whole DTVA site has the potential to support around 3,650 gross FTE jobs, supporting approximately £220m of gross direct GVA for Tees Valley each year…2,420 of these are net FTE jobs and these could be taken by Tees Valley residents.”

That is very good news for the Tees valley. All MPs in the north-east should get together to ensure that the project works.

The final thing that I want to mention is regional pay. As I said, the average wage in County Durham is £418. I ask the Whip this: how low does he think that pay should be in County Durham? I keep asking that question, but I never get an answer. Regional pay will suppress

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the economy in areas such as the north-east of England. The hon. Member for Redcar (Ian Swales) and I agree on regional pay; we have both signed early-day motion 55.

Annette Brooke (in the Chair): Order. I call Mr Kevan Jones, with a time limit of four minutes.

3.31 pm

Mr Kevan Jones (North Durham) (Lab): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Hartlepool (Mr Wright) on securing the debate. I would like to pick up on a point that the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Sir Alan Beith) made about the lending by banks. The Government’s approach is somehow to reduce the size of the public sector and to grow regional businesses, but as has already been said eloquently by many hon. Members, the two are interlinked.

I will give a specific example from my constituency. A company called Ambic is based in Chester-le-Street, on the Stella Gill industrial estate. It is run by a very dynamic and clever individual, David Potter, who is an engineer by trade. The company produces very high-quality furniture for schools. Clearly, with the downturn in the budgets of schools, it has seen demand drop. It had been a profitable business until the downturn in 2009. In the following year, it made a loss. By changing the way in which the business is marketed and run, it has slowly increased its profitability again.

Three years ago, just before the recession, the company moved into a brand-new factory. It took out a loan from the Bank of Scotland/NatWest for the expansion of the business. It has been successful, in that it has employed some 40 people locally, including apprentices; it is run by an individual who is strongly committed to the local community. But, lo and behold, two weeks ago it received a letter from the bank saying that, because it had revalued the property, which it says now is worth not £1.2 million but £750,000, the company’s borrowing rates will now be between 6% and 15%. That means that any profit that it makes will be wiped out overnight.

I have written to the Secretary of State to raise the matter. It is a good example: if someone wants to kill off a business, that is the way to do it. The company owner is quite angry about the situation. Like me and others, he thinks that this is a bank that has received billions of pounds of public money. If he has to, he will just shut up shop, but that will be 40 jobs gone from the local community, which will cost the taxpayer a hell of a lot more and ruin a very successful business. It has never been late in paying for any of its borrowings and, as I said, is committed to the local community.

I ask the Whip to respond to what I have said. I have not had a response yet from the Secretary of State. I have raised the problem with him personally in the Tea Room and asked him to look at it. If it is not sorted out soon, the business will have to close, which will cost the taxpayer more and is not in line with the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s argument that we are trying to grow and support local businesses. That is an example of a bank that will cripple and close a very successful local business. That would be a shame not just for the individuals involved, but for Mr Potter, who is committed not just to Chester-le-Street but to the region and to developing a small business and employing local people.

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3.35 pm

Helen Goodman (Bishop Auckland) (Lab): It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Mrs Brooke.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Hartlepool (Mr Wright) on securing this extremely important debate. I am beginning to think that this Government have adopted a Marxist attitude to the unemployed. They are the reserve army to be marched on to the pitch at a moment that is convenient and off at a moment that is inconvenient. They seem to subscribe to the lump-of-labour theory: this is the lumpen proletariat, there to be used and abused. What that demonstrates is a moral failure and an economic failure.

It is a moral failure because no account is taken of the individuals who are unemployed—the level of unhappiness, the level of stress, the level of anxiety. A young man came to my surgery recently. He used to hold down perfectly good jobs. He has now been unemployed for 12 months. He is being driven crazy—literally crazy. He is suffering from mental illness. He shouts at everybody—he shouts at my staff; he shouts at the jobcentre staff—and who can blame him? He is 30, living at home on £56 a week and the vacancy to worker ratio is 1:9. He does not have a realistic chance of getting a job.

It is an economic failure because we are wasting people and wasting people’s skills. One of the worst things is the constant denigration of unemployed people—not just cutting benefits, but treating unemployed people as though they are workshy. Nothing could be further from the truth. In my constituency, 2,920 people are on jobseeker’s allowance, but the statistics show that there are 6,400 people who want a job. That tells us that there is a huge need and a mismatch.

We have to ask ourselves: who are the people who are unemployed? They are not a great lump. Not only are they individuals, but they fall into particular categories. One thousand of them are young people; they do not have experience, so it is very difficult for them to get jobs that require experience. Five hundred of them are over 50; where are they supposed to gain new skills when we see the increases in tuition fees and the cuts to adult education? There has also been a massive increase in the number of women who are unemployed—up by 25% in the past year.

That has come about because the Government are putting cuts before everything else. When they do that, it leads not just to spin-off problems for the private sector, but to a complete skills mismatch. Someone who has been working in the public sector in a service job cannot simply be shoved into a manufacturing job and the assumption made that they can do it. Of course they are not qualified to do it.

We need a strategic approach from the Government in both skills and finance, as my hon. Friend the Member for North Durham (Mr Jones) said. When we had a regional development agency, we had not only a strategy, but a source of finance. I think we need some new sources of finance. When we have a Labour Government again, it would be fantastic if we had an RDA that did not just provide grant financing, which is what we had under the previous Government; there should also be some loan financing. Then, small firms like the one described by my hon. Friend could be confident of getting reasonable treatment.

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3.39 pm

Stephen Timms (East Ham) (Lab): I, too, congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Hartlepool (Mr Wright) on securing this important debate. I also congratulate the hon. Member for Preseli Pembrokeshire (Stephen Crabb) on being hauled in to answer it. Having heard the speeches that my hon. Friends and, indeed, Lib Dem Members have made, I can well understand why the Minister responsible for employment has chosen to leave the country rather than answer the debate.

There has been some effort today to derive optimism from the unemployment figures, but the fact is that according to the figures published today, the claimant count nationally and the number of people who are long-term unemployed have gone up. My hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield (Phil Wilson) rightly made those particularly important points. The number of people working part-time who want to work full-time is at a record level—it has never been as high as the number announced today. Youth unemployment remains above 1 million, and, as we were reminded, unemployment in the north-east has risen.

There are not many grounds for optimism in today’s figures, except that they are slightly less bad than the figures we have seen in the past few months. I am afraid the picture will not change until the Government’s economic policies change and they think again about the strategy that they have been pursuing, which has choked off demand, crushed confidence and sent us into a double-dip recession. My hon. Friend the Member for Hartlepool set out Labour’s alternative plan, and there is growing recognition—not in the Government yet, but certainly elsewhere—that we need to change course if we are to change the bleak picture of unemployment that we have heard about this afternoon.

