HC Deb 25 July 1983 vol 46 cc1008-16 8.21 am
Mr. Eddie Loyden (Liverpool, Garston)

I am grateful for the opportunity even at this late hour to discuss the problems facing Merseyside and in particular unemployment which is the central issue for Merseyside.

I hope that in this debate the House will recognise the seriousness of the problems facing Merseyside. I have a faint hope that the Government will also recognise that something positive must be done to tackle the problems on Merseyside and realise that the solutions cannot be found in Merseyside itself.

I think that it is fair to say that the decline of Merseyside did not begin in 1979. The Liverpool economy has been in a more or less continuous decline since the beginning of the century. The underlying structural problems remain today, particularly the over-reliance on declining sectors, the port and the under-representation of growth sectors. These problems have been accentuated in recent years by the national recession and the general restructuring of industry. The effects are seen in the levels of investment, employment and unemployment, although the ramifications are felt throughout the city's economic, social and political fabric.

The city's traditional role as a conurbation and port is reflected in a local economy dominated by service industries. In 1977 service employment represented nearly 66.9 per cent. of all the city's jobs compared with 55.7 per cent. for the north west region and 58.8 per cent. for Britain as a whole.

Liverpool's economic fortune has always been closely tied to the port and its trading position and this has been particularly susceptible to fluctuations in world trade.

In addition, under-representation of growth industries, particularly in the manufacturing sector, has meant a continuing, indeed increasing, reliance on the service industries. Between 1971 and 1977, service employment in the city increased from 62.8 per cent. to 66.9 per cent. of all jobs.

Throughout the whole of this century, international patterns of trade have been changing gradually, with the focus shifting towards the south and east coast ports and away from west coast ports such as Liverpool. Between 1966 and 1976, the port of Liverpool's share of import and export tonnage handled in United Kingdom ports fell from 15.5 per cent. to 8.7 per cent.

Job losses resulting from that trend have been further accelerated by investment to modernise the port, which has increased its capital intensiveness, and the port's decline has led, in turn, to the loss of jobs in those parts of the local economy associated with the city's maritime trade — commerce, warehousing and all industries related to a port-based economy.

Attempts have been made at diversification, because many people saw that as the answer to the problem of tackling a declining industry which was still the centre of the local economy. Given the dependence on the port and the service sector generally, conscious efforts have been made to diversify the city's economic base. They began in earnest in the 1930s and were oriented towards attracting manufacturing industry to the large industrial estates established at Speke and Aintree by the then Liverpool corporation.

A further estate at Kirkby outside the city boundaries was established in the immediate post-war period. Post-war investment in manufacturing industry in the Liverpool area has been concentrated on those three peripheral estates. Those initiatives coincided with, and mirrored, Government policies. Since 1949, with one brief break between 1959 and 1963, Merseyside has experienced a variety of assisted area policies aimed at attracting new factories to the area and generating new jobs.

Between 1949 and 1967, there were two major phases of regional development policy. Judged by the declared aim of providing additional jobs, regional development policy in that period did little more than keep pace with the growing labour force.

It was argued that new industries would act as a catalyst, promoting an accelerated decline in already weak sectors, while the new industries took over in the longer term as the driving force of the economy. The year 1960 marked the beginning of a new phase that coincided with the British motor industry's expansion plans.

A total of 26,000 new jobs were created in three major vehicle plants on Merseyside — Ford at Halewood, Vauxhall at Ellesmere Port and Standard Triumph at Speke. It was said that the years 1960 to 1967 were critical for Merseyside. Although, in the short-term, they saw neither a spectacular increase in the availability of jobs nor a reduction in unemployment, forces were set in motion which, in the long run, should forge a new and more successful economic base for the region. For the first time a new component has been added to the regional economy (the motor car industry) which is of a sufficient scale to exert a moulding influence on its future development. In the moulding process, an industrial structure predisposed to decline was being converted to one predisposed to growth. Despite the optimism, it was clear by the late 1960s that Liverpool's fundamental economic problems remained and were beginning to become more acute. Unemployment and job losses continued to increase and between 1951 and 1971, male unemployment in Liverpool increased from 7.4 per cent. to 11.6 per cent. The number of jobs fell from 401,000 to 325,000—a reduction of nearly 20 per cent.

