HC Deb 20 January 1998 vol 304 cc800-2
2. Mr. Fallon

What representations he has received about the future of Locate in Scotland; and if he will make a statement. [21713]

The Minister for Education and Industry, Scottish Office (Mr. Brian Wilson)

My right hon. Friend has received representations from a number of individuals and organisations. We have made it clear, in response to such representations, that Locate in Scotland is and will remain an outstandingly effective inward investment agency.

Mr. Fallon

If there is no concern about Locate in Scotland's ability to compete fairly with the United Kingdom's other inward investment agencies, why is the Department of Trade and Industry negotiating a concordat between them all?

Mr. Wilson

I am more than confident of Locate in Scotland's ability to compete effectively. In the past two weeks, I have had the privilege of making a couple of announcements about substantial successes for Locate in Scotland. I am pleased to announce today another success, which is the attraction of 30 new jobs to Arbroath through Alps Electric (Scotland) Ltd., which is investing £350,000. I expect to make many more such announcements. All of that is a tribute to Locate in Scotland. Everybody who takes a serious interest in those matters knows that the last thing that Locate in Scotland wants is a free for all involving other agencies and prospective agencies in the United Kingdom putting up the bidding for the creation and attraction of jobs. It therefore makes sense to have a concordat involving all parts of the United Kingdom to deal particularly with expressions of interest from potential inward investors where initially the interest is generic to the whole of the UK.

Mr. Ernie Ross

I welcome the past successes of Locate in Scotland, but does my hon. Friend agree with Labour Members that, in the context of the Scottish Parliament, Locate in Scotland will have a pivotal role in attracting significant investment, as it has had over many years?

Mr. Wilson

I agree with my hon. Friend. Locate in Scotland will be accountable to the Scottish Parliament, and that is entirely as it should be. It will be an important part of its devolved functions. I have no doubt that Locate in Scotland will continue to be successful. Since the general election, it has been clear that all the scare stories from the Tories about either the change of Government or the constitutional settlement in the United Kingdom that we proposed were just that—scare stories. Inward investment decisions have continued to increase rather than diminish.

Mr. Kirkwood

In any review of Locate in Scotland's work, will the Minister consider the balance between investment in areas that already have access to regional development assistance and investment in the more rural areas that do not? I acknowledge the good work that Locate in Scotland has done in the past, but does he accept that it makes it much more difficult for Ministers to give any assistance to communities furth of the central industrial belt, in towns such as Hawick, in which the Minister has taken an interest recently?

Mr. Wilson

The regional selective assistance map will be reviewed, and I shall ensure that the hon. Gentleman's comments are taken into account. What comes through repeatedly in discussions with inward investors to Scotland is that, although money is an important part of the package, it is far from being the only factor. There may be overriding reasons to go to a part of Scotland that is not blessed in the way that the hon. Gentleman described. The skills of the labour force, the availability of workers and the environment are factors on which the Borders would rate favourably. My constituency has not done very well out of inward investment decisions in recent years, but it has the advantages to which the hon. Gentleman referred. That can work both ways, as many factors are taken into account. However, his comments will be noted and considered.

Mrs. McKenna

Does my hon. Friend agree that Locate in Scotland is one of the most successful inward investment agencies in Europe? The expansion a couple of weeks ago of the German company Isola Werke in my constituency to include another 300 jobs is one of its successes.

Mr. Wilson

Yes, that was the second announcement of the new year, and it was excellent. I would go further than my hon. Friend and say that I do not think that it is one of the most successful development agencies in Europe; it is the most successful. There is no doubt that a combination of the United Kingdom's overseas presence and what it does for inward investment, and the enormous value that is added by the activities of Locate in Scotland, give us a two-track approach that works extremely well in Scotland's interest and in the interests of the United Kingdom economy.

Mr. Alasdair Morgan

In his discussions on the concordat, will the Minister take into account the recent report of the Select Committee on Trade and Industry? Does he agree that any further restrictions on the activities of Locate in Scotland would be at the cost of jobs in Scotland?

Mr. Wilson

I was delighted with the Select Committee's report on inward investment. It bore out what I have been saying in recent months. There has been a lot of over-excited chatter about threats to Locate in Scotland, and a great deal of nonsense talked about its alleged poaching activities. The report was extremely encouraging on both grounds.

I assure the hon. Gentleman and anyone else that there is no conspiracy against Locate in Scotland. Everyone recognises that its work is good for Scotland and for the whole of the United Kingdom. In that spirit, Locate in Scotland will go forward, and a concordat makes sense. No one who takes a serious interest in this matter—as opposed to making silly nationalistic points—thinks that there is anything in it for Scotland to have a free for all in which agencies have an unfettered right to bid against one another, the result of which is that jobs cost more, not least to Scotland, and we lose rather than gain investors.

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