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Employment Opportunities

Volume 517: debated on Wednesday 3 November 2010

7. What recent discussions she has had with the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills on steps to increase employment opportunities in Wales. (20330)

May I apologise, Mr Speaker, for not welcoming the hon. Member for Pontypridd (Owen Smith) to the Front Bench? I am so incensed by the previous Government’s treatment of the economy that it quite passed me by, but I would not want any impoliteness, and I welcome him warmly to the Front Bench.

I have had regular discussions regarding increasing employment opportunities in Wales with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, and he is as committed as I am to ensuring that the Welsh economy benefits fully from new growth in the economy.

Wales, and Newport in particular, have provided a successful and welcoming habitat for jobs that were relocated from London. Would it not be a great shame if the present cuts hit disproportionately Welsh areas, resulting in the reversal of that very successful process? Will the Secretary of State renew her efforts to persuade Government that a cut of 250 jobs at the Newport passport office would seem especially devastating if they understood the local situation?

The hon. Gentleman knows exactly how I feel about the issues concerning the immigration and passport office, because I was delighted to welcome him and the hon. Member for Newport East (Jessica Morden) into the Department to meet the Minister for Immigration and me to discuss its future. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right: Newport is a city that ranks third in the Lambert Smith Hampton study of the best office locations outside London. We have businesses there such as Admiral, Wales and West Utilities, and even the HM Prison Service shared service centre. I can assure him that I will make my best efforts to protect all the jobs in Newport that I can, and to promote Newport among my colleagues as a good place to which to relocate.

The Driving Standards Agency is planning to close its Cardiff office, with the loss of 80 jobs, partly as a result of the cost of office rental. Since the Government own a huge office estate in south Wales, will the Secretary of State work with colleagues to undertake an audit of that office space to see if it can be better used more efficiently in order to save jobs?

I would be very willing to give that undertaking to the hon. Lady. In fact, if she writes to me with any details, I will be pleased to take it up with my colleagues. She should be aware, however, that I am talking to all the Departments right across Whitehall, as I did right at the beginning when I was first appointed, to suggest that Wales is a great place for them to relocate their expensive offices from other parts of the country. [Interruption.]

As usual at this time on a Wednesday, there are far too many private conversations taking place in the Chamber. It is very unfair on the Member asking the question and the Minister answering it, and it is also rather discourteous to the people of Wales.