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Regional Strategy

Volume 115: debated on Wednesday 29 April 1987

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asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry when he next intends to meet the officers of the Association of British Chambers of Commerce to discuss the impact of the Government's regional strategy.

My right hon. Friend has no current plans for a meeting with the association specifically to discuss the impact of the Government's regional strategy.

Surely the Minister, with his background, is aware that chambers of commerce in Yorkshire and Humberside are concerned about the wider implications of regional policy, including, for instance, assistance under the Industrial Development Act 1985. Is the Minister aware that the 1984 report showed that one quarter of all assistance went to the south-east? In the micro-electronics industry, for instance, only one project in Yorkshire and Humberside was supported, compared with 28 in the south-east. Surely the Minister has a responsibility to try to redress such an imbalance.

As the hon. Gentleman knows, the redrawing of the assisted area map has benefited the northern regions particularly. He will know that most assisted areas are now within that part of the country which he and I represent. He will also know that the performance of local industries and companies in Yorkshire and Humberside has shown a dramatic improvement. The regional report supplied by the Association of British Chambers of Commerce states:

"Yorkshire and Humberside: After a year of relatively poor results the figures for the final quarter of 1986 are comprehensively the best results seen for some time. The balance figures for domestic orders in manufacturing have more than trebled, and those for domestic deliveries are better still. Export performance too is significantly improved and employment levels and expectations are similarly encouraging."
That is the true position of industry in the region.

In considering the impact of regional policy, has my hon. Friend noticed that manufacturing productivity in Scotland is well above the United Kingdom average, that manufacturing exports per employee in Scotland are running at 30 per cent. above the United Kingdom level, and that the latest GDP and personal disposable income figures put Scotland in the top three of the 11 United Kingdom planning regions? Do not these excellent results shame those who constantly talk Scotland down?

I am delighted to hear such a robust defence from my hon. Friend of the performance of industry in Scotland. It is a powerful fact that improved competitiveness and productivity are countrywide. That is the surest way to improve sales, profits and employment.

Are the chambers of commerce in the north-west region more concerned than the Government about the decline of manufacturing industries, which has meant a loss of 30 per cent. of the jobs in that sector in a region that is heavily dependent on manufacturing jobs? How much longer can we continue to trade with such a massive deficit budget on manufacturing industry?

I understand the hon. Gentleman's concern about the pattern in the north-west and I concede that regions have different patterns of performance. However, the Association of British Chambers of Commerce report for the Greater Manchester area states:

"After a less worrying third quarter than in certain other regions the improvement in the fourth quarter is very pronounced, strongly positive for home and export orders".
I suggest that there is now an improving trend even in the north-west.

Is my hon. Friend aware of the quiet way in which the new post-1984 regional development grant and regional selective assistance programme is working? In the north-west and in my constituency of Lancashire, West, there have been 52 applications for such grant in the past year resulting in £3·2 million investment, which has encouraged industry to invest and has created 600 jobs in my constituency. Surely that is the way that regional development should continue, and I wish my hon. Friend every success and long may it continue.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making that point. He will be equally aware that, with the tailored system of regional support, the support is really reaching those particular areas and industries that need it.