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Aberdeen Travel-To-Work Area

Volume 958: debated on Wednesday 15 November 1978

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asked the Secretary of State for Scotland whether he is aware of the problems being thrown up by the downgrading of the Aberdeen travel-to-work area; and whether he has any plans to have this decision reversed.

I have no evidence that the downgrading of Aberdeen is having a substantial effect on the area, and my right hon. Friend has no plans to reverse the decision.

I very much regret that decision, but I accept the fortunate position in the city of Aberdeen that, owing to oil and to oil-related industries, we have a happier employment position compared to the rest of the country. However, what has that to do with the anomalies being thrown up 50 miles away inland, involving hotels in the foothills of the Grampians losing their tourist board grant because of the downgrading of the Aberdeen travel-to-work area? Will the Minister consider that sort of anomaly?

I am conscious of the effects of downgrading on tourist developments. That is something that has been raised with me on several occasions by the lion. Gentleman and by my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes). We want to do as much as we can to help the industry. I hope to make an announcement shortly.

Will my right hon. Friend read the survey entitled "The Economic Impact of North Sea Oil on Scotland", which was commissioned by our right hon. Friend the Secretary of State? It pointed to a sharp deterioration in the manufacturing capacity of non-oil related industry in Aberdeen. Further, it stated that the downgrading of Aberdeen from development area to intermediate area status would have a significant effect on the long-term basis of the economy of the Aberdeen area. As the evidence was produced by a survey of great repute and was commissioned by the Secretary of State, will my right hon. Friend discuss these matters with Professor Mackay and with Back Benchers? There is a powerful case for my right hon. Friend to change his mind on this issue.

I am aware of that report. It was, in fact, commissioned by the Opposition, and was presented to my right hon. Friend two months ago. My view is that the report did not take proper account of the substantial assistance which is still available in Aberdeenshire. For example, selective financial assistance is still available under the 1972 Act. My officials held a seminar recently and there were a considerable number of inquiries, which I considered to be most encouraging.

What steps is the Minister taking to monitor the effects on traditional industries, other than oil, of the withdrawal of the status that the area had before? Will he pay more attention to tourism? Is he aware that hotels in tourist areas in my constituency are being refused grants on the ground that they are no longer within the area that was entitled to have assistance in the past?

There is constant monitoring of the situation. The whole reason for regional policy is that one day we may say that it has had a good and substantial effect in an area. It was the judgment of my Government colleagues that it had had that effect in Aberdeen. shire. That is why we reduced it from development area status to intermediate area status. I can only repeat what I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Aber- deen, North a short while ago, that methods are still available for giving substantial assistance to Aberdeenshire.

As for the hon. Gentleman's final question about tourism, I cannot add anything to what I said to the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, West (Mr. Fairgrieve) a few minutes ago.

Will the Minister acknowledge that the Aberdeen travel-to-work area extends scores of miles inland from Aberdeen to communities and areas where there is little, if any, spin-off from North Sea oil? Will he give an assurance, in addition to the one that he gave my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeenshire, West (Mr. Fairgrieve), that he is prepared to consider limited industrial developments in these areas and that they will be considered for selective assistance if projects are put to him?

I said that in my response a few minutes ago. The area is still able to receive selective financial assistance under both sections 8 and 7 of the Industry Act 1972. We held a seminar a short while ago so that the position could be explained to those in the Aberdeenshire area. There was a remarkably good response to that meeting.