HC Deb 18 December 1997 vol 303 cc475-8
8. Mr. Olner

How many jobs she estimates have been created in the United Kingdom since 1 May as a result of inward investment. [19875]

Mr. Ian McCartney

In addition to projects already notified to the Invest in Britain Bureau since 1 May involving 7,893 new jobs, there have been some more recent announcements such as Capital One creating 900 jobs in the east midlands, ADI creating 600 new jobs in the north-east, Cadence creating 1,800 new jobs in Scotland and Pfizer creating 1,000 new jobs in the south-east. That is clear evidence that the United Kingdom remains the best place in Europe for companies to do business.

Mr. Olner

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. That some of those new jobs have been created in the midlands is particularly welcome. Can my hon. Friend confirm that those jobs have been created because of the Government's economic competence and because of their ties with Europe and the fact that they want to work in partnership with fellow European firms? Will he also comment on the fact that inward investment is not at all threatened by the fact that we want to introduce a minimum wage to make working conditions tolerable for the lower-paid?

Mr. McCartney

I thank my hon. Friend for that question. The hallmark of all that inward investment is good employment practice, investment in the work force, training and good working conditions. They make for a successful enterprise. The marked feature of those companies that have announced the creation of new jobs today, and those that have done so in the past, is that they want to work in partnership with the Government not only here but in Europe and in partnership with their work forces. By doing so, they will create and build a better economy in the United Kingdom.

Mr. Tom King

The Minister has recognised the importance of inward investment, so could he comment on the statement that appeared in this week's edition of The Economist that whereas the agenda of the Industrial Development Advisory Board used to have a considerable number of items on it for consideration which were designed to support inward investment, the last four meetings of it have been cancelled because of the absence of any items to be included on that agenda?

Mr. McCartney

The IDAB meets when it needs to meet to make investment decisions. This country has a significant number of on-going projects which, if successful, will create thousands of new jobs, such as those that I have just announced. Since 1 May, more than 7,000 jobs have been created. The Government are working to maintain Britain as the No. 1 location for inward investment and it will remain thus because of the Government's policies.

Mr. Derek Foster

Will my hon. Friend take this opportunity to commend the outstanding record of the Northern Development Company, which has won inward investment under the chairmanship of Sir George Russell? Will he further ensure that a Dutch auction between Scotland, Wales and the English regions for winning new jobs is avoided at all costs? Will he ensure that there is a level playing field for the English regions?

Mr. McCartney

I thank my right hon. Friend for that helpful question, which gives me an opportunity to make it clear that this Government, and this Government alone, have started to take a co-ordinated approach towards the English regions, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. As a consequence, senior Ministers are considering the arrangements for the concordat between all parts of the United Kingdom and there will be an announcement on those arrangements when they are ready. The concordat will ensure that Britain remains the No. 1 European investment portfolio. That will mean that every part of the United Kingdom—Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and the English regions—will have the opportunity to attract new investment and new jobs.

Mr. Chidgey

Does the Minister share my concern at the fact that the withdrawal of a number of major investments from the far east owing to the particular problems there is now threatening the expected job creation programmes in those areas? Does he accept that competition for inward investment on the basis of Government grants alone is becoming more or less unsustainable? Is not the key issue in most of the decisions the quality and level of skills of the local work force? In the context of the Government's programme for a concordat to spread best practice throughout the regions, what action does the Minister propose to take to ensure that that best practice includes high skills training that is spread outward and implemented through the regional development agencies?

Mr. McCartney

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to say that we cannot rely on grants alone. What is required is a package that includes infrastructure, skills development, new skills, the upgrading of skills and the opportunity for employers to enter a local labour market and succeed because the necessary skills exist. That is why my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade is to issue a competitiveness White Paper, working with industry, and establishing a benchmark and audit to ensure that, in every sector of the economy, skills are upgraded and skills shortages can be dealt with.

This is the first Government in two decades to have taken the issue seriously, which is why industry after industry is working with the Government to improve the competitiveness of the UK economy. That process includes many of the inward investments that are now working with the Department of Trade and Industry to ensure the upgrading of skills and infrastructure.

Mr. Stevenson

Does my hon. Friend expect any further inward investment initiatives involving the Nomura bank of Japan? As the bank is reported to have made a £350 million windfall profit as a result of the sale of a train rolling stock company—a valuable public asset that was disposed of by the previous Government at about half its value—do the Government expect the beneficiaries of the windfall profit to be looking to invest in the United Kingdom?

Mr. McCartney

We as a Government have a clear policy of trying to attract inward investment from a range of sources that includes companies, such as the one mentioned by my hon. Friend, which have a record of investment. We want to try to ensure that, whatever the company and wherever the company's headquarters, it will invest in the United Kingdom. That will bring new investment and new job opportunities to a range of sectors in the United Kingdom economy.

Mr. Boswell

It is nice to stand opposite the Minister of State at the Dispatch Box and hear him concede that the inward investment position that he inherited from the previous Government was the strongest in Europe. Has he noticed that, despite the minor league successes that he has claimed, when it comes to the main event, the cup final, the score is Toyota 1-United Kingdom 1 under a Conservative Government and Toyota 2-United Kingdom 0 under a Labour Government? Is that not a good litmus test of the success or comparative success of investment policies? Will the Minister spend a little time over the Christmas recess searching his conscience and reflecting on whether a number of aspects of the present Government's policy, including the minimum wage, may be damaging our competitiveness and our attraction?

Mr. McCartney

I know that the hon. Gentleman has been in the job for less than 24 hours, but he did not need to come to the Dispatch Box just to show how ignorant he is of the subject that he has been given at such short notice. Toyota has made it absolutely clear that it has invested in two of its three European models in the United Kingdom. The company has already said that it will increase its investment in the UK and that the UK is central to its European operations. It has also said that 50 per cent. and more of the goods and services going into the French plant will come from the UK supply base exporting into Europe. As for the minimum wage, in raising that subject in the way he did, perhaps the hon. Gentleman should also have declared an interest.