We could begin by encouraging more negotiation as opposed to litigation. A number of high-profile cases in recent years have seen unions trying to come to agreements with employers and then finding themselves sued by claimants—disgruntled women who believe that the settlements are unfair. Obviously, that has had a chilling effect on the actions of many trade unions. Given that it is a risk, but we do need to ensure that there are more

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settlements, it seems to me that we need to take into account the limited financial resources of many employers. We also need to understand that they need to balance the sometimes competing interests of back pay for claimants with pay protection for existing male employees. A new equal pay Act should include codes of practice, which should have legal standing. Therefore, if a trade union and an employer came to an agreement, and that agreement complied with the code of practice attached to the new equal pay Act—a code requiring the parties to make sure that there was proper job evaluation that would result in a settlement—both the employer and the trade union, prima facie, should have a defence and should not be able to be sued. That in turn, hopefully, would release them to get back on the front foot and start negotiating some fairness and some equality in the workplace.

Let me now deal with the tribunals themselves. When we introduced the Equal Pay Act, there was a period of bedding in, and we should have the same with a new equal pay Act. I think that the whole Act should be jump-started with a period of five years during which there should not be fees for tribunals for equal pay claims. Also, we should consider carefully whether, if an equal pay claim is successful, there should be six years’ back pay, as there is under the current law, or whether we should change that back to two years, which was in the original Equal Pay Act.

I know that the European Court of Justice has said that, given that our old Equal Pay Act is based on contract law, we should give contract law remedies, which is six years, but I think that we have a very strong argument to make. If challenged, we could go back to the European Court of Justice and say, “This is a matter of public policy. We in Britain are doing something about ensuring that we get equal pay in our country, so during this five-year period, we wish to be able to bring in some more carrots and sticks and actually get some action.” We all know where we want to go. We need to make sure that we have a plan that works and will get us there.

It seems to me that that could reverse some of the damage that has been done. Let’s face it, employers fight absolutely everything, and one can understand why. The loss for them is so huge if they lose a case—they have to pay six years’ back pay, and if it is a collective action, that is a huge amount of money—but that is not to say that they should not be doing something. We have to find a compromise, a practical and pragmatic way through this. I suggest scrapping fees not for ever, but for five years, and there are other things that we should do.

I have no understanding of why the Government got rid of the short form questionnaire. Before an action began, employers had to fill in a questionnaire for a woman who wanted to make an equal pay claim, which would give some facts for the woman so that she could take out her case. The Government scrapped that, saying that it was red tape. That is clearly counter-productive, because if the individual woman employee does know the circumstances in which she is employed, sometimes she will have some grist to her mill—she will have some evidence enabling her to take her case to the tribunal properly—but quite often, surely, it will have the opposite effect and she will realise that actually she is not being discriminated against. What is the problem with transparency? Why should we not have people with

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equality of arms—equality of arms as best we can—going before a tribunal where we all know what we are talking about in advance of it happening?

A new equal pay Act needs to bring back a questionnaire. Two pages—it does not have to be 50, 100 or 200 pages —with some basic information, so that the woman knows where she stands. That seems to me to be very important. The questionnaire should include questions such as “Have actions been taken out against you in the past?” and “Have you had to pay compensation in the past?” That questionnaire would be a minimal burden on employers and a vital tool for women who are trying to embark on a challenge. We ought to be supporting those women, who in the end are our whistleblowers. In the recent equal opportunities review, Professor Bob Hepple wrote a case that, in my view, is unanswerable, saying how important it is to have a questionnaire brought back into law.

We should go further in streamlining the process. We should also bring in senior judges. Employment tribunals, if they are dealing with a large and complex case, should be able to bring in extra firepower—perhaps a High Court judge—who will manage the more complex cases and ensure that they move through the courts and do not get bogged down. It is extraordinary to hear it, but there is at the moment a case that is still trundling through the employment tribunal and is still going through preliminary issues—they have not even got to trial yet—and it is five years on. This is not Barbara Castle’s vision. We are so far away from it, and we need to look again.

I have been clear about my views on the inadequacy of the existing system of individual tribunal claims. We will still need to have a system in which individual claims can be brought, but much more support needs to be given to individual claimants and we need to streamline the process.

I have touched on the ridiculous loopholes. A new Act would need to clear away the fog that existing laws have created around questions about whom claimants can identify as valid comparators. It should simply state that comparators can be based on all operations of a single employer. There have been cases in which a woman has said, “I don’t get paid the same as the guy in the building around the corner,” and a serious argument has been put up, “Well, you’re not in the same building, so it isn’t a comparator.” That is just not right and we have to do something about it. It is not a realistic excuse for inequitable pay.

While we are at it, our new law should provide much greater clarity on the issue of succession. We should certainly get rid of the idea that a man succeeding a woman and getting more pay is not prima facie evidence that she has been discriminated against.

We also need to look at outsourcing. Oxford law professor Sandra Fredman has written that, under current legislation, a woman doing equal work at the same establishment as a better paid male comparator has no claim if she is employed by an agency or outside contractor. Given the massive rise in the use of outsourcing over the years, it is time that we gave statutory protection to victims of discrimination whose employers hide behind that anomaly. We should require that public bodies reach binding agreements with contractors, setting out and guaranteeing the terms and conditions for transferred employees. I have a number of ideas about how we can

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deal with other issues of fractured employment—for example, bogus self-employment. You may be pleased to hear, Mr Weir, that I do not intend to go into the details now, but I will publish them on my website for those who are keen to know more.

I do not suggest that my proposals will wipe away the lingering effects of centuries of discrimination and eliminate the wage gap completely and immediately. There are other things that we need to do, such as looking at flexible working. Some of the changes made by the Government have been good, but it is a curate’s egg: some of them have made life more difficult. If my mum falls over and goes to hospital, I will need to look after her while she is there and work out what support she will have when she comes out. If I ask my employer for flexible working and he says, “I’ll have a look at it, Emily, but I can’t get back to you for three months,” that is not flexible working, and it makes life very difficult indeed. We need to look at practical solutions for women’s real lives.

We need to tackle the continued problem of the clustering of women in low-paid occupations, which are related to traditional gender stereotypes. Two thirds of women are in 12 occupational groups, including catering, cleaning and personal care. Women may, as Annie Lennox and Aretha Franklin sang, be coming out of the kitchen, but unfortunately they have not got very far, and we need to make sure that they have the ability or the choice to go further. Even if they choose not to do so, we need to make sure that women’s work is properly valued.

We need better careers advice at the earliest possible stage in a girl’s education. We need to address the chronic shortage of women who take up STEM subjects. Some of the ideas that I have read from the CBI on that aspect of equality policy are welcome, but we need to do more. We should make efforts to increase the number of women who take up careers in those growth industries, but our work is not solely about putting more money in women’s pockets, important though that is. A much more fundamental principle is at stake: if, as a society, we do not make use of the extraordinary range of women’s talents, we are a poorer society in every sense of the word. Since the Government came into office in 2010, the wage gap has continued to shrink, but only by an average of 0.35% a year. By my calculation, if we continue on that trajectory, it will be another 55 years before the gap is finally closed. I hope hon. Members agree that women have been waiting quite long enough. We are no longer content to wait. We need to legislate, and we need to be bold. Let’s get radical. Let’s pass ourselves a new equal pay Act.

3.2 pm

Dr Eilidh Whiteford (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): It is a particular pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Weir. I congratulate the hon. Member for Islington South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry) not only on securing the debate but on setting out the case so clearly and persuasively for reform of the Equal Pay Act 1970. I support, in principle, the call for the 1970 Act to be brought up to date and into line with the needs of our society, our economy and our labour market in the 21st century. I am disappointed that only women MPs have shown up for today’s debate. Is it not shocking that there is not a single Government Back Bencher here for such an economically and structurally important debate?

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The subject of our debate impacts on all our lives and on the lives of men, because they also have to deal with the consequences of unequal pay.

The Equal Pay Act 1970 was introduced the year after I was born. Although women’s participation in the labour market has been transformed in the intervening 45 years, the pay gap remains stubbornly entrenched. Progress has been painfully slow, and even women of my generation, who expected to be the second generation of women to experience equal pay, still find that, on average, our pay falls significantly behind that of our male counterparts.

I want to say a few words about Scotland. Although compared with other parts of the UK, we have had higher rates of women’s participation in the labour market, consistently lower women’s unemployment and higher women’s employment over the past few years, our pay gap appears to be slightly wider. There are different ways of measuring that gap, but according to the Close the Gap campaign, provisional figures for 2014 indicate an 11.5% pay gap in the hourly rate for full-time workers, and a massive 32.4% pay gap between the hourly rate of women working part time and men working full time. Women working part time are earning almost a third less. Given that 78% of part-time workers in Scotland are women, the gap will have a long-term impact on women during their working lives and in retirement, when they are likely to have far lower pensions than men and to be far more susceptible to poverty in old age.

I take this opportunity to pay tribute to the Close the Gap campaign, which is doing much to lobby on equal pay in Scotland. I also pay tribute to Engender and the Scottish Women’s Budget Group, which provide a lot of research and analysis that informs not only the raising of awareness but action to tackle the problems caused by unequal pay. At the moment, on average, a woman in 21st-century Scotland earns £95.60 a week less than a man. As we know, a significant part of the problem is occupational segregation. Women are over-represented in jobs that tend to be low paid, as the hon. Lady has said, such as cleaning, caring, clerical work, catering and retail jobs. It is also significant that in Scotland, according to Close the Gap, 48% of women work in public administration, education and health.

