Older Industrial Areas: Economic Disparities: 25th June 2015

The Minister for Small Business, Industry and Enterprise (Anna Soubry)
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Rosindell.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Easington (Grahame M. Morris) on securing this important debate on economic disparities in the older industrial areas. I want to make it clear from the outset that the Government’s economic ambition is to create a fairer and more balanced economy by supporting policies that grow the economy as a whole and generate new jobs and higher wages for everybody.

The debate has been interesting. I must confess that, as I was listening to some of the speeches by Opposition Members, at times I thought I had stepped back in history and returned to my old student union days in the 1970s. I am slightly concerned about the memories of some hon. Members.

Grahame M. Morris

Anna Soubry
One moment. I have not even finished this particular insight. With few exceptions, Opposition Members all seem to have completely forgotten that for 13 years we had a Labour Government. They now complain about things that they might have put right—but did not—during the 13 years of Labour Government. The policies, notably towards the end of that Labour Government—a Government that failed to save and fix the roof when the sun was shining, and continued, as some now recognise, to overspend when the world economy had suffered a crash—exacerbated things.
Grahame M. Morris
Will the Minister give way?

Anna Soubry
Obviously, I will take interventions, but may I give some advice to hon. Members? If they do not learn from the experience of what happened in May, they will be out of office not only for five years, but for a generation.

Grahame M. Morris
I am familiar with the standard response that Labour is to blame, but my job as the Labour MP for Easington is to hold the Government to account. I have specific suggestions that would help my area and the areas represented by my hon. Friends who are suffering similar problems. For example, the Government’s policy on further education college funding ​has had a huge, negative impact on East Durham College, because it concentrates on apprenticeship training for young people and does not provide funding for older workers to retrain. Specific proposals are identified in the report. Without being disrespectful, rather than a lecture about what happened years ago, addressing the issues in the report, which we raised in the debate, would be really helpful.

Anna Soubry
Of course, I am going to deal in detail with the situation in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency and in the constituencies of all those who have spoken, with the exception of the hon. Member for Chesterfield (Toby Perkins). I am more than happy to write to him to tell him about the advances that have been made in the past five years in Chesterfield. I want to put this matter into context. I, too, have had to sit listening not only to a lecture, but to a rewriting of history that even the most red historians would struggle to produce.

I want to talk about the industrial communities in the alliance’s report. Since the beginning of the 1970s, UK cities have experienced an ongoing historical shift in economic orientation, driven on the one hand by a process of sustained de-industrialisation, as we have heard, and on the other by a progressive rise in service and tertiary activity. The report focuses on old industrial centres that have been slower to replace declining industries. Former industrial centres that have moved on, such as London—we often forget that London used to be a heavily industrial city, but it moved on—do not appear in the list. Therein lies an important point: there is nothing pre-ordained about past or current trends continuing into the future.

Over the past three decades, some cities have experienced positive shifts of direction, or positive turnarounds, in their differential growth paths. Oxford is an example, as are Brighton, Ipswich and London. I recognise—I am an east midlands MP, as is the hon. Member for Chesterfield—that those cities are in the south of England, and much will depend on how different older industrial centres are able to attract and develop the growth sectors of the future.

Toby Perkins
Will the right hon. Lady give way?

Anna Soubry
In a moment. I want to turn to the economy in Easington, because the hon. Member for Easington is a champion for his constituency. We have all witnessed tremendous technological change in our lifetimes. I am certainly old enough to say that, given that I come from Worksop in north Nottinghamshire where there was a coalmine. The whole town depended on the success or otherwise of the Manton colliery and surrounding collieries, so I am familiar with pits.

Industries that did not exist 20 years ago are now the most productive in the world. In the constituency of the hon. Member for Easington, this change has been more apparent than most. Since the closure of the dominant coalmine in 1993, the area has undergone a tremendous change. The legacy of coalmining is still being dealt with, but great progress has been made in remediating the industrial pollution, for example. The Durham coast, as the hon. Gentleman has told us, is now home to one of the most stunning coastal walks in the United Kingdom, with the Durham heritage coast highlighting the great ​natural, historical and geological interest of the area with dramatic views along the coastline and out across the North sea, framed by magnesian limestone cliffs. I have not been to the area, but I would love to go to the hon. Gentleman’s constituency, and I hope to arrange a visit.