In 1999, the unemployment rate in the north-east had risen to more than 10%, but successful initiatives reduced it to 6% in January 2008, before the global financial crisis hit. After the election, we were told by the Government that their policies would renew private sector confidence and that aggressively tackling the deficit would cause a surge in confidence, investments and new jobs. Instead, since the election confidence has collapsed and the number of unemployed in the north-east has risen by almost a quarter to 145,000. The unemployment rate is now 11.3%, including an increase of 0.5% in the past three months alone.

Mrs Sharon Hodgson (Washington and Sunderland West) (Lab): I apologise for not being here for the beginning of the debate, but I was in the meeting with the Dalai Lama, which was an excellent experience.

According to National Audit Office figures, the number of young people in my constituency who have been unemployed for over a year has gone up by 950% since last year. The hon. Member for Preseli Pembrokeshire (Stephen Crabb) looks confused, but the number has gone up from 20 to 210 in a year. Does my right hon. Friend not agree that that shows how damaging the double-dip recession created in Downing street is and why we need action from Ministers to create jobs and growth in the north-east?

Stephen Timms: Yes, I agree completely. It is long-term youth unemployment that will have the most damaging long-term effects on the economy. We know from the

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last time we had a lost generation how damaging it is for the life chances of the individuals affected, and now we see it happening again. We need a change of policy and a change of course to avoid the frightening figures on the rate of growth of long-term youth unemployment to which my hon. Friend draws attention.

I imagine that the hon. Member for Preseli Pembrokeshire will tell us about the Work programme and present it to us as the panacea for the problems. It struck me that the Work programme did not get a mention in either of the speeches from coalition Back Benchers, the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Sir Alan Beith) and the hon. Member for Redcar (Ian Swales). I suspect that that reflects the reality of the Work programme’s impact.

The hon. Member for Preseli Pembrokeshire will not be able to tell us a great deal about the Work programme, because it is a secret. Members who have been to see the Work programme prime providers in the north-east, Avanta and Ingeus, will have found out from them that they are not allowed to provide any data at all on how they are getting on—no data or numbers about their performance. The Minister responsible for employment, who we understand has left the country, imposed a contractual ban on the publication of any data on the Work programme. He said in January, under pressure in the Chamber, that he would lift the ban and would in future allow prime providers to publish some data about their own performance, as of course they all used to do—under the flexible new deal, they published the numbers on how they were doing, because they wanted to compare how they and others were getting on.

Since then, however, the Minister of State has got cold feet, so the ban remains in place. One is bound to ask: what exactly are Ministers trying to hide? Why do they not want anybody to know what is going on in the Work programme? One consequence is that Jobcentre Plus managers do not know what is going on. If one speaks to one’s Jobcentre Plus district manager, one finds that they do not have a clue what is happening in the Work programme. Nobody has told them how many people have got jobs through it. We understand that Ministers want to avoid potentially embarrassing questions being put to them, but the consequence of the ban has been a destruction of the trust on which such initiatives depend, and a reduction in performance.

We have managed to glean very limited data from the providers’ trade association, the Employment Related Services Association, and it is no surprise that the numbers suggest that the Work programme is performing no better than the flexible new deal that went before it. That is after the Government spent more than £60 million buying out all the flexible new deal contracts to introduce it. They had not tried their programme out anywhere; they just launched into it in June last year, with no piloting or testing at all. We have seen a very disappointing performance, which we will eventually get some figures on, but we should have heard about it long before now.

Youth unemployment has been an important feature of the debate. The Government’s answer to the problem has been the youth contract, but that is smaller than the future jobs fund, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Hartlepool referred, and is dependent on take-up. Given the effect on regions that suffer particularly high unemployment, I again ask the Government to reconsider their decision to put all the funding into a national pot,

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available on a first-come, first-served basis to those Work programme providers that ask for it. If a Work programme prime provider in an area with relatively low unemployment sees a way of getting a subsidy to push a young person who might have found a job in that area anyway into a subsidised role, it can do so, but that will be done at the expense of young people in areas such as the north-east, for whom the case for support is much stronger. Work programme providers agree. It would make much more sense to ring-fence the available youth contract funding, to ensure that it is used where it is needed, rather than squandered elsewhere.

As we have heard, we need a more active industrial strategy. That is key to reducing the problem of unemployment in the north-east. I very much agree with the tributes paid to One North East, which co-ordinated such an industrial strategy before the election. We see the benefits of it now in the announcements, which hon. Members have mentioned, on the car industry, the progress with electric vehicles and so on. That is all being lost. The RDA was scrapped in favour of the fragmented, piecemeal local enterprise partnership.

It was pleasing to hear the hon. Member for Redcar say something positive about the regional growth fund—a rare event indeed. The NAO pointed out that so far under the regional growth fund, the cost per job is more than it was with the RDAs. The whole point of the changes was supposed to be to save money; it is not working. The regional growth fund is proving to be very expensive. It is ironic that the Government accused the RDAs of being too centralised and bureaucratic, but have replaced them with one fragmented and divided scheme that does not have enough clout and another run from Whitehall, and not run very well at that.

We heard about the proposed move to regional pay bargaining, and will discuss it in on the Floor of the House this afternoon. It will certainly threaten the economy of the north-east. There have been hints of a U-turn here, and the people of the north-east would very much welcome that, if it were to be the outcome.

We need a change of course on economic policy. My hon. Friend the Member for Hartlepool set out a compelling five-point plan. We need the problems in the Work programme sorted out—frankly, we need some daylight in the Work programme. It has been secretive so far and has had a blanket thrown over it. My fear is that we will not get those changes from the Government; we need a different Government to make the changes required.

3.50 pm

Stephen Crabb (Preseli Pembrokeshire) (Con): I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr Wright) for securing this debate; we do not get enough opportunities in the House to debate regional issues. As a Member of Parliament for Wales, I do get such opportunities when the Welsh Grand Committee meets, which it is doing this afternoon. Unfortunately, other regions of England do not have the same opportunities.

I was disappointed that the hon. Gentleman started off on a slightly discordant note, by mentioning the absence of the Minister.

Mr Iain Wright: It is a fair point.

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Stephen Crabb: No, it is not a fair point. What the hon. Gentleman did not say was that his Front-Bench team, in a rather cack-handed way, managed to timetable a debate in the main Chamber, requiring a Department of Work and Pensions Minister at exactly the same time as his own important debate this afternoon. If he does not think that the presence of the Employment Minister at the European employment summit this afternoon is critical given everything that is going on in Europe, I do not know what is—perhaps spending time with the Dalai Lama.

Mr Wright: How many Ministers are there in the Department for Work and Pensions? What about a Minister from the Treasury or from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills attending this debate?

