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Employment: Market and Coastal Towns

Volume 729: debated on Tuesday 12 July 2011


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what action they are taking to increase employment in market and coastal towns in England.

The Government are committed to increasing employment in all areas of the country, and national policy initiatives to boost growth and jobs apply, of course, to market and coastal towns. The rural economy growth review and the seaside resorts action plan are examples of current initiatives in support of that commitment, which will benefit market and coastal communities.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that reply. Our market and coastal towns are the economic and service hub for many of us in rural England. Yet without the economies of scale and transport links of cities, our market towns too often become victims of market failure in employment, retail and housing. The protections in planning are now being weakened in the Localism Bill; and the regional development agencies, and with them the market and coastal towns initiative, are being abolished in the Public Bodies Bill. How will the local enterprise partnerships fill that gap when there is market failure in market towns, given that attracting inward investment is not in their remit? What about the many rural areas not covered by the LEPs?

My Lords, the noble Lord asks a number of questions. At this stage, let me say that our national policy initiatives to boost growth and jobs, which, as I have said, apply to market and coastal towns, include local enterprise partnerships, the regional growth fund, budget support for SMEs and measures in the Localism Bill. The important thing is that they can be applied to reflect the local context. Training and skills are also vital, and greater flexibility has been given to colleges and other training providers to offer the training that reflects the needs of the local labour market.

My Lords, would the Minister agree that the south-east corner of Kent has been and is a deprived area? Dover is frankly a disgrace as the place of entry to this country. My name is “of Sandwich”, so my heart is very close to that place, which will suffer tremendously with the closure of Pfizer. What are the Government going to do to help that part of the world, which for a very long time has been a deprived area from the point of view of trade?

My noble friend makes a very strong point. The Government are committed to helping to rebalance the economy by supporting programmes to promote long-term private sector-led jobs and growth, including in the area that she mentioned.

Would my noble friend agree with me that SMEs are the backbone of economies in market towns and coastal resorts? Would it not be advantageous if the Government could put further pressure on the banks so they release funding for further expansion in these businesses?

My Lords, I certainly agree with my noble friend that funding is a key point, and the Government are doing what they can to nudge the banks in that direction.

My Lords, in the light of last week’s announcement that the Homes and Communities Agency will take over the majority of the regional development agency assets—those, at any rate, that have not been sold off in the current fire sale—will the Minister indicate whether there have been any discussions with that agency, and whether any guidance has been given on the need to ensure that some of those assets at least are deployed in the interests of coastal and market towns?

My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord’s point about the need for affordable housing, for instance. The Government are well aware of the need for affordable housing in rural, and indeed coastal, communities, and are looking to address this by returning decision-making powers to local councils, giving them greater control over the allocation and tenure of social housing.

My Lords, my noble friend the Minister mentioned local enterprise partnerships and local colleges and the importance of the skills agenda. Is he aware that in many cases local colleges are being excluded from local enterprise partnerships?

My Lords, would the Minister care to comment on the savage cuts in local authority spending for areas such as Blackpool in the north, where the reduction in public expenditure is far greater than the Government have made either in the south of England or in Civil Service and government spending?

My Lords, I know that the noble Baroness takes this issue very seriously. The Government are especially aware of some of the northern coastal towns—she mentioned one. A question was asked earlier about local enterprise partnerships. They now cover all northern coastal towns. As locally owned and genuine business civic partnerships, they are taking the strategic lead for economic growth and creating the right conditions for private sector growth along the coast, supported by budget measures to help small and medium-sized enterprises.

My Lords, I feel a bit frustrated by this Question, which is about coastal towns in England. Many of us are from the regions of the United Kingdom. Job creation is essential not only in coastal towns in England, as listed in the Question, but all over the country. Does the Minister agree?

Yes, my Lords, and perhaps the noble Lord would like to take this up with his noble friend who asked the initial Question.

My Lords, I am so glad that the noble Lord opposite has mentioned the United Kingdom. I am sure that the Question about England, although it may not embrace Wales, includes Wales. However, is it not true that the demise of many of our town centres, and of employment in the centres of market towns, is because of out-of-town shopping malls and large-scale shopping centres? What are the Government doing to regulate this move out of town, which is making the centres of our market and coastal towns most uninviting places?

My Lords, my noble friend makes an important point. Town centres are key to sustainable growth and local prosperity and are at the heart of neighbourhoods, giving communities easier access to shops and services. However, we must be clear that town- centre planning policy is not pro or anti supermarkets, and planning cannot seek to restrict lawful competition between retailers.