A former slag heap is now the site of one of the country’s most dynamic retail centres, with more expansion about to start at Dalton Park.

My officials have provided me with a note about the regional growth fund’s investment in Easington. We might think from the hon. Gentleman’s speech that there had been no investment in his constituency. On the contrary, eight projects in Easington have been awarded a total of £13.4 million. They are contracted to lever in a further £81.6 million of private sector investment and to create or safeguard 1,189 jobs. I hope the hon. Gentleman will welcome such great investment of taxpayers’ money.

Grahame M. Morris
I congratulate the Minister on an excellent brief and on the description of the Durham heritage coast. It was absolutely perfect; I cannot fault it. The problem is that we are not able to access the coast because of the lack of transport infrastructure and railway halts. On the regional growth fund awards, much of that is linked to the automotive supply chain, so doubts about our continued membership of the European Union cause considerable concern. Yes, there are positive things in relation to support for businesses, but my concern is that they are not as comprehensive as the support and expertise given by One North East. The reorganisation, as always happens whether it is in local government or health, caused a huge hiatus and a delay in taking forward investment for projects that would have benefited the area considerably.

Anna Soubry
I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman is saying that the investment in his constituency is considerable and great. I have read out the figures. They are substantial. As I have said, the money is part of a contract, so it relies on securing the features that I have identified. I am more than happy to respond to what the hon. Gentleman has said in more detail in a letter, or by meeting him. I would also like to meet his local enterprise partnership, because I strongly suspect that it might have a different view of the situation in his area from the one that he has given us today. The projects include, for example, NSK Bearings Ltd, which was awarded £3.45 million in round three to assist with business expansion. The award by the regional growth fund was part of a £19.9 million investment that helped to safeguard 265 jobs. Again, I hope the hon. Gentleman welcomes that.

It should also be noted that unemployment in the constituency of the hon. Member for Easington continues to fall. There are 6,400 more people in work today than in 2010. Those people would otherwise be at home and on benefits, but they now have the benefit of a job. I find it difficult to understand why hon. Members do not welcome the fact that people are going into the world of work. Surely it is better to be in a job than to be sat at home on the dole.

On the northern powerhouse, the hon. Member for Chesterfield seems to have forgotten that the Chancellor has represented the northern constituency of Tatton in ​Cheshire for many years, so the idea that he is new to the north of our country is nonsense. The northern powerhouse has not been imposed on northern councils. On the contrary, councils of all political persuasions—I give them full credit, especially the Labour-run councils in Liverpool and Manchester—have not only trumpeted the northern powerhouse, but led the way on its creation. I am concerned that hon. Members in this place are not supporting their colleagues in those great councils, who have come together and are championing the northern powerhouse.

Louise Haigh
Opposition Members are, of course, in favour of the northern powerhouse. We welcome the discussions on devolution, but they have to lead to resources and investment going to the north. Does the Minister not understand why we are sceptical about the northern powerhouse when there are announcements such as today’s on the scrapping of investment in the electrification of the route from London to Sheffield?

Anna Soubry
May I correct the hon. Lady? She said that investment has been scrapped and that the electrification of the midland main line had been abandoned, but she is absolutely wrong. [Interruption.] The hon. Lady is shaking her head, but I was in the Chamber when the Secretary of State for Transport made his announcement—I do not know whether the hon. Lady was there—and I heard exactly what he said. The process has been put on hold because of problems and failings in Network Rail. It has not been scrapped or abandoned. I remind the hon. Lady that in the 13 years of her party’s Government, 10 miles of rail were electrified in this country. We have not turned our back on investment; the £40 billion in railway improvements will continue.

Like the hon. Lady, I travel on the midland main line. Beeston station, in my constituency, lies on it. I assure her that the improvements that will be made to it mean that six more trains per hour will leave St Pancras. I am afraid that the hon. Lady is misleading people and her constituents when she says that the investment has been abandoned or scrapped.