Accelerating rates of job loss and unemployment were particularly evident in the city centre and inner areas. Between 1961 and 1971, 86 per cent. of jobs lost were from the city centre, whose rate of decline doubled between 1966 and 1971. There was also a relative failure of the office-service sector to expand to fill the gaps left by the decline of the dock-related and manufacturing employment. In this context, Liverpool compared very unfavourably with other conurbation centres.

The problem of job loss was also accentuated by the relationship between the types of work that were declining and the types of workers moving out of the city. Personal service workers, semi-skilled workers and unskilled workers were placed in an increasingly difficult job position between 1966 and 1971; those with the fewest skills faced a rapid decline in suitable jobs, an overall decline in unskilled work and greater difficulty in travelling.

Important differences between the various areas' employment structures became apparent only at the standard industrial classification order level, and it is worth highlighting the fact that in nearly all locally significant SIC orders—those accounting for more than 1 per cent. of total employment—the rate of change experienced locally was less favourable than that occurring at the national level between 1971 and 1977. The only exception was public administration and defence, reflecting the increased importance of the public sector as a whole to local employment. The city's employment growth prospects, so far as they can be inferred from a broad analysis of employment structure and comparative trends, were not good in 1977 and have worsened considerably since then.

A small number of large firms accounted for a significant proportion of the city's employment in 1976; 0.3;6 per cent. of the city's firms provided nearly 40 per cent. of total employment. This contrasts with the numerically significant smaller firms sector — firms employing fewer than 50 people—which accounted for 93 per cent. of total firms but only 29 per cent. of total employment in 1976.

Of particular significance is the employment provided by very large manufacturing firms — those with 1,000-plus employees — which accounted for 59 per cent. of all the city's manufacturing jobs in 1977. An undue reliance on such large firms appears to have acted to the city's disadvantage. This is supported by post-1976 trends, which have witnessed further closures and large scale redundancies by such firms as British Leyland, Dunlop, Plessey and Meccano.

The degree of external control of the city's economy has also increased, particularly in the manufacturing sector; only one of Liverpool's largest manufacturing employers was locally based and controlled. Conversely, in the service sector there is still a relatively significant degree of local control, which partly reflects the greater numbers of, and employment in, smaller firms.

The 1970s saw the continuation of trends towards increasing female activity rates. The female share of total employment increased from 41 per cent. in 1971 to 42.5 per cent. in 1976. That reflected the increased participation by women generally in the labour market as a result of changing social attitudes and economic circumstances and the increasing service sector bias of the city's economy; in 1976, females accounted for 50 per cent. of total service sector employment, compared with 30 per cent. for manufacturing.

The relative increase in female employment is totally accounted for by the service sector. Moreover, even within this sector, female full-time employment has declined and the increase has been due entirely to a rise in part-time employment. The figures of the Merseyside data bank show a 17 per cent. increase in female part-time service employment between 1971 and 1975 compared with a 6 per cent. decrease in full-time employment. This shows that Merseyside's underlying problems are centered around the decline of traditional industries and a massive loss of job opportunities. No one on Merseyside believes that the area's problems can be resolved in the old traditional industries. The problems cannot be seen in isolation or resolved in isolation. The decline of the port of Liverpool has had a major effect on the hinterland of Merseyside. The policies that have been pursued by this Government and the previous Administration in attempting to overcome the problems have, in many instances, worsened the difficulties on the periphery of the city and brought Liverpool no advantage.

The House must recognise that Merseyside's problems are real and should not be brushed aside as the carping of Merseyside Members. I do not believe that the solutions to the area's problems will be resolved by any of the attempts that are now being made. There have been attempts in the past to tinker with the problem by using instruments such as special development area status, enterprise zones and development corporations. These policies have been pursued for quite a long time and they been accompanied by further job losses. There is no sign of any end to the closures and redundancies and the rapid decline in job opportunities.