Stephen Crabb: As the ministerial Whip for the Department, it is entirely appropriate that I respond to this debate, given that the other Ministers are tied up in other debates in the House.

The hon. Gentleman spoke well about the impact of unemployment on families and communities; that was one of the best parts of his speech. Like me, he comes from a part of the country where, historically, unemployment has been a blight on the community. He and I both have the privilege of representing constituencies in which we have grown up, and we understand the issues well. He powerfully explained the negative effect that unemployment has on communities.

Let me assure the hon. Gentleman and all colleagues in the Chamber this afternoon that the ministerial team at the DWP shares a passion and commitment for tackling unemployment. There is absolutely no complacency whatever within the departmental team about this issue. We recognise that unemployment, especially youth unemployment, is one of the biggest challenges that faces the Government.

Ian Mearns (Gateshead) (Lab): I apologise for turning up late to this debate. I have been meeting a construction company from my constituency that is considering laying off 200 to 300 members of its work force—something that would be catastrophic. The hon. Gentleman correctly mentions the fact that there is little regional consideration of this whole matter. Therefore, there is no differentiation in approach across England in dealing with it, so while unemployment across England goes down, it goes up in the north-east.

Stephen Crabb: I dispute that. The Government are trying to move away from the one-size-fits-all policies of the previous Administration. We are looking at locally and regionally tailored solutions, where appropriate.

Several hon. Members mentioned today’s labour market figures. I am not as gloomy as the shadow Minister about them. There are reasons for a measure of optimism. Nationally, employment is up by more than 400,000 since 2010. Private sector employment has gone up by 843,000, since 2010, and it has gone up again in the past month. In the past 12 months, in the north-east region, employment overall has gone up by 10,000 and private sector employment has increased by 17,000, which more than offsets the drop in public sector employment. That counters the point that the Opposition made about the drop in public sector employment being a driver of overall unemployment in the north-east region.

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Those are encouraging signs, but we recognise that unemployment remains too high. It is true that unemployment in the north-east remains higher than in other parts of the country. Several Members have referred to the fact that it has the highest unemployment figures of all the UK regions.

Long-term unemployment affects only a minority of people, but it is a particular concern because it brings with it the risk of detachment from the labour market and people losing the hope of finding work again or finding that the skills that they had are diminished or outdated.

In the north-east, more than 24,000 people have been claiming unemployment benefits for more than 12 months. That figure is much lower than it was 25 years ago—the hon. Member for Hartlepool referred to the 1980s—but it is still too high, and we are not complacent.

One of the groups that has been hardest hit during the last two years of recession is young people. We have seen encouraging signs recently that youth unemployment might be starting to come down. Excluding unemployed students, it fell by 23,000, to just over 700,000 in the most recent quarter. That still leaves almost 50,000 16 to 24-year-olds unemployed in the north-east, so there is clearly much more to be done.

In April, we announced an additional £1 billion package of support for young people through the youth contract. Very few Opposition Members mentioned the action that is taking place and the fact that, in the past year, some 7,000 young people have benefited from the work experience scheme in the north-east. Nor did they mention the fact that there are 30,000 additional apprenticeships in the north-east, more than 1,000 of which are in the constituency of Hartlepool. It is not surprising that they do not want to talk about it. As Labour Members elsewhere have mentioned, one of the big failings of the previous Labour Administration was that they did not recognise fully the importance of apprenticeships and the link between high-value apprenticeships and upskilling in the economy.

Helen Goodman: Surely, the hon. Gentleman is aware that the number of apprenticeships increased tenfold under the Labour Government.

Stephen Crabb: In the last 12 months, 67% more apprenticeships were created than in the last year of the previous Labour Government.

Ian Swales: I support the Government in their hard work on apprenticeships and report that the number has doubled in my constituency and in many other constituencies in the north-east.

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Stephen Crabb: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that intervention.

Phil Wilson: The hon. Gentleman is right to say that the number of apprenticeships has gone up. The biggest increase is for those over the age of 25. However, the massive increases are not in engineering, where the number has gone up by 29%, but in education and training, which has gone up by 373%, in arts, media and publishing, which has gone up by 134%, and in health, public services and care, which has gone up by 104%. Where we need the growth in high-value jobs, the apprenticeships are not coming through as quickly as they are in other sectors.

Stephen Crabb: The hon. Gentleman seemed to downplay a 29% increase in engineering apprenticeships. More than a third more apprenticeships in engineering have been created, which is quite a success story, and I am grateful to him for highlighting it this afternoon.

We have heard useful contributions from my hon. Friend the Member for Redcar (Ian Swales) who recognised the importance of a sensible regional strategy. He talked about the benefits of the local enterprise partnerships in the north-east and in the Tees valley. He also drew attention to the fact that the north-east has recently achieved record exports. We believe in rebalancing the economy, and we want to see a more balanced export-led recovery. With its record exports, the north-east is well placed to take advantage of that.

Several hon. Members have referred to the excellent John Mowbray, who is the president of the north-east chamber of commerce. Last week, he talked about the importance of the north-east as a potential driver for an export-led recovery. I am really disappointed that Labour Members have not recognised that and are not sharing the ambitious approach of the north-east chambers of commerce. John Mowbray said that what the north-east really needs is a united front. Labour Members have turned up in force this afternoon not to show an ambitious united front or a positive approach—[Interruption.]

Annette Brooke (in the Chair): Order. May I suggest that Members make a formal intervention, rather than engaging in this rather poor behaviour?

Stephen Crabb: Let me reiterate that the coalition Government have two parties working together to fix the legacy of a broken economy left to us by the Labour party. We are doing it in a way that fully recognises the importance of protecting regions such as the north-east of England, of seeing them reach their potential and of seeing unemployment brought down as quickly as possible.

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Health and Safety Executive

3.59 pm

Meg Munn (Sheffield, Heeley) (Lab/Co-op): Thank you very much, Mrs Brooke, for calling me to speak. I am delighted to have secured this debate on the remit of the Health and Safety Executive, and I am also delighted to see the Minister in her place. She is having a busy afternoon, so I am grateful that she is here in Westminster Hall to respond to the debate.

The Health and Safety Executive is an important organisation in today’s society, stating clearly that its role is

“to prevent people being killed, injured or made ill by work.”

The HSE has a great website where people can look up information by topic or industry, and obtain advice and guidance about health and safety at work. However, there is one huge gap in the HSE’s work, and it relates to driving for work purposes. HSE guidance for work-related road safety points to the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974, which

“requires employers to take appropriate steps to ensure the health and safety of their employees and others who may be affected by their activities when at work. This includes the time when they are driving, or riding at work, whether this is in a company or hired vehicle, or in the employee’s own vehicle.”