Women represent more than half of workers in only six of the 20 standardised industry classifications, whereas men tend to be more evenly spread across industry groups. Some 80% of administrative and secretarial workers and those in personal service jobs are women. Women are more likely to work in the public sector: 67% of local government workers and 81% of NHS workers, but only a third of chief executives, are women. We know that 97% of child care and early years education staff are women, and 98% of classroom assistants. By contrast, less than 3% of chartered civil engineers in Scotland are women. I have been working hard with my local college and schools to try to change that, and some of the local companies that recruit people with STEM qualifications are keen to encourage such change. We are making progress with getting girls into engineering, but it is a long-term challenge.

The hon. Lady has alluded to the fact that the vertical distribution of pay in organisations often betrays a gendered division of labour. Higher-paid jobs are

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predominantly done by men, and lower-paid ones tend to be done by women. It is disappointing that efforts to encourage companies voluntarily to audit their pay structures by gender have had such derisorily poor uptake, especially when companies that have done so have changed their policies and practices as a result and become a lot more aware of their own institutional biases.

The hon. Lady made the point at length that it has become much more difficult for women to seek redress if they believe that they are being discriminated against in the workplace. A core underlying factor in the pay gap is the fact that caring for young children and frail, elderly, sick or disabled relatives still falls predominantly to women. It is often perceived to be a woman’s duty to step up at times of family crisis or illness. Consequently, too many women—mothers and unpaid carers—take jobs that they can juggle around their caring responsibilities. Too often, that means part-time, low-paid, insecure and low-skilled work, sometimes on zero-hours contracts, even when those women have the skills, experience and qualifications to take on much higher levels of responsibility. That is a huge waste of human and economic potential, and it costs our economy dear.

I do not mean in any way to undervalue the choices that people make to prioritise their family; I am merely reflecting the lack of choice and flexibility that women have when they are trying to establish a balance between their working lives and their home lives. Our workplaces and our legislation—indeed, our legislative system, although I will not say too much about the House of Commons today—have not kept up with changes in our society and with the aspirations of both women and men to earn a living and have a life. We need to take much more account of the impact of care in our economic models.

A step change in access to child care is as important as other legislative measures to tackle unequal pay. The cost of child care is simply prohibitive for far too many people, especially when it is combined with the cost of commuting to and from work. It acts as a huge disincentive to mothers who are keen to be in the workplace, and who want to work and use their skills and qualifications, but who cannot do so because they cannot earn enough to pay for child care and commuting. That problem gets even worse during school holidays, when many parents find that they are effectively working for nothing because they have to pay for very expensive child care over the holiday period. Sometimes, they have difficulty arranging any suitable child care at all during the summer months. That is helping to entrench occupational segregation, and it is driving the casualisation of employment.

Many things can be said about this issue, and I do not intend to make a long contribution, but introducing free access to child care and increasing the hours of child care to which parents are entitled goes much further than simply introducing tax breaks on child care, which tend to help women in higher-paid occupations, but which do nothing for the millions of women who top up their low pay with tax credits and who are already struggling to make ends meet.

In recent times, we have seen evidence that the pay gap is closing for younger women. Obviously, that is to be welcomed, but we should not be too congratulatory or pretend that the problem has been solved, because such developments are not really a sustainable solution.

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We need to think much more long term about how those women will fare in later years. If the only way for women to close the gender pay gap is not to have, or to delay having, children, that is simply not sustainable in terms of our demographics.

We therefore need to look at flexible working and at protecting women’s rights in the workplace. I absolutely agree with the hon. Lady that we need to bring the Equal Pay Act 1970 into the 21st century.

Emily Thornberry: Has the hon. Lady, like me, met young women beginning their careers who believe they will always be paid equally with men? When I point out that they would face an increasing gap with their contemporaries if they had children and tried to go back into work, they look at me as if I had two heads. They simply do not believe that that can happen, but we all know it does.

Dr Whiteford: It is interesting, and I have seen it in my own generation. When I was young and fresh-faced, I came out of university keen to build a career. If anybody had told me then that I would be disadvantaged in the labour market, I would probably have laughed at them. However, women find out the truth very quickly; indeed, that happens when they are first appointed to their jobs—in my day, there was still a big gap in starting salaries. There is also the issue of how they negotiate pay increases as they go through their careers. It is therefore difficult for young women to keep pace with their peer group.

It does not matter how hard they work, how committed they are or whether they have children; the pay gap persists for women who do not have children, as well as for those who do. This is not just as simple as whether a woman has a family. The layers of discrimination are often very subtle, and they have to do with the cultural dynamics in organisations and the vertical integration the hon. Lady and I have talked about.

Audits within organisations are therefore important, because they can expose to personnel departments their unconscious biases in offering different starting salaries to men and women and in looking at people’s investment in their careers and career progression. The hon. Lady therefore makes a good point, and I would absolutely encourage young women to be assertive in the workplace and to chase the careers they want. As a society, however, we cannot let that happen at the expense of the work-life balance, and it must be possible for women to pursue careers in a sustainable way, without burning the candle at both ends, and then some. At the same time, it cannot just be women who take responsibility for work-life balance. However, I was just winding up when the hon. Lady intervened, so I will do so now and hand the floor to other contributors.

3.13 pm

Yasmin Qureshi (Bolton South East) (Lab): It is a pleasure to speak under your chairmanship, Mr Weir. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Islington South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry) on securing this important debate. It is important because we are coming to the end of this Parliament, and who knows what will happen after the election? It is also important because, irrespective of what people think, there is a

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fundamental principle that those who do the same job should be paid the same amount. It is well documented and accepted that, on the whole, women in the job market do worse than men in terms of pay.

I want to place on record my thanks to the Dagenham machinists who took action over equal pay, leading to the 1970 Act. However, 40 years later, women are still being paid less than men, which means they effectively stop earning, relative to men, on 4 November in any year, which is why that is equal pay day. On average, a woman earns £5,000 less than a man, whether they are in a part-time or full-time job.

There are many reasons for that. One is the motherhood penalty—the impact of having children—which affects women’s careers and earnings. There is also the fact that many women were employed in public sector jobs and are now having to go into the private sector, where the pay gap is often big and where no one knows what somebody may be earning. Since 2008, almost 1 million women have moved to low-paid jobs, zero-hours contracts and temporary jobs. Where women have become self-employed, the pay gap with men is 40%. Women are also still the primary carers for their children, elderly parents and other relatives, and we know how much pressure the growth in the elderly population is putting on the family and particularly women.

The good news is that more women are in upper management in different industries, but research from the Chartered Management Institute last year found that female managers aged 40 or above took home 35% less on average than their male counterparts. There is also a difference in bonuses. The average female director gets £41,956, but the average male director gets £53,010.

Some of what I am saying is in the public arena, but many people are still surprised by it. As has been alluded to, some young women probably think they will be paid equally with someone else because they will be doing a similar job, but they will find that the reality is very different. There is also still gender segregation, in that there are jobs that women do not tend to do. There are not many opportunities for women in those areas, whereas there are for men, who can earn quite a decent income.

I do not want to repeat everything that has been said, but my hon. Friend the Member for Islington South and Finsbury put forward some practical steps Governments can take to deal with these issues, and those should be taken on board. In that respect, I was disappointed earlier in this Parliament when the Government changed the rules on employment tribunals, effectively making them even harder to access and inevitably imposing a financial penalty on people. The mind just boggles.

As a barrister, I did not practise much in employment law, but I did a lot of voluntary work, and I went to employment tribunal appeals on behalf of claimants—many were women, some were disabled and some were from the ethnic minorities. It is not an easy thing for people to go to the tribunal system, as the Government suggested when they made their changes. Someone who is dismissed does not simply say, “Right, the first thing we are going to do is go to a tribunal, because that’s the way to deal with this.” The tribunal system was the last resort for many people. Although many people were discriminated against and unfairly dismissed, only a tiny percentage ever made it to an employment tribunal. At that point, however, there were at least judges and others who could independently evaluate the case.

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The current financial penalties did not exist then. Putting such restrictions in place means that people can now rarely go to a tribunal. Constituents have come to me in my constituency about work-related issues. They want to go to an industrial tribunal about the way they have been treated, but they are unable to, because they are blocked from doing so. The changes the Government have brought in are punishing people. At least previously people had recourse to a tribunal, to which they could get access without too much difficulty. Now that is not possible, so will the Minister reconsider the tribunal issue and a return to the previous system? It worked fine, and was not being misused. Before a hearing, there would always be a case management hearing in which the tribunal judge would sit with the parties for discussion of the evidence, to learn what the contentious issues were. The tribunal would concentrate on the narrow issues that were the subject of dispute, and not spend time unnecessarily on issues that everyone agreed about.

I am sorry to say that the present Government’s ideology and rhetoric are anti-employee and anti-trade union. They comment all the time in Parliament on the fact that some Labour MPs have union funding, and make it sound as if it is really bad. Guess what? The unions are made up of working people who choose to give the union their subscription. If the union donates money to a political party, that is because the Labour party is the one that has always pushed for equal pay and workers’ rights and campaigned on discrimination. It created tribunals as useful bodies for people whose rights were being taken away. Now the majority of people cannot get access to a tribunal. There is an ideological dislike of the working person, and we should get rid of that mentality. There is a lot of bullying, intimidation and discrimination in the workplace. Women—and other groups as well—are suffering discrimination. That is not good enough. I ask for the question of tribunals to be reconsidered.

My hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion) argued for pay to be published. That is important—it is only right and fair. We believe in transparency and think that everyone should know what is going on. We believe in fairness; but where is the fairness in not telling someone what the person next to them earns, especially if they do the same job? The civil service and public sector are open about pay and grading, and what salary goes with what grade. What is wrong with the private sector doing the same? What does it have to hide? It hides the information because that allows it to discriminate without anyone being able to tell. It allows managers to pick favourites and to discriminate in secret, knowing that no one will jump on them for that. If we believe in an equal, fair and transparent society, that should be one of the first things we should deal with. The Government have been asked to do it, and have not.

Primary legislation would not even be needed, because regulations to require pay to be published can already be passed under section 78 of the Equality Act 2010, before the next election. It is not difficult, and it is important, because it would help women and would discourage employers from the practices in question. If they knew that what they were doing would be in the public domain, they would stop doing it. It would be a concrete step, and not a very complicated one, to help women to argue for fair pay. It would effectively stop private employers discriminating against women and

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getting away with it. It is not too much to ask for; it is a simple thing in a fair and equal society, and I ask the Minister to consider it.

3.24 pm

Mrs Sharon Hodgson (Washington and Sunderland West) (Lab): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Weir, for what might be my last ever outing in Westminster Hall—that might be true of all of us here for today’s debate.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Islington South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry) on securing this timely and important debate and on the work she has done on the issue over the years. Like her and the other hon. Members taking part in the debate, I am passionate about the topic. My hon. Friend’s research and insights are a testament to her dedication to the cause. What she has proposed and the things she has highlighted show why we can never take a back seat and hope for the best. I am proud, as I am sure she is, that the Labour party and Labour movement have always been true to that belief and are committed to continuing that tradition long into the future.

I am pleased that my hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion) was able to attend part of the debate, because she introduced an excellent ten-minute rule Bill a few weeks ago on the section 78 transparency clause. I am pleased that that eventually spurred the Government to act on the matter, after five years of sitting on it, and I am pleased to say it went through in the House of Lords last week.

In government, Labour was a strong advocate of gender equality in all sectors of society. We closed the gender pay gap by a third when we were last in office, oversaw a rise in the number of young women going into higher education—when they overtook boys for the first time in history—legislated to protect women from abuse at home and in the workplace, and, in one of the last acts of a Labour Government, in 2010 we passed legislation that would have made huge strides in tackling the gender pay gap by making large companies publish their hourly pay rates by gender. We were also the party that 45 years ago passed the very Equal Pay Act that we are discussing today. Decades have come and gone since the Act became law, but the problem it attempted to solve is still, sadly, very much with us, and today’s debate is a timely reminder of that.

On average women earn 81p for every pound a man earns, and recent figures cited by the Equality and Human Rights Commission show that women in full-time employment in 2014 earned almost a full 10% less than their male equivalents. That is truly shocking. Things are even worse for women in part-time work, where they earned just under 38% less than male full-time employees. The overall gender pay gap for all employees was 19.1%. It seems ridiculous to think that after 45 years of work and 15 years into the 21st century women are still not on equal terms with their male counterparts.

Last year, thanks to the debate led by my hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham, I was fortunate enough to meet some ladies who worked at the Ford plant in Dagenham. The Minister was also present—as was my hon. Friend the Member for Islington South and Finsbury. Anyone who cares about this issue was there. Those women

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famously went on strike to fight for equal pay, and their actions went a long way to bringing about the first Equal Pay Act, in 1970. Speaking to them it was fantastic to see women still so passionate, committed and hopeful of success, but it was also tragic that after so many years have gone by the imbalance has only been decreased, never destroyed.

Last week, my colleague, Baroness Thornton, highlighted contemporary examples during the debate in the House of Lords on gender and pay, such as the woman working in advertising whose end-of-year bonus was a £100 Liberty voucher, while her male counterpart received £2,000 cash; or the lawyer who was asked to take a pay cut to avoid redundancy, only to find out that none of her male colleagues had been asked to do the same; or the woman who worked in the media and, overhearing two male colleagues boasting about their salaries, realised that both were being paid an average of £10,000 more than she was, despite the fact that she had the same experience. Such gross inequalities are commonplace and things need to change.

Over the years women have had to contend not only with lower pay, but with the problems of glass ceilings, sexual discrimination and a tendency to be penalised in the work force for having children. We have made progress in those fields over the past decades, but too many women are still caught in a culture in which they are told that they have to choose between being carers or having a career, or they have had it drummed into them that they cannot achieve the same things as a man. That mentality holds back our society and all women. We know that companies with more women on their board routinely outperform their rivals, so any glass ceiling that limits a woman’s rise to the top also limits a company’s performance. Glass ceilings should be shattered for the good of everyone. As well as championing equal pay, Labour is committed to opening more boardrooms to women and will legislate to do that if companies do not understand the enormous benefits of doing it themselves. All those problems are linked, and none of them can be solved overnight. Only through dedicated and consistent hard work and pressure can we achieve meaningful and long-lasting success, so it is disappointing that over the past five years we have seen the cause slide down or, more accurately, slide off the political agenda, and it is no wonder that more problems have been caused as a consequence.

As I briefly alluded to, the Government’s record comes up extremely short on addressing inequality. Their record on the gender pay gap in particular can be described only as woeful. The coalition inherited a section of the Equality Act 2010 that would have made all large companies—companies with more than 250 employees—publish their hourly gender pay rates in their annual reports. That requirement was designed to build on existing equalities legislation, thereby boosting transparency and shining much needed light on the issue, which would have forced companies to look at themselves, see the extent of the problem and work towards addressing it. Sadly, the huge value of that section was either completely ignored or totally lost on the coalition Government, who refused to enact it. However, as I am sure all hon. Members present are aware, with two weeks to go before Dissolution, and facing a likely defeat in the House of Lords on Labour’s push for the enactment of section 78, the Government performed another policy U-turn and

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finally saw the light. I hate to question what may have been a truly Damascene experience for the coalition, but I fear it was a victory for political pragmatism more than for the ideals and values of gender equality. Although the outcome is extremely welcome, the last-gasp way in which it was achieved is sadly symptomatic of a Government who place no priority on equality legislation.

During the past five years, we have seen consistent inaction in the face of repeated calls from the Opposition to do more, or indeed to do anything. One has to wonder how much more we could have achieved on equality if that time had not been totally wasted by the Government. The recent victory only brings us back to where we were in 2010 and, sadly, we have regressed in some areas. The overall gender pay gap fell by a third under Labour, but that rate has slowed dramatically under this Government. The gap actually increased in 2013, partly because the so-called economic recovery saw a rise in low-paid jobs in sectors dominated by women, such as care, and a rise in insecure zero-hours jobs in which women also outnumber men.

Since 2010, the number of equal pay claims brought against employers has fallen from just over 37,000 a year to around 17,000, with the most dramatic fall happening since the coalition’s introduction of tribunal fees. That fall came as no surprise to many Opposition Members, who predicted that it would happen. We were not scaremongering, as we were accused, but it was utterly shocking, none the less. Women are now being put off fighting for equal pay, and the message that the introduction of tribunal fees sends out to women across the country is extremely damaging for the cause. I am interested in the proposals to address the situation suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Islington South and Finsbury. As she knows, Labour fought against the introduction of tribunal fees and, when we are back in government, we will introduce reforms to ensure that cost is never a barrier to justice.

Equal pay should not have been something for which we had to fight for so long. In truth, more should have been done in the 45 years since the 1970 Act was passed to keep it fresh and doing what it needs to do. My hon. Friend expertly raised a number of issues, and they all need to be addressed. I am sure none of us believes that the Act cannot be improved to meet the new challenges of modern Britain. In her proposals, she made many points and cited many examples with which it is hard to disagree, and I would welcome a much deeper look at those issues. That is why I am pleased that Labour supports a review of the Equal Pay Act to see which areas are working, which areas need improvement and which areas are either redundant or need entirely new provisions to make them fit for our modern world.

The goal of the Equal Pay Act to deliver the promise of equal pay has not changed since 1970. We need to establish whether that means amending the Act or introducing something new, and we believe a comprehensive review is the best way to do that. The Equality and Human Rights Commission recently announced that it is also in favour of such a review, and the commission’s experience makes it perfectly placed to ascertain where best to take the Act from here. I am sure the commission will want to see my hon. Friend’s work when it undertakes that process.

Sadly, this debate is as necessary today as it was in the 1970s. The more momentum we can build for reaching the goal of equal pay, the better for every single person

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in our society. We may have lost five years to complacency and inaction, but we now have a chance to push on and complete the work for this generation and for generations yet to come. Labour is committed to that fight, and I look forward to a time when such debates are consigned to the realm of history, not politics.

3.36 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Women and Equalities (Jo Swinson): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Weir. I emphasise the word “man,” because you are the sole male MP in the Chamber. The hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Dr Whiteford) made a good point that men, as well as women, have an important role in fighting for equality. Such debates answer the question whether having more women MPs makes a difference.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Islington South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry) on securing this debate and on putting forward an interesting set of proposals into which she has clearly put a great deal of thought. I recognise that equal pay will not be addressed in the next 10 days, but she has started the debate now on what needs to be a careful consideration of equal pay laws and whether they are delivering the outcome that we all want. She wrote an article about equal pay for the New Statesman, and she spoke about it in the international women’s day debate a couple of weeks ago. Her contribution is excellent and welcome, particularly because of her legal expertise. It is good that we have diversity in this place, with some Members having legal expertise and some Members not having legal expertise. As a non-lawyer, I found her speech interesting.