It would be wrong of the Government to ignore what is happening on Merseyside and to continue to offer the same old palliatives in search of a solution. The situation that prevails on Merseyside—it has been with us for some time—is made worse by the absence of hope. In the 1960s there was a feeling of new hope. It was felt that the industries coming to the area at that time would create the diversification that many thought would be necessary for the future of Liverpool specifically and for Merseyside generally. Those hopes have been dashed by the dramatic domino effect of major factory closures. I represented the Garston constituency when I was a Member of this place previously, and it was during the period of the previous Labour Government that 7,000 jobs were lost in my constituency alone. That is evidence that the problem has been with us for some time and that Governments have failed to arrest it or to find a solution.

The problems facing Merseyside are the problems facing Britain. I do not suggest that what is happening on Merseyside is not true of other areas. The Labour Government may have pursued policies that were different in emphasis and direction, but the downward spiral continued while that Government were in office. There was a decline in job opportunities and in the fabric of the city. Unemployment is a cancer that seeps into every aspect of life in the city. It has clearly had an effect on the people who live in Liverpool and on Merseyside. The only surprise about the events at Toxteth two years ago was that they took so long to erupt. Nobody welcomed them. We want the problems that led to the events at Toxteth to be solved, but the present silence might be misread by the Government. If the Government do not solve the problem, we might have an even more serious repeat performance.

As I have said, the problems of Merseyside cannot be reviewed or resolved in isolation. That is proven by the fact that the policies that the previous Labour Government pursued with good intentions did not solve the problems of the city. We must make a proper assessment of what we intend to do about the decline in some of our traditional industrial centres. It is an example of the system's disregard for areas in the north that created the nation's great wealth that those areas are now being left obsolete to decay. No real effort to solve the problem is being made. The people of Liverpool and Merseyside reflected their views at the general election. If the threat to major traditional industrial conurbations continues, what has happened in Merseyside will spread.

I hope that this debate will draw the Government's attention to the problems that lie below the surface in Liverpool and Merseyside. They face major problems that are endemic in the system in which we live. I do not suppose that I shall ever persuade a Tory Minister to adopt real Socialist policies to overcome the problems that face the people and the city, but the Government disregard circumstances in major cities at their peril. The Government are pursuing policies that are based on a magic formula whereby cuts in public expenditure will, by a mechanism that is unknown to most people, find their way to manufacturing industries and regenerate our manufacturing base. It has been going on for some time, and there is no sign that that mechanism exists by which public expenditure cuts result in massive investment in places such as Liverpool and Merseyside, and regions such as the north-west and the north-east. In those regions there is a feeling that the Government do not have any regard for the plight of the jobs and industries in them.

I know that the Government will set their face against my claim that the only way forward for cities such as Liverpool lies in providing public expenditure. I am not talking about the sort of public expenditure that is used for purposes other than the creation of real jobs and the regeneration of industry in that area. We must face the facts. For example, the poll once employed 20,000 people and it is now employing fewer than 3,000. Indeed, demands are being made for more redundancies and voluntary severances to reduce that figure still further. The area was also dependent on the shipbuilding and ship repair industry, and in the 1950s it employed more than 20,000 men. Again, that figure is now down to about 3,000. There has been no compensation through the introduction of new and real long-term jobs into the area to make up for the massive drain on jobs that has gone on throughout the post-war period.

I hope that the Government will consider the situation on Merseyside and that they will stop offering palliatives almost as if they were offering aspirin for a cancer that is deeply rooted into this, and many other cities in Britain. I also hope that the Government will recognise that the people of that city have been tolerant. However, I believe that that tolerance has come to an end. The Government will face major problems unless something positive is done very soon.

