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Employment (South Wales)

Volume 487: debated on Wednesday 28 January 2009

The levels of employment show the continued effect that the global economic slow-down is having on the Welsh labour market. Although that problem requires a global solution, we are doing everything we can, in partnership with the Welsh Assembly Government, to help minimise the effects on Welsh families and on our economy.

I thank my right hon. Friend for his reply. Is he aware that 330 jobs are likely to be lost from Cardiff Gate and from my constituency if the International Baccalaureate continues with its plan to move to a mainland European city such as Amsterdam? Is he aware that one of the reasons given for that is that Cardiff and south Wales do not have an international mindset? Is that not extraordinary when we consider that the first full IB school was Atlantic college at St. Donats in south Wales?

Yes, I very much agree with my hon. Friend, who rightly points out that the International Baccalaureate was started in Atlantic college, and that, far from being a parochial place, Cardiff is very much an international centre. I fully support her early-day motion. I have written to the director-general in Geneva about keeping the 300 jobs in Cardiff and I hope that her campaign is successful.

The hon. Member for Vale of Glamorgan (John Smith) has claimed many times that hundreds of jobs will come to Wales as a result of the defence training review programme, but the programme has rising costs and increasing delays. Indeed, in his desperation, the hon. Gentleman visited the Prime Minister this week, even though the latter has given no assurance that the defence training review will go ahead in Wales. Do we not need an early statement from the Secretary of State giving us the truth about the project and its rising costs?

I have had no indication at all that there will be any change of plan concerning that huge investment in Wales. The Government are committed to it and I am sure that, when the time comes, there will be a proper statement to this House of Commons.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that employment levels in south Wales will be greatly improved by the 5,000 jobs brought to the area by the defence technical academy? Does he also agree that it is about time that Opposition Members stopped knocking the project and began pulling together to ensure that it is brought in on time and within budget?

That is what we all like to hear. My hon. Friend has been a great champion of the project. When those jobs come to Wales, it will be as a result of the biggest single Government investment in Wales ever.

Since January 2008, 11,000 jobs have been lost in Welsh retail and services. That is more than in any other sector, and thousands more jobs are at risk because of the unreasonable conditions being imposed on small businesses by banks. For example, a business in my constituency is being charged 10 per cent. interest above the base rate on a loan of only £4,000, plus significant amounts in fees. Does the Secretary of State share my concern that, if that continues, more Welsh businesses will be driven into the ground, with significant numbers of redundancies? What extra help can he offer to businesses in those circumstances?

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. The hon. Lady is absolutely right. Banks should be lending, particularly to small businesses, and the initiatives taken by the Government are designed to help them do so. She will be aware that Wales is especially fortunate, as we have the Welsh Assembly Government’s initiatives and the schemes of the UK Government that help businesses in a very special way. However, I will make sure that the points that she has properly raised here in the House of Commons are raised at next week’s economic summit in north Wales.

My right hon. Friend will be aware that Corus has announced the closure of Coated Metals in Pontarddulais in my constituency—a blow to the community and to the workers. However, all the workers have also worked at some time in Port Talbot, so will he urge Corus management to show flexibility and use a combination of voluntary redundancies and inter-plant redeployment to minimise the damage?

Yes, I will. I had a conversation recently with the chief executive of Corus and the general secretary of Community, the steel industry’s main trade union. The points that my hon. Friend has made are very valid, and I shall raise them again with them.

Given the increasing numbers of job losses in south Wales, which of course include the 1,000 jobs lost at Corus this week, does the Secretary of State acknowledge the fundamental importance of maintaining flexibility in the labour market? Can he therefore confirm that the Government will continue to fight to maintain the British opt-out from the working time directive, notwithstanding the decision of Labour MEPs to support its abolition last months?

Yes, I think that there should be as much flexibility as possible. That has helped us in the past, and I hope that it will do so in the future as well.