In the hon. Lady’s powerful speech, I particularly loved the example of the fight for equal pay beginning with church choirboys and girls, and quite right, too. She ended her remarks by saying, “Let’s get radical,” and I am open to radical ideas for proceeding on these issues. The legislation, which was of its time, may need to be revisited and addressed. Indeed, this is a particularly timely point to do that because, although the Equal Pay Act was passed in 1970, the provisions were rolled into the Equality Act 2010. The Government are undertaking a thorough five-year review of that Act, which will include the equal pay and sex discrimination provisions, with a view to reporting to Parliament later this year. This is a topical and timely point at which to have this wider debate.

The hon. Lady set out the history of the Equal Pay Act, which came from the battle of the ladies of Dagenham —I agree with the hon. Member for Washington and Sunderland West (Mrs Hodgson) that it was a great privilege to meet them—and addressed blatant pay discrimination. It is important to recognise the difference between the pay gap and pay discrimination because it is easy to muddle the two terms. A casual observer might think they are the same thing, but outright pay discrimination is different from the pay gap itself, which is caused by discrimination, yes, but is also caused by other factors. About a third of the gender pay gap is due to occupational segregation. Typically, an engineer will be paid more than somebody working behind the till in a retail establishment. Women tend to be more concentrated in such sectors and in roles that are less well paid. Roughly about a third of the pay gap is because of time taken out of the labour market, largely because

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child care responsibilities still tend to fall disproportionately on women rather than men, but it is not solely about child care. There is also caring for elderly relatives and other reasons for time out of the labour market.

Other factors contribute to the pay gap, including pay discrimination and other issues that have been discussed today such as unconscious bias and perhaps the social conditioning of girls and boys. We still live in a very gendered world. A man might negotiate a pay rise in a different way from a woman, and that can lead to problems with the pay gap.

The Government’s record in tackling some of the issues has been positive, although I absolutely accept there is still a long way to go. On occupational segregation, there is a dearth of women in the STEM sectors: fewer than 10% of engineers are women, for example. We have the Eurolife initiative. We have recently published new careers advice aimed at parents, called “Your Daughter’s Future”. Although careers advice in schools is important, it is also sometimes about the messages that girls get at home.

I recently visited some apprentices in the construction industry in my constituency. Only one of the apprentices is a girl. I chatted to some of the young men who are doing their apprenticeships there. I said, “Why did you come to do an apprenticeship in construction?”, and one of the young men said, “My family encouraged me to do this.” He said that he had a sister, so I said, “Did they encourage her to go into construction as well?”, and he said, “No, they encouraged her to do a beauty course.” So the family environment matters. We live in a society with a lot of stereotyping generally, so that guide for parents might break down some of the stereotypes that people have in their minds. They have an image of what engineering is. They imagine someone in oily overalls working in a dirty factory environment, but high-tech modern engineering is a million miles from that. Sometimes people’s ideas about what certain careers entail are stuck in another time.

We have also worked with the Institute of Physics and the Royal Academy of Engineering to get role models into schools. STEMNET ambassadors, 40% of whom are women, do a fantastic job in encouraging girls to aspire and to get involved and interested in the issues. Part of the problem is also the wider cultural issue of stereotypes that start to take root at an early age, before children even start school. Certainly, the Government have a role to play in some of that, but, more widely in society, there is cultural campaigning, and the feminist movement is particularly valuable in addressing that.

We touched on time out of the labour market and the pay gap in the international women’s day debate. The 19% pay gap gives us a part of the picture, but while the pay gap is almost eliminated for women in full-time jobs under the age of 40, there is the massive problem that at that stage in women’s lives pay diverges hugely. A big part of that—not the only part—is about child rearing and the fact that such responsibilities are still shared unequally. That is why I am so passionate about the new shared parental leave laws, which I introduced. For babies due from 5 April this year—some might be born already—their mums and dads will be able to choose how to share the leave. I believe that that will drive

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radical change, and I want to do everything possible to break down some of the cultural barriers that will stop men taking it up. In year one, a certain number of people will take it up. In year five, it will be more, and in year 10 it will be even more, because this cultural change is happening. It is part of men generally being much more involved in their role as fathers.

In the 1950s, it was very unusual for men—a tiny percentage—to be present at the birth of their child, but that is now commonplace. Men used not to take paternity leave, but now most men take some time off after their baby has been born. I think this tide is going in the right direction, but we need to do everything we can to hurry it along.

Emily Thornberry: The Minister is making a very good speech. There is very little that I disagree with, but there is an additional element. Although we should welcome the fact that younger men are prepared to be more actively involved in their role as fathers, they still leave two thirds of the unpaid work in the home to women. Are they hoovering? Are they ironing shirts? Is there anything that can be done to encourage them to do that?

Jo Swinson: Shared shirt ironing would certainly be a winning policy for half the population. The hon. Lady is absolutely right. There are the wider domestic responsibilities, too, which are harder to legislate for, but there is interesting research on the harmony of relationships in which domestic chores are spread more equally.

Flexible working delivers two things. If men are more involved in caring responsibilities, it makes it easier for their partners as mums to combine their roles at work with their mothering responsibilities, but it also means that the workplace starts to change, because it is not only women who want something different. Dads are involved in that as well. That means we can start to reduce the parenting penalty. Flexible working becomes more commonplace and much more normal. That is why the extension of the right to request flexible working to all employees is so vital. Although parents already had it, it is about making it something that is not stigmatised and is just a modern, agile way of working.

The issue is not only about children. The hon. Lady mentioned flexible working in relation to carers. We have changed the legislation so that requests have to be considered in a reasonable manner. In the case of an urgent request for a specific issue, it would not be reasonable to wait three months for a decision. We are piloting a wider piece of work on how to get more carers into employment. Many carers want to stay in employment, and there are different ways in which they might be able to be supported to do so. So we will get the results of those pilots in different parts of the country and perhaps move forward.

I agree with the point about unconscious bias and discrimination. The hon. Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion) said that it should not be the woman’s burden to find out what people are being paid and then take up the fight. I absolutely agree. The pay gap is not the fault of women, but equipping women with the confidence and skills to negotiate hard for a pay rise is also a sensible thing for us to do. So I welcome the guide by the Everywoman organisation that we were able to publish, which sets out basic things that women might

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consider when they go into pay negotiations and how they might argue for a pay rise. We should encourage women as well as men to develop such skills. The Women’s Business Council will shortly be publishing a guide for business, called “Mending the Talent Gap”, which looks at why, from an employer’s perspective, dealing with the pay gap is important. It looks at what it is and what they can do about it.

On the specific issue about whether all women in the employ of a particular business should be awarded equal pay, it is currently possible for a tribunal judgment to be read across. Certainly, the risk of future pay claims is one that would encourage most employers to do so. What the hon. Member for Islington South and Finsbury said about comparators was fascinating. She raised the point about whether the comparator had to be employed at the same time. During the 2010 discussions on the Equality Act 2010, the Government agreed to Lord Lester’s amendment that comparators are not limited to people working at the same time as the claimant, which is in section 64(2) of the Act.

The hon. Lady also mentioned delays, which relate to the issue about comparators. One of the reasons for a delay is that the reporting and working out of what the comparators are can be a process that takes months on end. Part of that is inherent in trying to deal with 45 years of case law that has built up, but perhaps that is something that highlights the importance of looking again at whether this can be made simpler.

Emily Thornberry: The Minister has just made a point about someone taking over someone else’s job and whether a person can say they are being discriminated against if the other is paid more. There is a problem with the Equal Pay Act 1970 and it is in the notes of guidance. Perhaps we can discuss this outside Westminster Hall. I appreciate that if Labour is carrying out a review and the Government are also carrying out a review, and we have highlighted this issue enough, presumably the right people will look at this matter.

Jo Swinson: I certainly hope that that will be the case.

The hon. Lady also asked how far back the backdating goes, as the six years is quite a perverse disincentive to companies to get on and deal with this matter. As she rightly said, the potential issue is about a legal issue, in terms of the European Court of Justice ruling. However, it is worth exploring this matter in the review process to see whether anything can be done on it.

As for bogus self-employment, clearly the employment status review that is under way at the moment will look at a range of issues, because bogus self-employment is a problem not only in terms of equal pay but much more widely.

Regarding the pay audits that are in place where a tribunal has found that companies have been found not to have paid men and women correctly, there is redress. The order that was passed in Parliament provides for a £5,000 fine to be imposed for failure to produce an audit, and the audit must be published. The Equality and Human Rights Commission is in a position to monitor these cases and therefore it can pursue an employer further if it suspects that it has not complied properly with what is required of them.

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On the particular issue about the exemption if the disadvantages of pay audits would outweigh the advantages, I understand the concern that the hon. Lady raised. Perhaps, however, I can provide some reassurance about the intention behind it. It was primarily put in to avoid the risk that would arise if an employer was close to insolvency, and was told that it had to undertake an audit, the cost of which would tip it into receivership and therefore end up jeopardising the jobs of employees. So it was there for very specific circumstances and not for general circumstances. I hope that she agrees that in the kind of specific circumstance I have just described, the overriding responsibility is to try to safeguard jobs in a business that could still be rescued and that could continue as a going concern. There may be some limited circumstances where that would be the case, but the exemption was certainly not envisaged as a wide exemption.