However, the HSE has no responsibility for enforcement of the legislation. In October 2008, the Transport Committee’s 11th report of the 2007-08 Session of Parliament stated:

“It is anomalous that the vast majority of work-related deaths are not examined by the Health and Safety Executive, purely because they occur on the roads. The Government should review the role of the Health and Safety Executive with regard to road safety to ensure that it fulfils its unique role in the strategy beyond 2010.”

A Department for Transport booklet signposted on the HSE’s website sets out basic steps that employers should take, but it does not provide the kind of excellent advice that is given for other workplace situations. Deaths and injuries in other workplaces are properly investigated by the HSE, and what is learned is made available to other organisations. That does not happen for work-related deaths and injuries on our roads.

A report by the HSE in March 2012, entitled “Health and safety in road haulage”, does not discuss issues relating to sleep or fatigue, or vehicles on the road. It focuses on manual handling and workshop safety, which, although important issues, are not the key one of work-related deaths on our roads.

In response to a recent question from my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield Central (Paul Blomfield),the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, the hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mike Penning) provided statistics about the proportion of work-related road deaths and injuries. He said that some of those deaths and injuries involved journeys

“where the journey purpose was known and recorded as ‘part of work’.”—[Official Report, 15 March 2012; Vol. 542, c. 391W.]

He said that 24% of serious injuries and 30% of road deaths in 2010 could be linked to work-related road traffic accidents. As there is no requirement to report work-related deaths, that is likely to be an underestimate. Even using those figures, we are talking about, on average, 11 deaths and 105 serious injuries every week.

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Employers have a responsibility to report work-related injuries to the HSE under the Reporting of Injuries, Disease and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 1995—RIDDOR—but that does not include a responsibility to report work-related road traffic accidents. Why are deaths and injuries resulting from those accidents not counted as workplace deaths and injuries? The Institute of Occupational Safety and Health argues that all work-related accidents, even those on public roads, should be included as a reporting requirement under regulations. It has repeatedly called for work-related road traffic accidents to be reportable and to be investigated by the HSE under RIDDOR.

The HSE recorded the number of workplace fatalities in 2010-11 as 171. However, those fatalities exclude fatalities of workers travelling on a public highway—in other words, fatalities in road traffic accidents. The HSE says:

“Such incidents are enforced by the police and reported to the Department for Transport.”

Using DFT statistics, “such incidents” equate to more than 550 work-related road traffic deaths in 2010, which is three times more than all the other deaths at work recorded for the most recent period.

The UK is rightly proud of the work that it has done to reduce deaths at work. The HSE’s website shows the steadily declining incidence of such deaths, which we should all welcome. However, because the fatal accidents being recorded exclude road traffic accidents, a full picture is simply not being provided. We do not know enough about why and how people at work die on the road, or how many members of the public are killed by people who drive for a living.

I became aware of this gap in the HSE’s coverage through an interest in the identification of obstructive sleep apnoea, particularly in lorry drivers. Some years ago, I was contacted by a constituent following the death of his 25-year-old nephew, Toby Tweddell, who was killed in 2006 by a lorry driven by somebody with undiagnosed obstructive sleep apnoea.

Joseph Johnson (Orpington) (Con): Will the hon. Lady join me in congratulating one of my constituents, Carole Upcraft of Orpington, for her tireless and much-needed campaign to alert us to the dangers of undiagnosed obstructive sleep apnoea, and to the need for early identification screening of drivers, particularly heavy goods vehicle drivers? We need to raise awareness of this condition in the haulage industry, and Mrs Upcraft’s campaign is performing a vital public service.

Meg Munn: Indeed. I have had the pleasure of meeting the hon. Gentleman’s constituent, Mrs Upcraft. Along with members of others families who have been affected by this condition—such as my constituent, Seb Schmoller, his brother-in-law, Nick Tweddell, who is Toby’s father, and the rest of the Tweddell family, as well as Toby’s fiancée, Jenny—she has been involved in this campaign. These people are all determined that other people should not suffer in the way that they have suffered.

The link between untreated obstructive sleep apnoea and road traffic accidents is well established. Someone with that condition experiences repeated episodes of apnoea, whereby breathing is temporarily suspended because of a narrowing or closure of the airway in the upper throat during sleep. It results in episodes of brief

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awakening to restore normal breathing, of which the person may or may not be aware. The sustained failure to get proper restful sleep night after night means that the affected person is constantly tired and liable to fall asleep during the day.

Obstructive sleep apnoea affects many people, but despite it being a common, identifiable and treatable condition, knowledge of it among primary care practitioners remains poor, which means that the diagnosis rate is very low. It is estimated that 4% of men and 2% of women have the full syndrome—the symptoms of sleepiness I have described—and that up to 80% of cases may be undiagnosed.

The rate of obstructive sleep apnoea among lorry drivers is significantly higher than it is for the general population. There is a high correlation with being overweight, and the sedentary lifestyle of many who drive for a living increases their risk of developing it. According to medical experts, it is likely that between 10% and 20% of lorry drivers are affected by sleep problems. There are 400,000 large goods vehicle drivers in the UK, which means a minimum estimate of 40,000 affected drivers.

The Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency estimates that 20% of serious road traffic accidents on major roads are caused by sleepy drivers. Clearly, the danger and damage caused by a heavy lorry crashing will be much greater than that caused by a car crashing, making sleep apnoea a significant health and safety at work issue. A 40-tonne lorry travelling at its maximum speed of 58 mph that fails to brake because the driver has fallen asleep, and that hits a queue of stationary vehicles, will crush at least the first car and its occupants. If it collides with the central reservation, it will probably flatten it, before continuing into the opposite carriageway, with all the consequent problems—even disaster—that that will cause. The number of road accidents, with the resulting deaths and serious injuries, can be substantially reduced by increasing the number of drivers who are diagnosed and successfully treated for this condition.

Obstructive sleep apnoea can be relatively easily diagnosed, with most sufferers being easily treated. In just two weeks, the benefits can be felt. Screening drivers within the workplace would be a significant contributor to the health and safety of lorry drivers and other road users. Some companies, such as Allied Bakeries, are taking that approach seriously, promoting awareness of the condition with their drivers and arranging to screen them. Some drivers describe the resulting treatment as life-changing. So far, 3% of approximately 1,000 of Allied Bakeries drivers have been successfully diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnoea and, following treatment, continue to work in the company.

Continuous positive airway pressure—or CPAP—treatment equipment costs less than three new lorry tyres or one tank of diesel fuel. That is a relatively small price, compared with the £1.5 million that the Department for Transport estimates to be the average cost of a fatal lorry collision, excluding the costs of any long-term health care, loss of income and insurance compensation for death and injury.

The British Lung Foundation is leading a major campaign to raise awareness of obstructive sleep apnoea, to improve diagnosis and treatment. It advises companies

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that employ drivers to encourage their staff to take part in screening programmes, while providing reassurance that people with sleep apnoea can, and do, continue in their jobs, if treated successfully.