Toby Perkins
I am grateful to the Minister for giving way on the subject of misleading constituents. She is a representative of a marginal east midlands town, and up until the election a few weeks ago all her constituents believed the Government were going to deliver electrification of the midland main line. The truth is that, as soon as the election was over, the Government said, “Actually, we are not going ahead with it.” It may be a pause, or it may never happen. The Minister ought to be careful when she accuses other people of misleading their constituents.

Anna Soubry
This is not the debate we are meant to be having. I sat in the Chamber and heard what the Transport Secretary said. He made it very clear that it has not been abandoned or scrapped. He deliberately used the word “pause”.

Toby Perkins
Why did he not say that before the election?

Anna Soubry
There is no point heckling from a sedentary position. It does not advance the debate, and it does not address the complaints of the hon. Member for Easington or his constituents’ concerns. The Transport ​Secretary said it had been paused because of the failings of Network Rail. The improvements to the rest of the line will certainly continue.

Let me return to the constituency of the hon. Member for Easington and the fact that a new economy is beginning to grow in the wider north-east. In Peterlee alone, Caterpillar employs 1,000 people in a global centre for research and development that produces Caterpillar’s articulated truck range. Caterpillar is one of the United Kingdom’s largest heavy equipment manufacturers, with annual exports worth more than £1.5 billion. Some 85% of the United Kingdom’s production of construction equipment is for export. That is something to be championed in this place by the hon. Gentleman.

Nissan’s Sunderland plant secured £250 million of investment to manufacture the Infiniti Q30, creating up to 1,000 new jobs, 300 of which are being recruited now. It is the first new volume manufactured brand in the United Kingdom for more than 20 years. Production starts later this year. I am often reminded that more cars are now being produced in Sunderland than in the whole of Italy. The Sunderland plant currently employs just under 7,000 people on two lines, and it produced just over half a million cars in 2014—the equivalent of one in three of all cars made in the United Kingdom. The northern powerhouse regions—the north-east, the north-west, Yorkshire and the Humber—account for 25% of the UK’s automotive sector, and the work of the newly created North East Automotive Alliance should build on that strength.

Science and innovation also play a considerable part. NETPark in Sedgefield is an outstanding example of how world-class science and innovation can be partnered with great facilities and business support to continue their significant growth. It is now a significant employment site, with plans to expand and to employ more than 3,000 people in the next 10 years. Last week, NETPark announced that it has nearly 160 active collaborations with universities, illustrating its existing global position and helping to translate first-class research into products that have a real social impact and create jobs and prosperity.

The Government recognise the continuing historical challenges facing the local economy in Easington. Similar challenges face many former industrial communities across England, but the solutions to the challenges are not the same. A one-size-fits-all solution from Whitehall will not work. For Britain to prosper, every part of the country needs to fulfil its potential. That is why the Government are so committed to devolving power not only to the northern powerhouse but to great cities such as Sheffield, where the number of people in jobs has risen by some 700, and where there are two outstanding universities and £11 million-worth of technical incubators. Those are just some of the great things that are happening in Sheffield, where £23.8 million of funding is going into skills and 4,000 apprenticeships to be created by 2016. None of those things were mentioned by the hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Louise Haigh).

I have some details about the city deal in Glasgow, in reply to the hon. Member for Glasgow Central (Alison Thewliss). I will write to the hon. Member for Neath (Christina Rees) about the investment that the Government are making in her constituency and in her part of Wales.

I will be brief, because I think I have to finish at 3 pm.

Andrew Rosindell (in the Chair)
The Minister may be aware that the proposer of the debate wishes to have a short summing-up period.

Anna Soubry
Thank you for that guidance, Mr Rosindell. I will bring my remarks to a close.

I will write to the hon. Member for Easington with all the other statistics I have not only about Easington but about his part of the north-east. He and other hon. Members can be assured that, because of the Government’s long-term economic plan, which has already proved successful in growing our economy and creating jobs—hon. Members too often sneer at it, rather than praising it—success and growth will continue not only in the south but throughout the country, right into the northern powerhouse, which includes the north-east and the hon. Gentleman’s constituency.