Pay transparency is hugely important. The hon. Member for Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock (Sandra Osborne) raised it, as did others. As for section 78 of the Equality Act 2010, I will put something straight about its chronology, because I fear that history is being slightly rewritten in this debate. In the debates in 2010 during the passage of the Act, it was my right hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Lynne Featherstone) who made the case for pay transparency. The Labour Government at the time were ultimately forced to take a power in the Act to be able to introduce that. However, the Labour Government at the time said very clearly that they wanted to adopt the voluntary approach first; in fact, they gave an undertaking that they would do so for at least three years before bringing anything else forward. In negotiations within government subsequently, that made it much harder to win an argument to go for pay transparency at an earlier stage. I want that to be clearly on the record and I am absolutely delighted that we are bringing forward the proposal to activate section 78 of the Act, because it is a vital tool to shine a light on the problem.

One reason why some people have not liked that idea is that it will make quite uncomfortable reading for some organisations. That is a very good thing, because they should be uncomfortable about a pay gap, and all credit to the five companies that have gone forward and already published information about their pay gaps. However, when I spoke to some of the people who argued for that action within those organisations, they told me how difficult it was to get it through their own legal departments because they were so worried about the outcome.

One important thing to bear in mind is that a difference in pay does not automatically mean that an employer is discriminating, because there are a range of reasons why that difference could exist. Nevertheless, the point is that having that transparency means that questions can be asked, and that if there are particular reasons why there is a difference in pay they can be set out by the employer. It also means that the employer has to ask questions of itself, so that it can provide answers to those questions, whether to employees, to the media or to customers who may be interested. That consciousness about what is going on is hugely important.

Think, Act, Report is the Government’s initiative, and 2.5 million employees are covered by the 270 companies that have signed up to it. It is worth putting on the record that while it has not delivered significant pay

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transparency, about half the companies who have signed up are conducting pay audits, and so on; they were just not publishing those audits. Also, the initiative was very much designed to be about things wider than pay. Pay is a hugely important issue, but the initiative is also about recruitment of women, retention and promotion within the workplace—all those different strands of gender equality. While legislation has been needed to force the issue of pay transparency, none the less the initiative is valuable, because companies can share best practice and learn from one another about how to promote gender equality.

All those other elements are important if we are going to solve the issue about the executive pipeline—how we get women into more senior roles and how we address these different issues. Organisations may have problems at the recruitment stage. For some sectors and some companies, that is exactly where their problem lies; their intake of new staff out of education is not equal. However, other companies have an entirely different set of issues. They may have a 50:50 gender divide of their intake, but they suddenly lose lots of women part way through their careers. Last night, I was at the everywoman in Technology awards, where a scary statistic that was given was that 41% of the women who go into work in technology leave after 10 years. So, not enough women are going into that industry—only about 15% of jobs in technology are held by women—and there is also a real problem in retaining women. We need to look at all those different elements of gender equality.

Other issues have been raised today. The hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Dr Whiteford) rightly identified the cost of child care as a key issue. This Government have taken steps to help to address that issue, which I am very proud of. In particular, we have extended free early years education to 15 hours a week for three and four-year-olds, and indeed to 260,000 of the most disadvantaged two-year-olds, which is 40% of two-year-olds. That is really positive, although I hope we can go further in future; that is certainly what I want to see. I also hope that the Scottish Government can be encouraged to follow suit, because their extension of free early years education to two-year-olds currently reaches only 15% of two-year-olds, so there is a more lot more that we can do on both sides of the border.

Dr Whiteford: Of course, the Scottish Government have not over-promised more than we can deliver. That is why we have set those targets. Other parts of the UK have set very ambitious targets but have not been able to meet them. Surely, however, the bigger ambition is to get all children under the age of five into as much child

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care as their parents need to be able to do a job and fulfil their economic aspirations as well as their child care responsibilities.

Jo Swinson: There are two reasons why early-years education is important. One of them is that, regardless of whether parents are working, once children are over the age of two, and certainly once they are over the age of three, there are real developmental advantages to them having some quality early-years education. The second is related to the point that the hon. Lady raises about the child care element; child care can make the difference to whether it works economically for a family for the parents to be in work, and it is important to provide that choice. One of the big issues is the gap that exists at the moment, because if someone has to wait until their child is two before it makes economic sense to go back to work, and if they are going to have more than one child, that situation can suddenly lead to there being four, five, six years out of the labour market, which can have a really negative impact on someone’s career. If someone had wanted to go back to work, perhaps in between having their children, it is a shame if they are not being enabled to do so. That is another issue that the future Government should look at.

The hon. Member for Bolton South East (Yasmin Qureshi) raised a particular issue about employment tribunal fees, and other Members raised it, too. We are absolutely aware of the drop in equal pay claims. In my role as both a Minister at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, and the Minister for Women and Equalities, I absolutely understand the concerns that have been expressed. The Government are committed to a review, including on the equality impacts of this policy of having fees and the level of those fees, and on the impact that those factors have on access to justice.

As Members will know, that policy sits with the Ministry of Justice, which has full access to all the data. I am looking forward to that review. From a BIS perspective, we are very keen to be helpful and BIS officials are already looking at the evidence that is available, which has been published by a range of bodies; those officials are analysing the data they can analyse. Of course, when the MOJ launches its review, at least some of the necessary analysis and work will already have been done. As I say, I understand the concerns that have been raised about this issue.

In conclusion, we have had a positive debate this afternoon. Equal pay is an important issue for us to make progress on, and to continue to make progress on. There is a whole lot of food for thought, in terms of how the shape of equal pay law might be fit for the next 45 years.

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MG Rover

4 pm

Richard Burden (Birmingham, Northfield) (Lab): In the next half an hour, I will talk not about the success story of the UK motor industry today, but about what happened to one company, and about the impact of what happened on a community and a region.

April 2015 will mark 10 years since the collapse of MG Rover. None who lived through that time—I am pleased to be joined by my right hon. Friend the Member for Warley (Mr Spellar)—will ever forget April 2005. The effect was most keenly felt by employees of MG Rover, more than 6,000 of whom lost their jobs, and it was felt by whole families. However, it went further than that: it was about the identity of an entire area.

The collapse of MG Rover happened in the middle of an election campaign. When elections are on, it is usually difficult to get any politicians thinking or focusing on anything else. However, for all of us involved in events at Longbridge in 2005, the election was a sideshow. What was important was just being there at Q gate at Longbridge; and working with the city council, the taskforce and the Government to see if the administration of MG Rover could be prevented from becoming liquidation—and, if not, dealing with the consequences. All this happened in what should have been the centenary year of car making at Longbridge.

Part of me wants to say that I never experienced anything like that before. However, for many of us this was the second time we had been through something like this at Longbridge. In spring 2000, without warning, Rover Group’s then owner, BMW, announced that it was pulling out. Longbridge was to be sold to a firm of venture capitalists called Alchemy, led by Jon Moulton. If that Alchemy deal had gone ahead in 2000, Rover would have been rapidly downsized to become a small manufacturer of MG sports cars.

The west midlands as a whole, and the Government, pressed BMW to at least consider alternatives. The Government intervened to create a Rover taskforce, to bring the region together: it united government, universities, businesses, local authorities and trade unions. I was one of two Members of Parliament on that taskforce. Its task was to see how the region could accommodate downsizing a company on whose future the supply chain, and swathes of midlands industry, was then dependent. Within weeks it was clear that it could have been worse.

Negotiations between BMW and Alchemy collapsed. Rover at Longbridge was at risk of closing altogether. Nobody knows exactly how many jobs would have gone if that had happened—20,000 jobs, perhaps more. Of course, it did not collapse. An alternative to Alchemy stepped in, in the form of the Phoenix Consortium. I will say a little bit more about that in a while.

The fact is, though, that Rover’s remaining in existence for the next five years bought the west midlands time to diversify, and to modernise its automotive and manufacturing base in a programme initiated by the Rover taskforce—and it worked. By the time MG Rover collapsed in 2005, job losses across the region were less than 10,000—less than half of what they would been five years before. However, people who lost their jobs in 2005 were still 100% unemployed; and if they worked

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for MG Rover, they lost pretty well everything, including their job, buying five years so that thousands of others in the west midlands could keep theirs. That is why there is still a debt to be paid to former MG Rover workers that has not been paid.

That brings me to the Phoenix four. They took over Longbridge on the crest of unprecedented public support. Given that we faced closure, or downsizing with Alchemy, what Phoenix offered made sense: stabilising the company; pricing products more realistically; looking for partners, or a partner, on whom the long-term survival of that company depended; and buying the regional economy the time it needed to adjust.

Getting a partner nearly worked, too. A deal with Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation was so close towards the end of March 2005 that I was preparing to join the then Secretary of State at Longbridge at a press conference, to announce that negotiations over in China had been successfully concluded. It did not happen. Arguments continue to this day, and will no doubt continue for much longer, about why not. There is not the time now to go into theories about that.

I want to say something about the Phoenix four and what their stewardship of MG Rover involved. We now know, from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills inspectors’ report, that the four had been engaged in creating a spider’s web of companies and deals that made them millions, but left employees utterly exposed when collapse came. They promised that Phoenix would be a stakeholder effort—that employees would have shares and a stake in the company—but the only shares they gave employees rapidly became worthless, while they kept profitable bits of Phoenix and related companies for themselves. Oh yes, and they even compensated themselves for giving worthless shares to their own employees.

