The manufacturing sector remains absolutely vital to the west midlands economy. Advantage West Midlands and its partners are focusing investment on major markets in which the region has strength and which offer the best prospects for wealth creation and employment as we come out of recession. We have an industry growth programme worth £30 million in the current financial year and £25 million next year, of which 75 per cent. is focused on the manufacturing sector.
I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer, but I recently attended a conference in Coventry organised by the Warwickshire partnerships, which are part of the sub-regional CBI. They voiced concerns about the slowness in getting help to small businesses in the west midlands, particularly in the Coventry area. How can Advantage West Midlands assist small businesses to speed that help up?
As my hon. Friend is aware, my hon. Friend the Minister for the West Midlands, through his taskforce, has looked very closely at how to help small and medium-sized enterprises. I know that the Advantage West Midlands transition bridge fund has made offers of loans totalling some £9.3 million to 55 local businesses to date, and I believe that nine of those are located in his constituency in Coventry and Warwickshire.
Yesterday, the chief executive of Jaguar Land Rover, such an important business in the west midlands, announced 300 job cuts and said that further action would depend in part on how quickly the agreed loan from the European Investment Bank was forthcoming. Given that Ministers agreed on that loan three months ago, why are the company and its workers still waiting? The French and German Governments delivered their loans from the EIB months ago. Why is it that under this Government, car firms in Britain are the last to get the help that they have been promised? Is it deliberate Government policy or just incompetence?
Yesterday’s decision was not connected with the ongoing negotiations about working with Jaguar Land Rover. It was to do with a particular type of production coming to an end. The support that the Government are giving to the west midlands, working through the regional development agency, has ensured that we have been able to safeguard jobs and help businesses. The Opposition, of course, would abolish RDAs, which would mean that the type of help that we have provided would not be available.
My right hon. Friend is quite right in her comments. The west midlands suffered two major recessions in the 1980s. Does she accept that urgent steps are now necessary to help places such as mine in the west midlands that rely heavily on the manufacturing industry? We do not want the curse of mass unemployment to come back.
My hon. Friend is right. In that context, the last thing we want is public expenditure cuts, as proposed by the Conservative party. I think that the manufacturing advisory service has been able to give some direct help. Last year, the MAS helped approximately 2,600 companies in the west midlands and increased the value of business up to £85 million. My hon. Friend is right: we need to get that direct help out there quickly.