Businesses in the UK sometimes complain that there is a complex regulatory environment—I should perhaps say “often complain”—but few argue with the important work that the Health and Safety Executive undertakes.

Gloria De Piero (Ashfield) (Lab): I wanted to come in at this point to congratulate the Health and Safety Executive on its investigation, which this week has led to fines for a manufacturing firm in Derbyshire, where two teenagers from my constituency nearly lost their lives at work.

Meg Munn: My hon. Friend makes an important point. That situation will be properly investigated and whatever was wrong put right, which is exactly what the Health and Safety Executive does, and does extraordinarily well. That is something of which we should all be proud.

Many of our major companies take great pride, not just in reducing accidents to a minimum but in seeking to carry out their business without any accidents at all. That is not just good for their employees but saves on business costs, making sense for everyone. Unfortunately, that approach does not extend sufficiently to those who employ drivers for a living. Astonishingly, when I first wrote to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions about the matter, he replied that obstructive sleep apnoea in lorry drivers was not a health and safety issue. When I wrote again, he replied in more detail:

“medical fitness to drive is a matter on which the DVLA rightly takes the lead...HSE generally maintains that meeting DVLA requirements will satisfy the test of what is reasonable”.

I do not accept that meeting Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency requirements is enough to meet the Health and Safety Executive’s aim of requiring employers to take steps to reduce risks to as low a level as is reasonably practicable. In addition to the work that the DVLA and the police do on road safety, the Health and Safety Executive has an important role to play in influencing more employers and trade union safety representatives not only to be aware of the dangers of undiagnosed sleep apnoea, but actively to encourage screening.

I suspect that the Minister will tell me that the police, the DVLA, the Department for Transport and the Vehicle and Operator Services Agency adequately ensure enforcement of the legislation, but I do not accept that. Given the cost of driving accidents, in lives and money, I ask the Minister to take this matter to her Department and look at it again.

Currently, employers have the legal responsibility, and I will continue—with, I am sure, Members such as the hon. Member for Orpington (Joseph Johnson)—to press more companies voluntarily to adopt the approach of Allied Bakeries, but the Government can make a positive change and ensure that the Health and Safety Executive’s expertise is brought to bear.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): I congratulate the hon. Lady on bringing this matter to Westminster Hall. Does she feel perhaps that the findings of the report that she has presented today should be made known to the devolved Administrations, for example the Northern

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Ireland Assembly, where the matter is a devolved one? The findings of the report would be important for those Administrations, so that they could also bring, or enable, legislative change, to prevent such tragedies.

Meg Munn: The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. Nowadays, lorry drivers increasingly drive not just in their own countries but abroad, and we know that the European Union has been considering this matter. It is absolutely right that the devolved Assemblies should consider the issue in their Parliaments and ensure that they, too, address it.

Before I allow the Minister to respond, I want to make my fundamental point, which is that the Health and Safety Executive is a great body, which does a good job. It could do so much more in addressing the nearly two thirds of fatalities at work that happen not in the areas that the executive currently covers, but on the road.

My strong representation is that although other organisations, the police, the DVLA and the Department for Transport consider certain aspects of the matter, no one is doing the kind of proper forensic investigation of such accidents that would mean that information could be fed back into guidance and really begin to make a difference. The consequences of lorries crashing into people are horrific, as our constituents would testify, and I would like the Government seriously to consider the matter. I do not expect the Minister to wave her magic wand today, but I urge her to go back to her Department and have a good look at this.

4.16 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Maria Miller): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Brooke, for what I think is the first time. I thank the hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Meg Munn) for introducing such a thoughtful debate today and commend her on her incredible work on road safety, which is something that I, too, have a passion about, so I hope that we can work on it together. I particularly commend her on her work on raising awareness of obstructive sleep apnoea, the effects that it can have on drivers and the tragic impact of accidents that result from tiredness. I have listened carefully to the points that she has made. We all know that any loss of life in a road accident is a tragedy, and the Government are committed to making transport safer.

There were 1,850 deaths on the roads in 2010, and 22,660 people were seriously injured. Although that is the lowest number of deaths since records began, each death or injury on the road, or at work, is a waste of human life and many of them are preventable. The hon. Lady is right to say that some 25% to 30% of road fatalities in 2010 were in accidents that involved someone at work.

Many medical conditions can already lead to the suspension of a driving licence, including obstructive sleep apnoea and changes in eyesight. Such suspensions are revoked only when it can be demonstrated that the treatment of the condition makes it safe to do so. Failure to report a medical condition to the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency is a criminal offence, and other restrictions include limitations on the hours that a heavy goods vehicle driver is allowed to work and the

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regime for monitoring tachographs to ensure compliance. Such measures have contributed to the reductions in deaths and injuries on the roads.

The Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act 1974 is key, as it places duties on both the employer and the employee to ensure that members of the public are not exposed to risks that can cause death or injury as a result of work. As the hon. Lady rightly says, health and safety at work are important, and the Health and Safety Executive has an extremely wide remit, with the potential for involvement in a broad range of issues; it is absolutely sensible, therefore, to draw up some pragmatic boundaries for its operations.

The HSE takes action when workers or members of the public are put at risk, except when more specific regulations already exist. For example, it would not normally act in cases of clinical or medical negligence, or aircraft incidents, for which there are other more directly relevant regulators or legislation. The situation is the same on the roads, where the Road Traffic Act 1991 applies and the police have primacy.

4.19 pm

Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.

4.27 pm

On resuming

Maria Miller: To take up where I left off, alongside the police, a number of agencies also have an interest, including the Vehicle and Operator Services Agency—VOSA—and the DVLA, each of which has a clearly defined role.

The DVLA rightly takes the lead on medical fitness. It issues driving licences based on assurances from drivers that they are fit to drive. People with vision problems or any other medical condition therefore need to consider whether changes to their condition impact on their ability to drive, and they must report any such changes to the DVLA. Indeed, as I am sure the hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley knows, one of those notifiable conditions is OSA. For drivers of heavy goods vehicles and passenger service vehicles, the law is more stringent. They must cease driving on diagnosis, and they cannot resume driving until the DVLA has received confirmation from a specialist that their condition is controlled.

As hon. Members would expect, the Government want to look at how we can prevent accidents. We always need to do more to prevent them and to ensure that employers and employees take their responsibilities seriously. The HSE, with the Department for Transport, produces guidance to help companies whose staff drive to work. That guidance, “Driving at Work: Managing work-related road safety”, spells out the need for employers to be satisfied that their drivers are fit and healthy, so that they drive safely and do not put others at risk.

The HSE also established the road distribution action group, which was a partnership between employers’ groups, trade unions and regulators, whose aim was to improve health and safety at work and to reduce accidents and ill health in the road haulage and distribution industry. The group produced guidance for the distribution industry on managing driver fatigue.