Then there was the cruellest deception of all: the promise of a trust fund for the benefit of employees, which would divide up the assets of the remaining Phoenix companies if MG Rover collapsed. However, even as the Phoenix four were making that promise, they knew that they had taken money out for themselves from those companies and had effectively mortgaged what was left to the banks. Employees have never seen a penny, and the trust fund that was theoretically set up has now been wound up. Again, I say today to the Phoenix four—to John Towers, Peter Beale, John Edwards and Nick Stephenson—“Put your hands in pockets. Your employees did all you asked of them, and you owe them.”

Of course, the Phoenix four did not operate alone. The well known accountancy firm, Deloitte, advised them on many of their deals. That led to inquiries and eventually a fine of £14 million being imposed by the Financial Reporting Council—a record in the history of the FRC. Recently, Deloitte appealed and won some aspects of the appeal. No doubt its fine will be reduced, although we do not know exactly by how much. However, Deloitte was still found guilty on several other counts, particularly relating to conflicts of interest. One key aspect on which it won its case with the FRC was its contention that it is really too much to expect an accountancy firm to identify a broader public interest in such cases. My initial reaction was, “Have I heard that right?” If it is too much to expect Deloitte to take the public interest into account, does that not show that

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significant reforms to corporate governance rules are needed? I am working on some ideas in that regard with Aston university’s Professor David Bailey.

Looking back at MG Rover specifically, closer scrutiny by the Government of corporate governance arrangements set up by Phoenix—perhaps insisting, in the early 2000s, on having somebody on the board—might have helped to avert some of what the Phoenix four got up to in the meantime. Even if the Phoenix four continue to refuse to prise open their wallets, the Financial Reporting Council could show an example. Most of the fine payable by Deloitte, whatever it is, should go to former MG Rover workers and the communities that are affected, even 10 years later. It is an overwhelming moral case. Will the Minister think about that, consult colleagues and, I hope, endorse that request to the FRC?

Most MG Rover employees got other jobs within a year of the collapse. Some real success stories of individual employees came out of it, but many found themselves in insecure jobs, paid less than when they were at Rover. They were vulnerable when the financial crash came in 2008-09. Those who lived closest to the plant were often the worst affected. That says something about not only the dominance of one company in the Longbridge area, but longer-term changes happening in the south-west Birmingham economy. We see echoes of those changes in suburbs of other cities, too. Those changes have impacted on skill levels and aspiration, and ultimately they affect the life chances of people growing up there.

Yes, a lot of good work is going on—there is a renaissance in parts of the Longbridge area, where the development firm St Modwen is a major player—and yes, we even still make cars at Longbridge. Shanghai Automotive’s European technical centre, under the banner of MG, is based at Longbridge. Those things are good, but they are not enough. Shocking recent figures from the TUC show that my constituency is the worst blackspot in the country for the proportion of residents earning less than a living wage. Local people deserve better and they deserve more from the Government, whoever is elected in May.

Beyond the Longbridge area, the work that the Rover taskforce did between 2000 and 2005 was important in diversifying the regional supply chain. When Longbridge collapsed in 2005, the speed with which that taskforce was brought together again by the Government was impressive. It included the organisation of retraining, the re-engagement of former MG Rover workers in other parts of the automotive industry and in other industries, and the sorting out of problems with banks over car lease schemes, payments, benefits and redundancy issues. It sorted out mechanisms for emergency financial support for otherwise viable companies hit by major cash-flow problems by the collapse of MG Rover. It is still quoted as a model internationally, and the financial support packages devised in the west midlands in 2005 became a model when the general crash hit the UK in 2008-09.

As important as anything to the employees concerned is that when MG Rover collapsed in 2005, their pensions went with it. Were it not for the Labour Government’s pension protection legislation, which came into law just days before, many more ex-MG Rover workers would

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be facing poverty in retirement. The Pension Protection Fund did not happen by accident; active government made it happen. Will the Minister please learn lessons from that? Will he talk to colleagues at the Department for Work and Pensions to look again at whether the PPF indexing arrangements are as fair as they can be? Will he reflect on how the fragmentation of agencies, the way in which the DWP works today and the current funding of further education would all get in the way of developing the kind of response that there was in 2005?

Will the Minister do the MG Rover test on local enterprise partnerships? In the Greater Birmingham and Solihull area, we have a good LEP, but how many LEPs today could perform the central co-ordinating role that the regional development agency, Advantage West Midlands, did during the two Rover crises in 2000 and 2005? If the LEPs would not react with the same speed and efficiency in bringing partners together, we need to work out what needs to be done. Will the Minister reflect on that?

I leave the Minister with another request, which is to think about what the coalition Government’s employment law reforms would have done had they been in place when MG Rover collapsed. The company went into administration in 2005 and ultimately went into liquidation. There was no money in the pot for redundancy payments. It meant that employees had to apply through their trade unions to employment tribunals for protective awards to ensure that they could get their statutory payments for redundancy from the Government’s national insurance fund, and for protective awards to get even eight weeks of their contractual entitlements from the redundancy payments service. Thank goodness that the trade unions were there to help them with that, but thank goodness, too, that this Government’s employment reforms were not in place.

Under the Employment Tribunals and the Employment Appeal Tribunal Fees Order 2013, which was brought in by this Government, employees would have had to pay £1,500 even to issue a claim at an employment tribunal, and £5,700 to get their cases heard. A total of £7,200 would have probably had to be paid out to get the cases heard properly and resolved—paid by employees who had just lost everything. Guess what? Under the 2013 reforms, when the employer is insolvent, employees cannot get those fees back, even if they win their case, unless they get special dispensation. That cannot be right. Such situations can and do happen to other firms, including firms with no union to represent employees.

Even employees working in a small firm that went bust would have to pay more than £2,000 just to get their statutory redundancy pay and eight weeks’ contractual entitlements paid by the redundancy payments service, so will the Minister take a step back, think about that, and review that order and that law? I would like him to say that the 2013 order will be repealed, but even if he is not prepared to do that, I hope he will at least agree that the fees should be waived where an employer is in administration, receivership or liquidation. The MG Rover story is an example of where that could make a real difference to lives. The MG Rover story gives more than 6,000 individual reasons why the Minister should do that.

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4.18 pm

The Minister for Skills and Equalities (Nick Boles): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Weir. I congratulate the hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Richard Burden) on securing a debate on a matter that is of such painful importance to so many of his constituents and the communities he represents.

It is perhaps rare but also important that we do not just talk about what is happening today and over the next six weeks—it is easy for us all to become caught up in that—but that we look back at the past and try to make sure that we are always learning lessons from things that went wrong to ensure that they do not happen again. It is obvious that the collapse of MG Rover and the closure of the Longbridge plant was a devastating blow to the community and to the many thousands of people and their families who depended on the jobs they had in that company.

It is a matter of great regret that the people who took over MG Rover when there was an earlier threat of collapse did so without, frankly, proper intentions to build the company and secure its long-term future. Instead, they acted in ways that led to their disqualification as directors or managers of limited companies. Their conduct as directors was found to have fallen well short of the standards of commercial probity and the general conduct befitting the director of a limited company. Frankly, I hope that their part in such a shameful episode that caused so much pain to so many people, and such loss to the community that the hon. Gentleman represents, is a matter of great personal shame to the individuals he has named. I also hope that he agrees that the disqualification penalties that those individuals suffered were appropriate, but he is right to point out that they have not suffered financially in the same way that many of his constituents have. I completely understand why he and many of his constituents feel an abiding sense of injustice at the distribution of the penalties for the failure of MG Rover between those who ran it and those who worked for it so loyally for so long.

The hon. Gentleman referred to the Financial Reporting Council investigation into the action taken by the company’s auditors, which led to a fine that the auditors then appealed. He is right to say that the appeal is ongoing and it is not yet clear what fine will be imposed. He suggested that, when that fine is finally levied, the Financial Reporting Council should consider making the proceeds available in some form to the local community. He will understand that the Financial Reporting Council is an independent body established by the accountancy profession, so it would not be proper for me as a Minister to issue any direction or even guidance, but I will say that he made a very strong argument with which many people with a sense of natural justice will have sympathised. I have no doubt that, when the fine has been determined and is about to be levied, the members of the Financial Reporting Council will have heard him and will no doubt want to respond directly with their thoughts on the matter. I can think of no better use for such a fine than the one he suggested.

The hon. Gentleman asked about the Pension Protection Fund. I agree that it was a fortuitous fact for which we should all be grateful that the fund was introduced in advance—just—of the failure of MG Rover, so that many people were at least able to benefit from that level

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of protection of the lifelong savings that they had worked so hard to put aside. He also asked about the indexation rates. I am afraid I am not an expert on that, but I will encourage officials in the relevant Department to respond to him directly on his concerns about the indexation rates that apply in that scheme.

The hon. Gentleman asked how, had they been in force at the time, the current rules on access to employment tribunals would have affected his constituents following the failure of MG Rover. That is another subject on which a different Department, in this case the Ministry of Justice, leads. Nevertheless, he will know—and it is important that the public know, so that they are not unnecessarily afraid of the circumstances, should they become victims of a company’s failure—that people can apply for an exemption from or reduction of employment tribunal fees. That way, people with limited means are not excluded from seeking redress. About a third of applications for fee remissions by people making a tribunal claim are successful. He made a reasonable point when he said that one consideration in assessing such applications could well be the circumstances that had led people to go to an employment tribunal, such as the failure of a company in the manner he described.

