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English Estates

Volume 87: debated on Wednesday 27 November 1985

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asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry if he will make a statement on the future role of English Estates.

English Estates will continue to play a vital role in implementing our policies. In particular, the advance factory programme is one of the most effective and responsive instruments of regional policy, to which I attach the greatest importance. English Estates provides the Government with the best available means of carrying out that programme

I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for his reply. Does he agree that there is concern that if the much-heralded management buy-out were to proceed without strings attached, and without pre-conditions, there would not be enough factory space available in the assisted areas to take up the unprecedented demand that apparently exists for much-needed factory space in those areas? Will my right hon. and learned Friend explore further the possibility of covenant guarantees to ensure that if there were a management buy-out, firms could at least still set up in the assisted areas?

Covenant guarantees have their own problems, but I can assure my hon. Friend that I would not agree to a management buy-out that had the effect that he fears. I would agree to it only if it led to a more responsive and effective advance factory programme of the kind that we want. The objective is clear, and I am not yet satisfied with the proposals put forward.

Will the Secretary of State take this opportunity to place on record the fact that the Government will ensure that sufficient funds are made available for English Estates to carry out the full development plan for the Chatham dockyard area?

I have already answered questions on the Chatham project that English Estates is undertaking, but I can assure the hon. Gentleman that I understand his concern.

Is it not standing regional policy on its head to cut back industrial development by English Estates in the counties of Cleveland and Durham, while encouraging English Estates to fund the development of the dockyard in the south-east?

The Chatham aspect was agreed in particular circumstances, but I agree with my hon. Friend that the main thrust of regional policy has to be in the regions. It is in that context that I am looking at the proposals that have been put forward. It is worth pointing out that the new policy, which reaches its anniversary tomorrow, has shown that to mid-October in the west midlands, for example, £17 million of aid has been approved for projects creating or safeguarding nearly 12,000 jobs. That is just one example. I am giving the House and hon. Members further details.

Will the Secretary of State tell his Parliamentary Under-Secretary in the other place that I am delighted to know that he is visiting the Lister high technology park in my constituency, which was built by English Estates? Will he urge his ministerial colleague to travel to Bradford by train, rather than fly, as he proposes, so that he can see for himself the deplorable rail services which my constituents have to endure every day—a matter which I raised on the Adjournment last night—[Interruption.]

If the Secretary of State links expenditure on regional aid to the creation of jobs, does it not automatically follow that a reduction of two thirds in overall expenditure on regional aid since the Government came into office is a major cause of unemployment in the regions?

No, it points to nothing of the sort, because the regional policy in its previous form was not well directed to producing jobs. It was a policy which provided vast sums of money to firms engaged in capital investment, but did not lead to a substantial number of new jobs. The new policy is firmly targeted at new jobs, and the prospects look extremely good. For example, so far regional selective assistance offers of £222 million have been made, and under the new scheme regional development grants of £82 million have been made in the limited time since then. That is far better targeted than the old policy.