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Economic Growth (North-West)

Volume 513: debated on Tuesday 13 July 2010

I am delighted to have the opportunity to answer these questions on behalf of the Chancellor, who is at the ECOFIN meeting today.

In order to support private sector enterprise throughout the UK and ensure that all parts of the country, including the north-west, benefit from sustainable economic growth, the Government announced a number of measures in the Budget, such as using the national insurance system to encourage the creation of new businesses and establishing a £1 billion regional growth fund. Later in the summer we will publish a White Paper on a new approach to sub-national growth, including local enterprise partnerships, local incentives and more powers for major cities.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that detailed answer. My question relates to the abolition of the Northwest Regional Development Agency. Does he agree with the comments of Councillor Peter Gibson, leader of the excellent Wyre borough council in my constituency, who said last week that its abolition will give us the potential to relieve the bureaucracy on the backs of local authorities and businesses and the potential for a fairer distribution of resources throughout Lancashire?

I am very grateful for that question. It is precisely because of such concerns that we have chosen to establish local economic partnerships. The Secretaries of State for Communities and Local Government and for Business, Innovation and Skills jointly wrote to local authorities inviting submissions for the establishment of those new bodies, which will be partnerships between local authorities and local businesses. That is the right way to promote economic growth in localities.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. Picking up on what my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster and Fleetwood (Eric Ollerenshaw) said about the Northwest Regional Development Agency, is my right hon. Friend aware that the North of England Inward Investment Agency, which is sponsored by the Northwest RDA and One NorthEast, currently maintains five offices in north America? In light of the record budget deficit, can he assure the House that he will look carefully into overseas offices and whether they deliver value for money?

The hon. Gentleman makes a very good point, and there is an awful lot of waste in the regional development agency system more generally. Of course, it will be for the local economic partnerships to look at such issues and work out whether they wish to come together to promote their region in a wider way, but his point serves to reinforce the argument for the structural change that we are making.

There is no doubt in my mind that the Northwest Regional Development Agency has been a bureaucratic burden on the economy of the north-west since it was started. It has also followed capricious policies that have not directed investment where it would create most jobs. How will the right hon. Gentleman ensure that money is invested in those places where it will create most jobs?

I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his comments in support, I think, of the policy that we are pursuing. The local enterprise partnerships will be able to choose for themselves and direct where they think investment is needed in their localities. One major tool that they will have at their disposal is the ability, as a public-private partnership, to apply to the regional growth fund for investment in their areas. Obviously, that will be allocated in ways to be announced, but I hope that it will provide a tool for those new bodies to do precisely the sorts of things that the hon. Gentleman set out.

Businesses in the north-west will have seen the National Institute of Economic and Social Research arguing that growth will now be lower as a result of the Budget; they will have seen two reports of business confidence in their region and throughout the UK tumbling as a result of the Budget; and, just last week, they will have seen the International Monetary Fund’s devastating downgrading of its forecast for UK growth. Are not people in the north-west listening to the Chief Secretary trying to sell the Budget as a Budget for growth entitled to feel that, actually, they are being sold the emperor’s new clothes?

People in the north-west and elsewhere will have seen the Office for Budget Responsibility’s forecast, which predicts that during the course of our Budget over the next four years we will see rising economic growth, falling unemployment and rising employment. They will have seen also the OECD’s forecast and review of the UK, which was published today and includes the title, “A Strategy To Instill Confidence and Boost Growth”. That is precisely what our Budget is.