Richard Burden: I am grateful to the Minister for the spirit in which he is approaching the debate. I recognise that the matter does not fall under his portfolio, but my point is that although remission can be awarded, the problem is that it is all retrospective. People need confidence when they lose their jobs, not afterwards.

Nick Boles: I understand the hon. Gentleman’s point. He referred to the role of trade unions. Perhaps to the surprise of some members of the Labour party, I am generally a supporter of trade unions, because there are occasions—he has outlined one of them—when they have a very important role representing their members and bridging any difficulties that they have in accessing justice. The hon. Gentleman is aware that the Government have announced a review of tribunal fees. I would not want to prejudge that, but he has made a powerful argument about how they might operate in circumstances such as those at MG Rover.

What I am about to say will not necessarily come as much comfort to the individuals who lost their jobs at MG Rover, because although many—indeed, most—found other jobs, the pain and loss that they experienced will never be removed from their memories. Nevertheless, it is important that we reflect on the wider success of the automotive industry, including some at the Longbridge site, as well as of the communities that the hon. Gentleman represents and the wider west midlands. It has been a remarkable feat, almost entirely the work of the people he represents. They have managed to pick up the automotive industry from a pretty dismal place and turn it into one of the most successful automotive industries anywhere in the world. Would that it had happened within the form of MG Rover and without the traumatic experience that so many of his constituents had to undergo, but I am sure that he too would like to thank and pay tribute to those who have managed to rebuild British car manufacturing to its current position and to celebrate the rapid growth in manufacturing employment in his constituency and the broader west midlands region. Long may it continue.

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Mr John Spellar (Warley) (Lab): I know that time is tight for the Minister, but in acknowledging the role of the companies and the work force, will he also pay tribute to the constructive long-term work of the unions in bringing about that success?

Nick Boles: I am happy to do that. Revivals of this sort are never the work of one party or another; they are almost always the result of effective collaboration between far-sighted investors, hard-working and committed employees and trade unions that want to achieve success for everyone because that creates jobs and increasing wages. I am therefore happy to pay that tribute. We can all look forward to continued growth, more jobs, more exports and better wages for people working in the automotive sector and its supply chain in the west midlands.

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Torbay (Economic Support)

4.28 pm

Mr Adrian Sanders (Torbay) (LD): I think this may be the first time that I have served under your chairmanship, Mr Weir. It is a pleasure to do so.

My speech today is not going to be a big whinge about what has gone wrong. In fact, I am going to praise the Government for many of the things that have happened, but I do want to talk a little about some of the problems facing my constituency that are not unique to it but shared by a number of coastal resort economies.

Many of our key tourist resorts exist as a consequence of two major developments: first, the coming of the railway, which made them accessible to large populations; and secondly, the social change of statutory holiday pay, which gave the working person a few days of the year when they could take a holiday, and in those days the train took them to our tourist resorts. Many of the problems faced by my constituency give us much more in common with Scarborough, Blackpool, Hastings and other tourist resorts than with other communities in the south-west—the region in which my constituency lies. The holiday resorts grew, with big investment in attractions such as piers, theatres, pleasure gardens and all sorts of things that the Victorians loved and cared for, but today that infrastructure is perhaps looking a little faded. I am grateful that this Government are the first to recognise that some of our piers should be funded. I will come to other things funded by the Government, but will also highlight some problems.

All our seaside resorts were hit very hard by the invention of the jet engine, which enabled the development of package holidays. Let us be honest, if people only have a week or two of holiday, will they go to where the sunshine is guaranteed or will they spend a similar amount of money going to a hotel in an English resort? Our English resorts are less likely to be people’s primary holiday destination. They are more likely to be a secondary destination for a short break. As a result, they have had to change their offer.

Other developments have taken place at the same time. Businesses in most of our seaside resorts were family owned. Small hotels and guesthouses ploughed their profit back into the area, keeping electricians, carpenters and others in work in the winter. Today, however, we are more likely to find brands and national chains, which take their profit out of the area; they purchase their food and services centrally and bring them in, so less of the tourism pound stays in the local economy. That is a real challenge for many of our seaside resorts—none more so than Torbay.

Conferences, which were becoming big business, have changed. Government money was invested in convention, conference and exhibition centres in our cities. Furthermore, conferences do not last as long as they used to, so an accessible location became more and more important, which has certainly hurt the coastal resorts on the periphery when competing with inland conference centres for important business.

If I am going to have a whinge, it is going to be a whinge over a period of time. For years successive Governments, whether Conservative or Labour, have tended not to recognise the problems of coastal economies.

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In the latter days of the previous Labour Government, they came up with a programme called coastal change, which involved a small amount of money to help, but in general terms my constituency in the periphery of the south-west, which is dependent on tourism, at a time of economic downturn has tended to go in early and deeper and to come out later.

The coalition has achieved a lot for my constituency. I will run through some things and the Minister, too, might refer to them. Perhaps the most important was the money for the bypass at Kingskerswell. Connections to the rest of the country are vital for all communities, but for one that depends on visitors that is doubly true. For more than 50 years we have wanted a better road link. One can travel from the Penn Inn roundabout to the north of Scotland without once leaving a dual carriageway or a motorway, but the last five miles from that roundabout into Torquay, a big urban community with a population of 137,000, is a single-track road. That was becoming a barrier—a barrier to investment and to businesses. When businesses based in our area wanted to grow, they would cite road links and move elsewhere. They would grow their business out of the area even though it had started in it.

The Government granted the money and Devon and Torbay councils came together with their contributions, so a dual carriageway will now open in November or December this year, we hope. Already that is having an impact. Businesses that in the past would have grown and moved out of the area are staying. Consequently, unemployment has fallen faster in Torbay than anywhere else in Devon. For the first time ever, we have been coming out of recession faster than other areas, rather than always being the ones to lag behind.

Other things have helped, such as the South West Water rebate. On privatisation, with 3% of the population having to fund 30% of the nation’s coastline, our water and sewage bills rocketed to meet the new clean water directives. The rebate of £50 last year, £50 this year and £50 next year brings us down closer to the national average, but still leaves us with higher water bills than most areas, although not the highest.

Broadband has come to Torbay ahead of most other areas. That is an important aspect of connectivity—not only physical links, but digital links are important. The broadband money that has come in ahead of other areas means that 97% of business addresses in my constituency had access to superfast broadband by the end of last year, although we still have 3% to go.

Assisted area status was taken away 15 years ago, but is now back. That is important to help businesses grow and to support entrepreneurial activity in the constituency. The coastal communities fund, which replaced the fund created by the Labour Government, is also important, although I have to say that it is too small a fund, given that it is oversubscribed.

The regional growth fund is important as well, although there is a real problem with it, and I wonder if the Minister will take this one away with her. The regional growth fund rests heavily on the private sector being able to lever in large amounts of money. An economic community that is mainly small, with few medium and no large businesses, cannot get such leverage so that it is able to compete with the larger inland towns for regional growth funding. I argue that we ought to take a small amount away from the overall regional growth fund

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budget and put it into the coastal communities fund. That would have a big impact on the ability of coastal communities to access funding to help their businesses to grow and regenerate their economies.

On convergence funding, we argued the case with MEPs and with Ministers and, at last, agreement was reached. The area has benefited greatly from European funds, so to be able to continue to do so has been vital. The Plymouth and south-west peninsula city deal linking in Torbay, in particular with mentoring schemes for young people who have been unemployed for a long time, is vital and long overdue, so I am glad it is happening. Furthermore, having such designations has enhanced our ability to access lottery funding, which historically we have not done as well as other areas in obtaining. Only the other week the Deputy Prime Minister announced £5 million for marketing Devon and Cornwall to overseas visitors, and that was very helpful.

More needs to be done, though. We need to diversify our economy away from its overdependence on tourism. We need three things, the first of which I have already talked about: connectivity, both physical and digital. Secondly, skills are crucial for businesses to be able to grow and expand in the area. We have good schools and an outstanding college but, sadly, too many of our skilled workers—our young people certainly—move away to fill market labour gaps in other areas. They cannot afford to live in Torbay, so affordable housing is the third thing—the missing link. We need to do far more on that.

Our tourism industry could still do with more support, certainly for skills training, to help schools and colleges to make tourism a more attractive option for work. Young people look at tourism and think, “Oh, I don’t want to be a waiter, make beds or do this, that or the other,” yet hotel and restaurant managers and chefs, for example, can earn good money and offer good careers. We need to get across that tourism has some good opportunities and lift the status of tourism in the eyes of school leavers.

Earlier this week, we had a debate in Westminster Hall on VAT and tourism, with the suggestion of a cut in VAT to levels similar to those in the rest of Europe. That would be worth up to £10.5 million a year to the Torbay economy, but it is not only an issue for coastal resorts. We tend to focus on them when we talk about tourism areas, but London and Birmingham need the tourist pound as well. They have new hotels and convention centres to help them get it, but a VAT cut could be just as important to them.

On education, as people in my area have low incomes, a lot of pupils qualify for free school meals, so we have done very well out of the pupil premium, but our overall funding for local government places us in the f40 group of local authorities whose underlying education grant does not reflect where our funding ought to be. I ask the Government to look again at the case made by the f40 campaign, for the sake not just of my own local authority but the other 39 that find themselves in that position.

I mentioned convergence funding. It is absolutely fantastic, but we need to match European funding. That is a difficulty for Torbay and other west country areas. In coastal areas, there are costs that tend not to be met by the local government grant. For example, if an area has a population that goes up two and a half to

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three times in the summer season, it needs more bins, which have to be collected more often, than it would for a much lower population; it needs more parks and gardens, promenades and car parking spaces, which all have to be maintained for 12 months a year, even though they will be used to capacity only for a short time in the middle of the year.

