Despite these tough economic times, under this Government private sector employment has increased by more than 1 million since 2010, as firms benefit from our stable and credible fiscal policy, but, of course, we are not complacent. We are helping private sector growth through a radical programme of reforms and investment, including the £2.5 billion regional growth fund, issuing up to £50 billion in guarantees for infrastructure and housing, and funding 250,000 more apprenticeships than the previous Government had planned.
Today marks the halfway point of the coalition Government. As the Minister said, there are 1 million more private sector jobs than there were in 2010 and more people in employment than ever before. Will he work even harder to build on his fantastic record in the second half of this Government’s term?
Yes, I certainly will. [Interruption.] I know the Opposition do not like to hear this, but my hon. Friend is right to highlight the good performance of the British labour market and the facts that the private sector has created more than 1 million new jobs in the last two and half years and that there are more people in employment in this country than ever before.
Under the Labour Government, we lost 65,000 private sector jobs in the west midlands. In stark contrast, since 2010 my constituency alone has already secured £400 million in investment. What more will my right hon. Friend do to secure private sector jobs in South Staffordshire and the west midlands?
My hon. Friend is right to say that the Labour party’s record on encouraging the private sector was at its most catastrophic in the west midlands, for which the figures he gave are absolutely correct. That is why another £124 million of funding for projects in the west midlands was announced in round three of the regional growth fund and why we are providing additional support for the automotive sector, which is so important in his constituency and region. Of course the improved climate for business, the removal of regulations and the funding for apprenticeships will benefit businesses in the west midlands, as well as in the rest of the country.
Yesterday, a report from the Welsh Government showed that scrapping tolls on the Severn bridge would increase the value of the Welsh economy by £107 million. Will the right hon. Gentleman commission a report to show how quickly the cost of reducing and getting rid of the tolls would be offset by the increase in income tax resulting from more jobs created in Wales?
The hon. Gentleman mentions finance in Wales, so I would have thought he might have started by welcoming the announcement I made two weeks ago on a new funding settlement for Wales and the commitment, in principle, for the first time ever—this was never made by the Labour party when it was in government—to borrowing powers for the Welsh Government. That is a major step forward. We will hear shortly from the Silk commission, which is examining revenue-raising powers. I will certainly consider the matter the hon. Gentleman raises in response to the Silk commission.
The Chief Secretary to the Treasury will be aware of ongoing ministerial discussions about setting the rate for corporation tax in Northern Ireland. Can he advise on the recommendation the Treasury will make to the Prime Minister, who will be setting that level and making a determination shortly?
I am not going to prejudge the work of the joint ministerial working group, which includes Ministers from the Northern Irish Government, my colleague the Exchequer Secretary, who is there on behalf of the Treasury, and the Northern Ireland Secretary. That group will soon produce a report, which will come to the Treasury and to the Prime Minister. We look forward to considering it and responding in due course.
Does the Chief Secretary agree that the seed enterprise investment scheme announced by the Government in the past year is the sort of highly attractive fiscal incentive that will both encourage angel investors to back entrepreneurs and, at the same time, stimulate the job growth in the private sector that we need?
I congratulate my hon. Friend on the work he has been doing to promote the seed enterprise investment scheme. His description of it is absolutely right, and I know it is being looked at widely by investors who wish to invest in small firms in this country. I hope it will help to transform the landscape for that sort of investment in newly formed companies in this country, and I hope that he will continue his hard work.
When the Government introduced their flagship policy on a national insurance holiday scheme they proclaimed that about 400,000 businesses would benefit. In answer to a parliamentary question in May, Ministers told me that about 16,000 applications had been received. Will the Chief Secretary tell the House how many businesses have now applied? Is it not time to listen to Labour and the Federation of Small Businesses, and extend this scheme across the country and ensure that all small businesses can benefit from it?
I think we have heard yet another unfunded spending commitment from the Labour party in that question. The hon. Lady is right to say that this scheme has not been taken up as widely as we had expected, which is why we are putting in place other measures to support small and growing businesses: the funding for lending scheme will get finance to small firms; tax incentives of the sort just mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Braintree (Mr Newmark) will help to get investment in small and medium-sized enterprises; and of course the Government have set a target of 25% of procurement from small firms, too. That is the right policy for small businesses in this country.