8.46 am
Mr. Gerald Bermingham (St. Helens, South)

Many of the technical points about the problems of Merseyside have been eloquently dealt with by my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Garston (Mr. Loyden). I shall concentrate briefly on the non-city areas of Merseyside. The problems there are identical to those of the city. The areas are full of ancient and well-established industries, which have suffered during the past four years. Indeed, industry has begun to fail, due sometimes to lack of investment and sometimes to changing technology. It is also beginning to be neglected by the Government.

I think, for example, of the coal, glass, chemical, printing and engineering industries. In each and every case there has been a decline in the employment prospects for Merseyside. Indeed, in my constituency, and those constituencies bordering it, there has been a remarkable loss of jobs in the glass industry. As I have said before in the House, the glass industry is dependent on the construction industry, because, of course, glass is used in building.

I draw the attention of the House to the written questions that I asked about the state of the construction industry in the past four years. In both the public and private sectors the number of new starts has declined steadily. That has meant, in turn, that less glass has been required. The glass industry has suffered not only from that problem but from the beginnings of import penetration. I do not wish to repeat the answers that I received—which are on the record—when I asked for help in that respect. Two of the coal pits are in, and on the borders of my constituency. There has been a decline in the coal industry, and again we face a threat there.

However, as my hon. Friend said, Merseyside's problem is much deeper than that. It is reflected in the questions that I asked about employment in St. Helens travel-to-work area. The figures showed that 25 per cent. of those unemployed had been out of work for more than 12 months. An increasing number of young people were unemployed, and had failed to obtain skill training or to develop a career on leaving school. Merseyside needs investment and help. Without them, we shall not have the industrial base that will be so necessary for the future. Without that industrial base there will be no training opportunities, and the youngsters in the area will not have the skill training for future careers.

At the same time we are building a time bomb, because as people fall out of work, stay out of work and lose the chance to improve their lot, resentment slowly and sadly grows. Merseyside, and especially St. Helens, are neglected. Unless the Government stop giving out simple palliatives and consider the problem in depth, and realise that the local work force contains much inherent skill and ability, and say, "What should we do to provide new development", I warn the Government that Merseyside will erupt, because one cannot for ever kick and one cannot for ever hold down. Our young people are not getting a chance, our industry is losing out, and we need help. I have asked through written questions, oral questions and through a speech made in the House for help for Merseyside, and especially for St. Helens. I ask again for that help today, because without it life will be extremely bleak.

8.52 am
The Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Sir George Young)

With the leave of the House, I shall reply to the points made by the hon. Members for Liverpool, Garston (Mr. Loyden) and for St. Helens, South (Mr. Bermingham). On the analysis of the problems facing Merseyside there is little between us, but the gap widens when it comes to the evaluation of current initiatives, and it broadens into a huge gulf when we consider the future. I do not share the doom-laden Wagnerian scenario with which both hon. Members ended their speeches. That was a policy of despair, which the Government reject.

The area suffers from an appalling legacy of long-standing economic decline. It has a poor physical environment and a low level of economic activity, which mutually reinforce a downward spiral. The rundown of the port, about which the hon. Member for Garston spoke, with the changing patterns of trade, the associated decline of a port-related industry and of a coherent manufacturing sector on Merseyside are elements that have contributed to the present position. Towards the end of his speech, the hon. Gentleman invited me to implement Socialist solutions. It will come as no surprise to him that I do not propose to do that, even after having been up all night. The Government recognise the problems, and successive Governments have taken steps to encourage improvement in Merseyside's economic and social conditions. Examples include designation as a special development area, the advanced factory building programme, motorway and trunk road building, and special financial assistance under the urban programme to improve conditions in the inner areas. The inner area of Liverpool is one of the seven inner city partnership areas in England, and other Merseyside local authorities have also received support through the urban programme.

It is worth putting this in perspective, because not all is gloom on Merseyside. Recently Cammell Laird obtained an order for an accommodation rig, and Vauxhall has announced the introduction of double shift working at Ellesmere Port. There have been announcements of substantial investments by, among others, Higsons brewery, Shell and Ford. English Industrial Estates has switched its building emphasis to the smaller units and announced that in 1982 it managed to let a greater number of units than before. British American Tobacco's small workshops in south Brunswick docks in Toxteth have proved popular, and small firm workshops are being developed at St. Helens and Birkenhead. In addition, the Merseyside task force and the Manpower Services Commission have launched a number of special training initiatives on Merseyside, including three commercial business training centres, and assisted in the setting up of the information technology centres, of which seven are in operation on Merseyside, and a further four have been announced.

