We are absolutely committed to regional growth. We recently launched a further round of growth deals, and the March Budget highlighted the Government’s support for the midlands engine. It includes a £250 million midlands engine investment fund, new enterprise zones, and a devolution deal for Greater Lincolnshire worth £450 million.
One of the keys to growth in the black country part of the west midlands, which I represent, is greater collaboration between business and further education colleges. Halesowen College and Sandwell College both excellently serve my constituency. Will the Secretary of State agree to meet the principals of Halesowen and Sandwell Colleges to talk more about how to reduce the skills gap in the black country, to promote further growth in the region?
I agree absolutely with my hon. Friend. One of the reasons we have seen a 50% fall in his constituency is that he has been promoting just that type of collaboration. I enjoyed visiting Halesowen College with him last year to learn about the advanced science, engineering and technology centre, and of course I will be more than happy to meet him and college representatives.
Will the Secretary of State join me and other Leicestershire MPs as well as many throughout the world in congratulating Leicester City football club on winning the premier league yesterday? Does he agree that this will boost jobs not just in Leicester but in the midlands region, and not just for those interested in football but for those in tourism? Does he accept that rather than Red Leicester, it is actually Blue Leicester?
I like the sound of Blue Leicester—I like it very much—but let me congratulate the right hon. Gentleman and, most of all, his constituents on their stunning victory last night, which I think the whole nation is celebrating. I suggest he make the most of it while he can.
Regional growth and the midlands engine are reliant on businesses such as those in Cannock Chase that are investing and exporting. I visited a business in Cannock on Friday that is looking to grow, but faces difficulty in getting access to finance from the bank it has banked with for years, and this has resulted in its switching banks. Will my right hon. Friend outline what measures the Government have taken to improve access to finance for small and medium-sized businesses?
My hon. Friend raises a very important issue. I will highlight two things. First, there is the local growth fund: almost £8 billion has already been allocated, and the Chancellor talked in the last Budget of a further £4 billion by the end of this Parliament. There is also the launch of the midlands engine investment fund: hundreds of millions of pounds will be allocated to small businesses, including those in Cannock Chase.
But if we are to get all these visitors to Leicester, Nottingham, Derby and across the east and the west midlands and we are to get the midlands engine moving, will the Secretary of State talk to his colleagues about infrastructure investment more generally, because we are certainly losing out in the east midlands, with only £37 per head of rail investment compared with £294 per head in London?
The hon. Gentleman raises the important issue of infrastructure investment. It is because we have a strong economy that, under this Government, we have a programme of £300 billion of investment over the next few years. That of course includes the midlands, with the investment in the main line and in HS2. However, there is always more we can do, and I am very happy to hear new ideas.
Will the Secretary of State take this opportunity to praise the work of the local enterprise partnerships in promoting the economy of the west midlands, particularly the Greater Birmingham and Solihull LEP, of which Lichfield is a member? Will my right hon. Friend clarify, however, what will be the role of the LEPs and what will be the role of the midlands engine, which is about to appoint or has appointed a new chairman, in helping to promote the regional economy?
I join my hon. Friend in commending the work of LEPs throughout the UK, but especially that of the Greater Birmingham and Solihull LEP, not least because it covers my constituency. I have seen the work that it has achieved, particularly under its chairman, Andy Street, and it is very commendable. The LEPs will work with local authorities throughout the midlands to really fire up the midlands engine, which means co-operation on things such as infrastructure, trade and skills.
A couple of weeks ago, I asked the Prime Minister about the possible closure of the British Gas Oldbury site, with the loss of 700 jobs. In his reply, the Prime Minister assured me:
“We will make sure that a ministerial taskforce is available to talk to the company and the local community and to provide assistance in terms of retraining and other things.”—[Official Report, 20 April 2016; Vol. 608, c. 917.]
Imagine my disappointment on being told that there will be no ministerial taskforce, but that Ministers will have regular contact with a taskforce to be set up by the local authority. I do not think that that matches up to the assurance from the Prime Minister. There needs to be a real drive to keep or to replace these jobs, so when is BIS going to deliver on the Prime Minister’s assurance?
Job losses, whenever they are announced, are regrettable, as they of course are in this case, which is why we must do everything we can. I can tell the right hon. Gentleman that soon after the Prime Minister said that, the Minister for Small Business, Industry and Enterprise and the Minister for Employment had a meeting with a managing director from British Gas. I understand that the redundancies are not final yet—the consultation period is still going on—so let us hope that they are not as bad as those that have been seen. We will continue to do whatever we can, and that includes contact with the company.