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The Freight Transport Association also produces a monthly update on health and safety issues, which regularly includes information on driver fatigue, and the Driving for Better Business website provides advice on road safety issues.

Most cases of OSA go undiagnosed, so we need to consider that one of the most effective and realistic ways to reduce road accidents that result from the condition is to encourage all drivers not to drive when tired. I am sure that the same signs, electronic or otherwise, are put up on the motorways in the hon. Lady’s area as in mine. The Department for Transport issues such advice through its “Think!” campaign on fatigue, which was given a national award by Brake, the road safety charity. I am sure that many hon. Members will have seen the campaign on motorways such as the M3, which goes through my constituency.

Meg Munn: I of course welcome anything that draws people’s attention to the issue, but the problem with obstructive sleep apnoea is that people who have it feel tired all the time and often do not know the reason why. They do not therefore think that that message is as applicable to them as it is to someone who has had a long day or who was up late the previous night. It is an important message, but it is not sufficient.

Maria Miller: I understand the hon. Lady’s point. That is why there is a clear responsibility on employers and employees to think more generally about their health. That is as it should be, because we have to remember that drivers can experience a broad range of health conditions that could affect their capabilities. They might, for example, suffer from diabetes, heart conditions or migraines, to name but a few. Drivers and employers need to think broadly about health issues, including sleep apnoea, on a continuing basis. An individual

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process for each condition might not be manageable, but we have to make sure that employers and employees think about health issues. It is also important that they keep track of innovations in relation to our understanding of different conditions and how they can affect people, particularly in the workplace.

Given the broad range of health issues involved, it is difficult to set out a definite requirement for each one. We have to remember personal responsibility and the fact that the legal and moral obligation of all drivers to drive safely and to report any health condition to their employer exists in law. OSA is treatable when identified, and we need to ensure—the hon. Lady is doing an extremely good job on this—that employers are aware of the condition and that they have processes in place to monitor all sorts of health conditions, including OSA, in employees who drive as part of their work.

By calling for this debate, the hon. Lady has shown what Members of Parliament can do to highlight and underline such issues and to ensure that not only Ministers, but other organisations and employers keep abreast of what they should take into consideration with regard to the health of employees. I will use this debate as an opportunity to discuss the issue with the Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions, my right hon. Friend the Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling), who sends his apologies for not being able to attend, because he is on Government business in Europe.

I will also bring the hon. Lady’s good work to the attention of the FTA, the DFT and the road distribution action group. I want to ensure that important groups take on board the importance of monitoring the scale of road accidents at work and to press home the importance of continuing to work to make our roads as safe as possible.

4.34 pm

Sitting suspended.

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Hospitals (Sussex)

4.38 pm

Stephen Lloyd (Eastbourne) (LD): It is an honour to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Brooke.

I am grateful that Mr Speaker has given me an opportunity to address an important local issue—the proposed reconfiguration of my local Sussex NHS trust, the East Sussex Hospitals NHS Trust. A number of reconfigurations have already taken place in Sussex, such as the transfer in March of in-patient elderly care and orthopaedics in the Western Sussex Hospitals NHS Trust from Southlands hospital to Worthing hospital. It appears that the latest direction of travel for Southlands is to become a day surgery and out-patients-only hospital, with which I expect few local residents would agree.

Let me give the Minister the details of the proposed changes to my local trust and hospital, Eastbourne district general hospital. Four or five years ago, the trust board wished to downgrade maternity at the DGH while maintaining consultant-led maternity at our sister hospital in the trust, Conquest hospital in Hastings. There was a substantial campaign against the proposals in which all parties were involved, and eventually the matter was referred to the Independent Reconfiguration Panel for consideration. It found against the proposals, and the trust-proposed strategy was sent to the then Secretary of State for a decision. I am glad to say that he backed the IRP and our campaign to retain consultant-led maternity on both sites.

As I am sure the Minister is aware, there was a number of reasons why the IRP found against the trust, but essentially the main reason was the poor road link between Hastings and Eastbourne, which would have meant a blue-light ambulance potentially taking upwards of 50 minutes to travel from hospital to hospital. From a patient safety perspective—for example, for a mother facing a complicated birth—that was considered far too long. Hon. Members can imagine my surprise to find out a few weeks ago that the new trust board is recommending a similar change—to be precise, that there should be a consultant-led maternity unit on one site and a midwifery-led unit on the other site. For the record, the road links between the DGH and the Conquest are even worse than they were five years ago, when the IRP found in our favour.

Henry Smith (Crawley) (Con): I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing this debate. The story elsewhere in Sussex has been similar. A decade ago, we lost maternity services from Crawley hospital, which was a very retrograde step. Mothers now have to travel long distances and a difficult journey to East Surrey hospital for maternity services. The proximity argument is important.

Stephen Lloyd: I thank the hon. Gentleman for that important intervention, not least because he demonstrates that if the proposed downgrades go through, the backlog will be even worse. Patients coming from his constituency would have an even longer wait, which an expectant mum with a complicated birth cannot afford.

Along with maternity, the proposed clinical changes recommend significant further reductions to trauma and orthopaedics, general surgery, stroke, emergency

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care, acute medicine, cardiology, paediatrics and child health provision. I am no medical expert, but even I can see that if some of the proposals are carried through, they will lead to a substantial downgrade of core services at Eastbourne district general hospital. We are talking about a possible downgrading of a much loved hospital in one of the fastest growing towns in the south-east, where the fastest growing age group is the 25 to 45s. I am simply not prepared to stand idly by and allow that to happen. The people of Eastbourne and the surrounding area are not prepared to do so, and none of the local political parties is prepared to accept the proposals.

On that note, I am grateful to the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Norman Baker), who is here supporting me in this debate, as he has done throughout the past few years. He was very heavily involved five years ago, when we won the last campaign. I also acknowledge the support I have received from the Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change, the hon. Member for Wealden (Charles Hendry), the hon. Member for Hastings and Rye (Amber Rudd) and the Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change, the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle (Gregory Barker). They send their apologies for not being here, but they are very supportive of what we are trying to achieve. The local business community and the voluntary sector are also not prepared to stand by while our hospital’s core services face such a proposed downgrade. We will all fight the proposals vigorously and tenaciously. I cannot emphasise that strongly enough to the Minister.

Why are we so determined to fight? Let me flesh out just a little of what we believe the consequences will be if the proposed clinical strategy goes ahead. The first issue is travel distance. The travel time between Conquest and the DGH is 50 minutes. Even when the planned Bexhill-Hastings bypass is built, in however many years’ time, that journey time will be reduced by only five-and-a-half minutes. That is still way outside the guidance from the Royal College of Midwives on mothers giving birth safely. The IRP and the Secretary of State agreed with us on that five years or so ago.