The Merseyside Development Corporation has been one of the major initiatives over the past few years. It is now one of two urban development corporations in the country charged with the task of regenerating 860 acres of disused dockland in Liverpool, Birkenhead and Sefton.

The Speke enterprise zone, which was established in August 1981, includes the 1 million sq. ft. factory formerly owned by British Leyland.

The hon. Member for St. Helens, South urged more housing investment. Local authorities have been allocated considerable financial resources to improve housing conditions. In recent years, the housing corporation has given substantial support to local housing associations.

The Merseyside task force is an added ingredient intended to promote new and imaginative approaches to tackling seemingly intractable problems and to encouraging the public and private sectors, with local communities, to work together.

There has been a frontal attack on derelict land in the area. We have mounted a £10 million programme for 1983–84, including a unique experiment at the urban fringe through "Operation Groundwork". These factors together add up to a massive programme of central Government support for the area.

Housing is a vital element. Overall, the housing capital provision for Merseyside in 1983–84, including the availability of a prescribed proportion of capital receipts, means that the authorities should be able to improve upon their level of housing activity in 1982–83. A further £5 million above normal allocations has been set aside specifically for innovative local authority housing schemes. Examples of these are the housing action programme at Edge lane in Sefton and the scheme currently being developed at Woodchurch on the Wirral.

The housing corporation's allocation to Merseyside of £53 million for the current year has been boosted by over £5 million for special housing initiatives, including additional schemes to promote shared ownership, the development of the Anglican cathedral precinct site, and special housing association activity to improve housing conditions in the Princes boulevard area.

The Liverpool inner city partnerships allocation of £24.1 million, geared primarily to tackling the industrial and environmental problems of the inner area, has been supplemented by a special package of projects aimed at fostering tourism, which total almost £3.4 million.

The Merseyside Development Corporation has been given the powers and the resources to reclaim the extensive derelict areas of disused docks, to rehabilitate former dock buildings and to seek out profitable private sector development and make use of them. In particular, a vast derelict area, which includes the former south docks, is well on the way to complete redevelopment in preparation for the international garden festival in 1984. This is one of the most substantial inner city regeneration schemes in post-war Britain and it is expected to attract more than 3 million visitors to the area. That will leave a legacy of lasting benefit in terms of social and recreational facilities and housing and industrial development.

On 15 February this year my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State announced a special additional allocation of £10 million for derelict land reclamation on Merseyside. The programme gives priority to those projects where there is a real prospect of after use—for example, industrial or housing development following reclamation, sites in public sector ownership which have been entered in the land register, and sites where reclamation would contribute to the general uplift of a particular area and complement existing initiatives, such as at the Knowsley industrial park.

The Merseyside task force has been given no special powers. Under the leadership and direction of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, its main function has been to work with local agencies —local authorities, private companies and voluntary groups—and to be part of the team charged with the task of getting individual projects under way. Priority has been given to projects which would bring vacant land and buildings into use; help revive local business confidence; directly improve living conditions; and encourage new ways for public and private local organisations to work together and to involve the local community. Their initiatives include the Stockbridge village, about which I am sure both hon. Gentlemen know, Minster court and the community refurbishment scheme. They are good examples of how existing elements of public sector funding can be packaged together in an imaginative way to meet problems that have dragged on for years and would have continued to do so.

Support for local businesses is equally important. Work under way to improve the Knowsley industrial park includes upgrading the environment, improving the road network and establishing an association to represent companies' views. A private sector secondee with the task force has worked with local companies advising them on a wide range of individual problems. The Anglican cathedral precinct site lies at the heart of Liverpool—

It being Nine o'clock on Tuesday morning, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.

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