The local government grant is one subject on which I will have a whinge. It is not just my whinge; it is my Conservative-led council’s whinge and my elected Conservative mayor’s whinge—in fact, it is everybody’s whinge. We have had a poor deal from the local government grant. Although every local authority has had to suffer a reduction in cash, year on year, during this period of trying to get the economy back on track, the fact remains that we have not had the kind of reserves to dip into that other councils have. We hear quite often from Government, “Local government has billions of pounds of reserves, so that justifies us cutting local government budgets,” but some councils, mine included, simply do not have the reserves to cut into any more. There are predictions from my town hall treasury that the council could be bust within a few years unless something changes radically.

The only radical change there really could be would be to the grant system itself, if we looked again at the peculiarities of coastal resorts, which tend to have a high level of people on minimum wage, if they are in work, and of people who are welfare-dependent, as well as large numbers of older people and pensioners who are winding down economically. Areas need somehow to ensure that they can still provide the services that those people need and that still have to be provided when the grant is being cut.

Finally, I will talk about one feature of coastal communities that is becoming critical in my constituency. It is wonderful to have lots of older people. They are really important: they keep the voluntary sector, the local council and public bodies going because they can volunteer their expertise, knowledge and time, but in some communities the demographic balance has become too far skewed towards older people. That need not be a problem if there has been planning for the fact that there will always be that imbalance. The problem comes when the imbalance increases.

In the commercial market, there has been a move towards more and more accommodation for older people. The Minister may well know about this from her own constituency—the McCarthy & Stone and Peverel developments that come before planning committees, which see them as good investments that meet national targets on providing housing. Those developments provide housing for people who move in at the height of their earning capacity and who are often attracted from other areas by national advertising; often they come from areas that are capital rich, and can therefore use their purchasing power. That lifts house prices in the area they have moved to beyond the reach of people who would otherwise have found housing there—I will not use the term “local people”, but working people of working age. After people have moved into those developments, the demands on health and social care services increase. If a community already has a way

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above average number of people who depend on health and social care services and the balance is suddenly skewed even further, it is really unfair to the people who were already there to have to compete for those services, and the local authority—underfunded by the grant—will not be able to meet the need.

We need more people of working age, who are earning a living, paying taxes and making sure that communities are more balanced. That is not necessarily in the Minister’s power, but it should certainly be taken into consideration when looking at housing targets. They should not be seem only in numerical terms. It should be a case of meeting local housing need, rather than building nationally advertised lifestyle accommodation that in the long term creates enormous financial pressures and competition for services within certain communities.

My speech was not entirely a whinge, then. We have done well, in government and out of it, but we could do better, and I hope we will do so in future.

4.46 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Penny Mordaunt): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship for the first time, Mr Weir.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Torbay (Mr Sanders) on securing this debate, which affords me the opportunity to speak about the Government’s track record in supporting growth and creating jobs and to praise the businesses and organisations in his constituency. My experience from visits there is that the people are incredibly resilient and entrepreneurial. They have seized the opportunities the Government have provided to create jobs, improve growth and assist and improve quality of life. I have a soft spot for Torbay—it is the place of my birth—so I am delighted to take part in the debate.

The Government are committed to the devolution of power to the local level. That is not a one-way deal but a partnership: we have given local areas powers to drive economic growth, and in return we are asking them to show strong and accountable leadership and the ability to improve efficiency and outcomes in their area. Lord Heseltine’s independent report, “No Stone Unturned”, which was published in October 2012, recommended that more funding, freedoms and flexibilities should be devolved to local level to help places grow. That was a starting point for the unprecedented degree of devolution that the Government have achieved.

The Government published their response to the report in March 2013 and accepted its key proposal, which led to the creation of the local growth fund and growth deals. They represent a genuine revolution in how our economy is run. For the first time ever, housing, infrastructure and other funding are being brought together in a single pot and put directly into the hands of local authorities and businesses. That means local power to build stronger local economies, taking power and money from Whitehall and giving it to the people and organisations who know their areas best, and so know best.

Through growth deals, every local area in England is sharing money from the local growth fund to spend on projects that matter to their people and local economies.

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Growth deals have been made in all 39 local enterprise partnerships in England, with £12 billion available for the deals announced in July 2014. The deals have been allocated £2 billion from the local growth fund for 2015-16, and a further £4 billion has been committed for future years. The quality of proposals was excellent, and because of that, in some cases we have committed to funding projects over the long term, providing certainty and stability for local areas.

In the autumn statement, the Chancellor announced a further £1 billion worth of funding to be distributed through local enterprise partnerships. That funding has now been allocated to projects aimed at increasing economic growth around England, including in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency. His constituency has benefited considerably from growth deals made with Heart of South West local enterprise partnership. The hon. Gentleman touched on a number of those initiatives, including £3.4 million towards the Torquay gateway transport scheme, which will deliver road junction improvements and improved cycle links in the Torquay gateway area, much improving access into the town from the northern boundary; £400,000 to improve town centre access; £3 million for an electronics and photonics centre, based at Whiterock business centre in Paignton; a commitment to a new rail station and infrastructure; and £2.6 million of Public Works Loan Board funding to accelerate the delivery of 350 homes at Whiterock.

In the Budget today, the Chancellor announced a new enterprise zone in nearby Plymouth, which will be focused on growing the marine sector. That will be an important driver of growth in my hon. Friend’s LEP area, as businesses in his constituency in the supply chain will benefit. That is on top of an earlier £76 million investment in the south Devon link road, which he referred to.

We set up the coastal communities fund in 2012 in recognition of the unique challenges faced by coastal areas, as the hon. Gentleman said. In his area, £3 million of funding is going towards a new cycleway, which will put Torbay on the map for cycle tourism. To date, that funding has helped more than 320 businesses, supported 95 new business start-ups and created nearly 150 jobs.

Those opportunities would not be seized, taken up and made a reality without the drive and enthusiasm of businesses and other organisations in the hon. Gentleman’s local area. I saw that first hand when I visited the South West Coast Path Association, which had £1 million of coastal communities funding to safeguard nearly 800 jobs. I also visited Brixham Sea Works, a work hub developed with £1.4 million of coastal communities funding, focused on social enterprise and start-up businesses. It is benefiting from the investment in broadband that is also going into his constituency: Heart of South West will get 95% coverage and there were further announcements on broadband today.

The hon. Gentleman is right to touch on the older and ageing population of coastal communities and to point out the advantages that that brings. Next week, I will meet with Age UK to discuss how we can unlock some of that community’s potential. As he mentioned, they have tremendous knowledge and experience and our voluntary sector is propped up by them. They also have a tremendous amount of business experience that we can capitalise on.

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On our care reforms, although they are not strictly in my brief, as well as helping alleviate the situation in which self-funders become reliant on state funding, we have also pushed for people to receive or be signposted towards independent financial advice when looking for a care home place or sheltered housing. That is sensible, because it is better for the individual, who gets advice, and for the local authority, which will not wind up with an enormous bill in future years. Our coastal communities are really embracing the opportunity. One community that has a lot of difficulties to overcome is Jaywick, but it has seen the care sector as the route to driving its economic growth. It is not just providing accommodation, but having a centre of excellence for innovation in the sector, providing jobs to the local community. It is a matter of seeing opportunities, not problems, and turning them into positives.

There is more to do. We recently set up the coastal heritage revival fund, which will be a fantastic catalyst. We understand the difficulty of unlocking private sector funding. Sometimes, with heritage assets in seaside towns, whether piers or lidos, we get a perfect storm. Perhaps the local authority does not want to get involved because it is worried about liabilities and the private owner does not have cash to put in, so a huge amount of community good will cannot be unlocked. That fund is designed to be a catalyst in unlocking that and helping those organisations, whether through charitable means, crowdsourcing and all that stuff or through levering in private sector investment. That is what the fund is there to do. I hope that we will see the coastal communities fund evolve and continue its good work.

Mr Sanders: The Minister has spoken a lot about peripheral funds. Sadly, Brixham and Whiterock are not in my constituency, but they are important to my constituents because many of them work there and there is a lot of interaction. She has not, however, addressed local government funding—the bread and butter, core funding for the area—which has gone down by 11%, 4%, 5%, 10% and, in the last year, by 17%. We have done well on the periphery, but the core funding has been reduced.

Penny Mordaunt: The hon. Gentleman anticipates my finale. We are clearly aware of the Barnet graph of doom, which years ago predicted that all local authority budgets would have to be spent on adult social care. Our local authorities are having to adapt. In today’s Budget, we had announcements about some areas getting 100% business rate retention, but we need to shift how we fund our local authorities.

Councils across the country have been doing a fantastic job in becoming more efficient, pushing more money to the front line and finding new ways of doing things. We have supplemented those pots of money with new initiatives. For example, the power to change fund, which will come on stream soon, will enable local people to pick up services that a local authority does not wish to continue. We must think of new ways of working. We recognise the additional challenges that coastal communities face, which is why we set up bespoke support and why they have the first ever Coastal Communities Minister.

From the work I have seen in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency and around the country, I know that local people have the resilience, creativity and drive to be

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successful. We need to keep listening to them, learning and sharing good practice, but I am confident about the future. The journey has just started; we have got to continue growth, creating jobs and sticking with our long-term economic plan.

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Question put and agreed to.

4.58 pm

Sitting adjourned.