Secondly, although I wholly accept that very specialised procedures—for instance, children’s cardiac surgery or even specialist oncology and cancer—are better in the fewer, larger specialist expert centres, the vast majority of Sussex patients also need good-quality local care for simple conditions. Why would the Department of Health encourage care closer to home and then sanction the massive movement of patients, which would be an inevitable consequence of some of the proposed changes?

Thirdly, there will continue to be two hospitals admitting medical emergencies, as there are too many patients to move them all into one giant hospital. The reality is that it is often difficult to make a diagnosis for elderly people, but the proposals mean that one unit will have a surgeon on call and one will not. An elderly person admitted to a hospital with no surgeon who proves to have a burst appendix or to be bleeding internally will have to travel from the DGH to Conquest. That simply cannot be safe.

Fourthly, both hospitals fix fractured bones, but under the proposed strategy, if someone has a fracture, they will have to travel. The number of elderly and frail patients with hip fractures having to travel will increase exponentially. It will take longer for them to get an

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operation, and the inherent delay will lead to worse outcomes. In addition, there is likely to be a longer waiting period to sort out social services, and the individual patient will have to be sent home from a greater distance. Surely that cannot be better for the patient. In fact, pretty much anyone with a broken arm, leg or hip that needs fixing will have to travel further. The service will not be better quality, Minister; it will just be slower.

Let us take a look at the nearby trusts that will, apparently, take up the slack. This is patently absurd. Brighton more often than not has huge waits, and Pembury is full, so that is no answer. In stroke care, elderly patients will be moved, making it doubly hard for their similarly-aged husbands and wives to visit. Is that good practice for the patient? I do not think so. There is more, but I am that sure the Minister gets my drift. If he does not, let me draw his attention to the contents of a very important letter that was leaked to me a couple of weeks ago—I am happy to share the contents of the letter with him afterwards.

The letter was sent to the trust board from the consultant advisory committee that represents the most senior clinicians at Eastbourne district general hospital, following a meeting that 63 consultants attended. I quote:

“The main body of Consultant Opinion expressed little or no confidence in significant elements of the strategy… Concerns repeatedly expressed (by the Consultants) were that proposals would not advance the desire for improved access and quality of care for patients in East Sussex”.

These are direct quotes. The letter continues:

“There was frustration that clinical input from the majority of CAC members into the strategy has not been taken into account. Furthermore, concern was expressed that although Management has described the strategy as clinically led, this has been by a few invited individuals and the majority Consultant opinion expressing concerns regarding many aspects of the strategy has not been adequately expressed… the clinical strategy as explained and understood by the CAC does not deliver clear benefits to patients and therefore cannot be supported in its current form”.

The CAC letter further states:

“our local population rightly expects key services should be maintained at both sites and that these include stroke care, orthopaedics and trauma, general surgery and other core services. The strong recommendation of the CAC was that both sites should be developed to improve quality of care, training issues and access for local patients”.

I shall conclude my speech, because I am very keen to listen to the Minister’s response. Time precludes me from going into detail about the cross-party “Save the DGH” campaign group, which has been working together for years. It succeeded five years ago and has come back together stronger than ever. Time precludes me from talking about the fantastic work that has been done by our chair, Liz Waike, the strong determination in my constituency to protect core services at the DGH, and the important support provided by our local paper, the Eastbourne Herald.

I also do not have enough time to talk about the details of the utter financial shambles. The trust has been under successive managements since it was merged with the Conquest more than 10 years ago. I am well aware that, like me, the Minister has a business background. The financial inefficiency of the trust for many years has been mind-blowing. I would be happy to give the right hon. Gentleman more details at another time.

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Time precludes me from giving details of the severe morale challenges felt by community nurses, who face reductions while at the same time being told ad nauseum that they must keep people in the community, so as not to take up expensive hospital beds. Time precludes me from telling the Minister of the sheer frustration that my constituents and I feel as we have to fight a similar battle around maternity all over again, despite the IRP’s clear conclusions five years or so ago.

Time precludes me from presenting details of how, if necessary, we should seriously consider de-merging the trust and setting Eastbourne DGH up as a separate foundation trust. We have been doing this work for many months now, as we suspected that proposals to downgrade DGH core services from the current trust board were in the pipeline. I have even had a number of key people in the DGH campaign visit an equivalent sized trust in Yeovil in the west country. We came back from that visit with some very useful data and plans for if we were to de-merge.

As time is an issue, I will finish with a direct quote from our mutual friend and colleague, the Under-Secretary of State for Health, my hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Anne Milton), who wrote in a letter that I received yesterday:

“The Government has said that, in future, all service changes must be led by clinicians and patients”.

The clinicians, as I have already reported, have profound concerns. I can assure the Minister of State that patients—former and future, from Eastbourne, Willingdon, Lewes and beyond—also have profound concerns about the proposed clinical strategy currently presented by East Sussex Hospitals NHS Trust managers.

I ask the Minister to take on board our concerns, to do what is necessary to address them, and to ensure that our hospital, Eastbourne DGH, is continues to perform as a fully functioning district general hospital for many years to come. Eastbourne is a growing town—in many ways, we are bucking the economic trend—and I am working closely with business and the council. We are rolling up our sleeves up in this difficult economic climate. I have already mentioned that the fastest-growing demographic in my constituency is the 25-to-45 age group. I need a proper hospital for Eastbourne. I need a district general hospital for the long term. I would welcome any comments that the Minister has to make.

4.51 pm

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Mr Simon Burns): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Brooke. I congratulate the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Stephen Lloyd) on securing the debate on an issue that I know is of considerable concern to him and his constituents, and to other hon. Members attending today.

Before I address the issues raised, I would first like to pay tribute to all those who work in the national health service in Eastbourne, whose dedication, determination and commitment provide first class care to the hon. Gentleman’s constituents and those of other hon. Members. I know the hon. Gentleman is committed to ensuring that his constituents have access to high quality health care whenever and wherever they need it. I also appreciate that when any changes to local services are mooted, people can become anxious and feelings can run high.

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As lifestyles, society and medicine change, the NHS must continually adapt. The NHS has always had to respond to patients’ changing expectations and to advances in medical technology. Reconfiguration is about modernising the facilities and the delivery of care to improve patient outcomes, to develop services closer to home, and, most importantly, to save lives. The Government are very clear that the reconfiguration of front-line health services is a matter for the local NHS. Services should be tailored to meet the needs of local people and to provide them with the best possible outcomes. That is why we are putting patients, carers and local communities at the heart of the NHS, placing decision making as close as possible to individual patients by devolving power to professionals and providers, and liberating them from top-down control.

