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Local Enterprise

Volume 534: debated on Monday 31 October 2011

My Department has been championing a series of measures to promote local economic growth. For example, our proposals for the local retention of business rates will reward councils for working with business, and will provide new incentives to drive growth. The 22 enterprise zones will generate new businesses and jobs in a targeted way across the country, from Newcastle to Newquay.

I thank the Secretary of State for his leadership in developing the enterprise zone at Warton. What steps is his Department taking to drive it and similar enterprise zones forward, and to create jobs for the people of Lancashire?

I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s kind remarks. I do not want us to become a mutual admiration society, but although my hon. Friend was initially unsuccessful in securing enterprise zones, he continued to lobby, made a very good case for them, and managed to form a coalition of the willing in industry that Opposition Members would do well to emulate. Following the announcement on 3 October, when the Chancellor invited the Lancashire and Humber local enterprise partnerships to put together a scheme, my officials worked with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and Lancashire councils to produce something of which the people of Lancashire will be very proud.

My question also concerns job creation. When I met the chief executive of my local council recently, we talked about what more could be done to support encourage local entrepreneurs. Will the Secretary of State do all he can to encourage all councils to display a “can do” rather than a “can’t do” attitude when approached by budding entrepreneurs?

My hon. Friend’s council has long had a reputation as a can-do council, and it is one of the best for keeping down the council tax and keeping satisfaction high among its residents. Given that quite a lot of the important developments in west London lie within her patch, we are looking to her and to the council to expedite badly needed growth.

Businesses in Oxford West and Abingdon tell me how important it is that they access local government procurement contracts, and about the difficulties they have in navigating some of the complicated procurement processes. The Government have taken some steps to support local businesses to access central Government procurement processes, but how can the Secretary of State’s Department help to open up local government procurement processes in the same way?

My hon. Friend makes a very important point. Indeed, we have been working very closely with the Local Government Association to try to free up procurement. Part of that, of course, has been ensuring that there is transparency so that we can see how councils are spending their money. I am particularly grateful to the LGA, with which we are trying to demystify the complexities of European procurement regulations to allow local businesses to bid.

The Secretary of State will surely acknowledge that in cutting two thirds of the funds available to the regions of England when the regional development agencies were abolished, the Government struck a blow at the very innovation, growth and enterprise that he has been praising this afternoon. Is it not strange and revealing that it has been announced today that Sheffield Forgemasters will be given a third of the loan that was originally sought? Is that not an admission by the Deputy Prime Minister, the Chief Secretary and the Business Secretary that they got it totally wrong last year?

The right hon. Gentleman is, of course, absolutely wrong. The regional development agencies cannot be described as a success by any stretch of the imagination. The north lost out in economic growth compared with the south under Labour, and gross value added per head as a percentage of the total UK level fell across the north from 1997 to 2009 but rose in London. The north lost out in private sector jobs created under Labour—for every private sector job generated in the north and midlands, 10 were generated in London.

It came very close, and I hope the hon. Gentleman will work with the local councils, because it is possible to have a local development order in the area. It is certainly possible to do a deal on broadband, and once the Localism Bill is in force it will be possible to do a deal with regard to local taxation.

How can the Secretary of State claim to be promoting local enterprise when the Government have kicked away its support? They abolished RDAs, against the advice of local business; he has paralysed the planning system; and his proposals for business rates mean that local authorities would be better off building big retail parks than supporting manufacturing and small business. As we now know that for every two jobs lost in the public sector fewer than one is being created in the private sector, why does he not admit that this out-of-date, ideologically driven policy is not working?

I welcome the hon. Lady to her new position. I hope all her questions are as feisty as that one.

The Labour party simply has to stop clinging to the comfort blanket of the idea that it somehow left a golden economic legacy. It did not. It is impossible for Labour to defend local government and at the same time say that all it would do is put up sheds for Spudulike and Carphone Warehouse. Local authorities are responsible, and they will use the new initiative to work together and bring about growth, unlike the regional development agencies, which by and large were not a good thing.