Skip to main content

Regional Growth: Midlands Engine

Volume 605: debated on Tuesday 2 February 2016

I was delighted to help launch the midlands engine prospectus in December, setting out our programme of action to deliver our long-term economic plan, which aims to add an extra £34 billion to the midlands economy by 2030.

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his commitment. Excellent universities, a history of manufacturing and some world-class businesses make the midlands a great place to set up a business, but those businesses need to export more. Will he say what he is doing to help businesses—particularly manufacturing businesses, such as Invotec in my constituency—to do better business abroad?

In my hon. Friend’s constituency, UK Trade & Investment has provided support for some 250 businesses in the past years, including for companies such as Invotec, which have been given support to help export to India, Russia, Japan and other places. He will know that my noble Fried Lord Maude made a statement in the other place last week, which talked about the new whole-of-government approach to exports. My hon. Friend may also be interested to know that, later this year, I will lead the first-ever midlands business trade delegation overseas.

A key driver of any midlands engine will be Goodwin Engineering in my constituency. This is a world-class steel foundry business hit hard by the Government’s massive incompetence over steel policy. It is very keen for a swift decision to be made on the Swansea bay tidal lagoon. Can we have news on that decision and, more broadly, something approaching an industrial policy?

The hon. Gentleman can have news—but not today. These are the sort of decisions that we need to consider carefully. When it comes to major infrastructure, he will be pleased to know that the Government’s infrastructure plan involves over £90 billion and that we are going ahead with it.

One of the key drivers of regional growth in the midlands has been the success of new small businesses, which rely on getting access to telecommunications as swiftly as possible. Does my right hon. Friend share my concern about the potential impact on midlands growth due to the length of time some businesses have to wait for telecoms companies to connect them? Will he press those companies to sharpen up and speed up their act?

I agree wholeheartedly with my hon. Friend. As a midlands MP myself, I have met many businesses from my own constituency that have experienced the same problem. It is something that both BIS and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport have discussed with BT and others. Although there are examples of improvement, a lot more needs to be done.

One hundred and twenty thousand companies in the west midlands are linked to the steel industry. Will the right hon. Gentleman say what steps he is taking to preserve those skills for future growth?

The hon. Lady is right to raise the issue of skills in that industry. The first thing is to do everything we can to help it. Of course, the crisis has inevitably led to job losses, but the measures I referred to earlier will help to protect some of those jobs. We are also talking to a number of companies in the supply chain to see what we can do with skills training to ensure that those skills are transferable.

I can assure the House that the midlands engine is firing on all cylinders, but it does need fuel in the tank. Will the Secretary of State confirm that more than £2 billion was raised in venture capital in the UK last year, which was up 50% on the year before?

My hon. Friend talks about venture capital and the importance of attracting more and more investment across the nation, and of course in the midlands, too. I am sure he would be interested to know that over the last four years, the gross value added of the midlands region has increased by 15% or £27 billion, while the number of jobs has increased by almost 300,000.

The hon. Member for Tamworth (Christopher Pincher) asked about the creation of a midlands engine. I can assure the Minister that thousands of such engines are being built by Jaguar Land Rover in Wolverhampton, just outside my constituency.

The apprenticeship levy is very welcome, although there are still some kinks to be ironed out. Will the Secretary of State say a little more about how the Government will encourage the establishment of proper apprenticeships in the manufacturing industry?

Yes, Mr Speaker, in the west midlands the levy will lead to significant new investment in apprenticeships. Companies such as Jaguar Land Rover have welcomed that initiative, and intend to pursue it with gusto. We are also setting up a new standards board, which will be led by the industry. I think that is important, because it will ensure that everyone takes part and we secure the right skills outcome.