Those principles are further enshrined in the four tests introduced in 2010 by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. Local reconfiguration plans must demonstrate: support from GP commissioners; strengthened public and patient engagement; clarity on the clinical evidence base; and support for patient choice. Our reforms allow strategic decisions to be taken at the most appropriate level. We are enabling clinical commissioners to make the changes that will deliver real improvements in health outcomes, and we will provide incentives to providers to deliver higher quality and more efficient services.

We are also aware that the reconfiguration of services works best when there is a partnership approach between the NHS, local government and the public. That is why we are strengthening local partnership arrangements, under the Health and Social Care Act 2012, through health and wellbeing boards. They will provide a forum where commissioners, local authorities and the local HealthWatch can discuss and plan the future shape of services to meet the health requirements of the local health economy.

NHS Sussex and local clinical commissioning groups, such as the commissioners of East Sussex Healthcare NHS Trust, have been working with NHS South of England, with support from the National Clinical Advisory Team, to ensure that there is full and proper scrutiny of the proposals to reconfigure some services. That has included assessing the readiness of the local NHS to go out to formal consultation, including reviewing the case for change and understanding whether the four tests, as laid down by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, for service change have been met.

The services under consideration for reconfiguration at the trust’s two acute sites at Eastbourne District General hospital and the Conquest hospital, Hastings are: orthopaedics, higher risk and emergency surgery only; general surgery, higher risk and emergency surgery only; and stroke, hyper-acute and acute only. Those are the only services being consulted on under the proposals. The local NHS agrees that hyper-acute and acute stroke services, all emergency and higher risk elective general surgical procedures, and all emergency and higher risk elective orthopaedic procedures can no longer be provided at both of the trust’s acute hospital sites. I understand that the proposed changes were approved on 30 May by the two local clinical commissioning groups—Hastings and Rother; and Eastbourne, Hailsham and Seaford. NHS South of England strategic health authority formally reviewed those proposals and assured itself that the

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Secretary of State’s four tests have been met and will continue to be met. The trust will now look to launch a 14-week public consultation exercise, which it anticipates will commence on 25 June, or shortly thereafter.

The hon. Gentleman raised concerns about maternity services, and I will seek to reassure him. For the sake of clarity, the current proposed consultation will not include maternity services. I understand that maternity services will be included in a separate programme known as Sussex Together, which is still being developed. That will look at maternity services across the county as a whole. The proposals are focused on enabling the local NHS to deliver directly clinically safe and sustainable services for patients, now and into the future. I am sure the hon. Gentleman agrees that this is something we all want and expect from the NHS.

A great deal of work is taking place to develop a local clinical strategy, one that will ensure the future sustainability of health services in the county and the best possible outcomes for local patients. The clinical strategy centres on eight areas of care, described by the trust as primary access points, covering 80% of service delivery. They are: acute medicine; cardiology; emergency care—A and E; general surgery; maternity; musculoskeletal, trauma and orthopaedics; paediatrics and child health; and stroke. For each one, a report on current challenges, the case for change and the proposed option has been produced.

With those plans, the local NHS in Sussex wants to achieve greater integration across health and social care services, to provide more care within communities, together with, where appropriate, shorter stays in hospital and better support when patients leave hospital, to provide care that continues to meet national clinical standards and best practice, to improve patient access to clinical experts at the earliest appropriate opportunity and to deliver the best outcomes for local patients.

Stephen Lloyd: I appreciate what the Minister says. I share his belief that the broader we go on the consultation, the better it will be. I support the health and wellbeing boards, introduced under the Health and Social Care Act 2012, because they are a good idea and will have some clout under the legislation. Does he agree that as the ESHT goes through the consultation, our new health and wellbeing board should be part of that consultation?

Mr Burns: Yes. Anyone and anybody should contribute to the consultation on any proposed reconfiguration. A key role of the health and wellbeing boards, particularly when fully established and operating in their own right, rather than in their shadow form at the moment, will be to ensure that the interests of the local health economy and patients are met. I would be surprised if the health and wellbeing boards did not show an interest in any reconfiguration, whether affecting the hon. Gentleman’s constituency or elsewhere. I am sure that they would form a view about any proposals.

The plans have been developed by local clinicians, including input from local clinical commissioning groups, with involvement from patient representatives, local people and other stakeholders, taking into consideration national best practice. Local clinical commissioning groups are also working alongside NHS Sussex to lead work on assuring the plans. The local NHS says that it believes that the majority of the changes required can

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be achieved by redesigning services and introducing greater integration and productivity within and between services. The proposed changes should enable the trust to deliver best practice, such as early access to senior clinicians, dedicated units, with specialist support staff and facilities, and improved multi-disciplinary teams.

Under the preferred options, surgery and orthopaedic services would be provided from the same site to support trauma unit designation. However, stroke services would not necessarily have to be on the same site as those services.

As I have said, reconfiguration is a matter for the NHS locally. I hope that the hon. Gentleman accepts that it would be inappropriate for Ministers to intervene in local due process, because the ethos of NHS reform is to put an end to the constant interference and micromanagement of the day-to-day running of the health service by Ministers like me or civil servants in the Department of Health in Whitehall. The nub of our reforms is that decisions on local issues—the local provision of health care—should and must be determined locally within the local health economy.

Stephen Lloyd: I appreciate where the Minister is coming from. Again, I genuinely and profoundly agree with him. That is why it is so significant that the majority of senior clinicians, as well as the public, are singing broadly from the same hymn sheet. The significance of the changes in the Health and Social Care Act 2012 is, as our colleague the Under-Secretary of State for Health says, that they must be led by clinicians and patients. That is why I made the point in my speech. I am gratified that the Minister has reiterated that.

Mr Burns: Let me mention something that will be of some comfort to the hon. Gentleman when the proposals get to the appropriate part of the process. The local

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authority health overview and scrutiny committee, which comprises democratically elected members of the council, has powers to refer a service reconfiguration to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State if it is not satisfied that the proposals are in the interest of the health service in the area and in line with the content of the consultation or the time that has been allowed for it and that the consultation has been conducted appropriately.

As this consultation has not yet even begun, the HOSC has obviously not yet had the opportunity to make any such decision on whether it has been conducted appropriately. I therefore encourage the hon. Gentleman, his constituents and other interested parties who may be affected by the proposals to engage fully in the consultation when it commences to ensure that their views are fully taken into consideration.

If a decision flowing from the consultation does not find favour with the overview and scrutiny committee, it will be open to that committee to write to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to express its concern and dissatisfaction with the process, the decisions taken and the conclusions reached and to request that he refer it to the independent reconfiguration panel. That is a number of stages down the road, because we have not yet even commenced the consultation.

I urge the hon. Gentleman and every other interested party in East Sussex and even further afield if they might be affected by this reconfiguration to engage fully in the process, so that their views and concerns and their ideas of the best way to provide local health services are met.

Question put and agreed to.

5.7 pm

Sitting adjourned.