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Volume 634: debated on Tuesday 16 January 2018

The unemployment rate is now the lowest since 1975, and 3 million more people are in jobs than in 2010. What that means is that they have the ability to use their talents to support their families and to get on in life.

Will my right hon. Friend and the Treasury team work with me and the Isle of Wight Council to explore how the Island could benefit from a Treasury-supported enterprise zone in the Medina valley or from other regeneration policies that would help to drive the jobs and wealth creation agenda on the Isle of Wight?

My hon. Friend has done a fantastic job of championing the Isle of Wight since 2010, and we have seen a 55% reduction in unemployment on the Island. There are many issues that we need to address to ensure that the economy on the Island is competitive and dynamic. The Isle of Wight ferry is a vital service, and we need to ensure that the Competition and Markets Authority has the tools to deal with that. I would be very happy to meet my hon. Friend to talk about what more we can do to boost the Isle of Wight.

I am the chairman of the all-party parliamentary group for youth employment, and each month we track the jobs figures. Will my right hon. Friend update the House on the impact of this very welcome job creation on poverty levels and welfare dependency since 2010?

I congratulate my hon. Friend on his work. Since 2010, we have seen a 40% reduction in youth unemployment. Let us compare that with what happened under the Labour Government when, during an economic boom, youth unemployment rose and those young people were left on the scrapheap rather than joining apprenticeships and getting the training opportunities that they have under this Government.

Here is a reality check for the Minister. Limited well-paid jobs and record levels of in-work poverty coupled with this Government’s unflinching assault on the welfare safety net have contributed to the United Nations estimating that 8 million households in the UK are food insecure. My cost-neutral household Food Security Bill will robustly measure these factors and lead to policy development that will eradicate hunger. Why will her Government not back it?

I am surprised that the hon. Lady is not interested in the news we heard earlier, which is that those on the lowest incomes have seen a 7% real-terms pay rise since 2015, enabling them to support their families.

Does the Chief Secretary agree that one of the best ways of creating employment is to simplify tax structures to help small and medium-sized enterprises to create employment right across the United Kingdom?

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. This Government have cut red tape and taxes. We have cut basic rate tax by £1,000 for working people, which has encouraged more people to get jobs and more companies to take people on. That is why we are seeing economic success.

Transport for the North has today published its strategic plan, which forecasts 850,000 new jobs if the plan is delivered. Although the document is disappointing for Cleethorpes and northern Lincolnshire, broadly speaking more investment in transport in the north will provide those jobs. Will the Minister give an assurance that resources will be made available to deliver the plan?

I am pleased to say that we are investing a record amount in economic infrastructure, and the Institute for Fiscal Studies said that such investment would be at a 40-year high by the end of this Parliament. We are giving money to improve transport in towns and cities, allocating £1.7 billion for that purpose at the Budget.

Thousands of Carillion workers will turn up to work tomorrow unsure whether they have a job, and they may not appreciate Conservative boasts about employment today. The workers face cuts to their pensions, and hundreds of small firms along the supply chain are also uncertain about their futures. The traditional role of the Treasury is to protect our public finances, so will the Minister explain to the House what involvement the Treasury had in the billions of pounds of contracts held by Carillion at the time of its liquidation? We know that Treasury approval is required for PFI contracts, so will she tell the House how many PFI and PF2 contracts were signed by the Treasury during the current Chancellor’s time in office? What will happen to those projects and to the staff working on them? When there were loud and clear worrying signs about Carillion, why did Treasury Ministers, instead of intervening, collude in the strategy of drip-feeding more contracts to Carillion to buoy up an obviously failing company?

What has happened at Carillion is regrettable, which is why we are ensuring that the people employed by Carillion have support from jobcentres and why our No. 1 priority is ensuring that we continue to supply public services. However, it would be completely wrong for a company that got itself in such a state to be bailed out by the state, and we are not doing that. We are making sure that we continue to supply public services at the same time as helping the people who work for the company.

If we look at the record of contracting, a third of those contracts were signed under the previous Labour Government, and one of the most recent contracts was signed by the Labour-led Leeds City Council. The fact is that we have £60 billion of contracts with private sector companies that deliver public services across this country, which is an important way of delivering our public services. When there is an issue, as we have had with Carillion, we have made the preparations, and we are sorting out the situation.

We are asking questions about when it was obvious that this company was failing and what the Treasury’s role was. I put it no stronger than this: at this stage, there are real suspicions that the Government were too close to the company and too wedded to its privatisation role. We need full transparency on the meetings and discussions that took place between Ministers, civil servants and representatives of Carillion. What warnings were given to Ministers and what action was recommended, whether it was implemented or not? We need the Treasury to start playing its proper role and to provide an independent assessment of the potential costs and risks facing the taxpayer. As has already been mentioned, a Cabinet Office minute was published after the statement yesterday that established a contingent liability. We urgently need to know from the Treasury about the potential range of costs now facing the taxpayer.

We already publish all those minutes and details of meetings. We are a transparent Government, and we make decisions in an objective fashion. Those decisions are signed off by the Treasury, and they are signed off by the Cabinet Office. Recent decisions on Carillion contracts have been made on the basis of joint and several liability to make sure the taxpayer is protected. We always look for value for money in the way we set up our contracts. The Government are dealing with this in a responsible and measured way, rather than making cheap political shots at a time when people’s jobs are in question and when we are working to sort that out.