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Regional Growth Fund

Volume 534: debated on Thursday 27 October 2011

In April we announced that 50 bids had been successful as part of round 1 of the regional growth fund, receiving a conditional allocation of £450 million, which will deliver 27,000 new or safeguarded jobs and close to 100,000 jobs in supply chains. More than half these projects have already started, and successful bidders will receive funding as due diligence is completed. Announcements on the second larger round are imminent.

There have been conflicting reports about the Department’s performance on the regional growth fund and what has been settled as a result of it. Will the right hon. Gentleman tell us how many applications have come from Northumberland, how many of them have been successful and how many have received any form of payment to date?

I cannot tell him off the cuff how many companies in Northumberland have received regional growth fund money. I know that the north-east was the most substantial recipient in the first round. I believe that several—in fact, the majority—of those projects are proceeding, and they will create jobs in Northumberland.

We in South Norfolk were very pleased to see the Secretary of State visiting Group Lotus, one of the country’s highest technology companies, which he described as “the best of British”. Does he agree that the regional growth fund would be seen as even more effective if Lotus’s high-quality bid were successful?

I think my colleague is disarmingly tempting me to commit some indiscretion here. I have been to Lotus, but we did not discuss the regional growth fund bid. It is an outstanding company, and I am certainly aware that it has put in a bid.

Well, why do we not put the bunting out? Six months after 45 regional growth fund bids were submitted, only three have got the money, so there are only 42 to go. Perhaps the Secretary of State could tell us how many people in BIS it takes to change a light bulb. However, on 17 October, the Minister of State, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, the hon. Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr Prisk) assured The Times that due diligence on the bids had taken an average of six weeks. These bids have all been waiting six months. Will the Secretary of State tell us when the bidders will get their promised money, as all these continued growth prospects have been put at risk because his Department has been asleep at the wheel?

I definitely think we should put the bunting out for the regional growth fund. As I explained in my first answer to this question, more than half of all these projects are now under way. Factories have been built; jobs have been created—that is what it is about. As was made clear at the outset and as Lord Heseltine made clear a few days ago, the release of funding is a later stage in the process when due diligence has been completed. Are the Labour Front-Bench team seriously arguing that we should dispense with controls over the spending of public money in the private sector? I know they did that in government, but we are not going to do it.