HL Deb 26 February 1996 vol 569 cc1225-8

2.56 p.m.

Lord Dormand of Easington asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they have any additional proposals to improve the economy of the northern region.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Transport (Viscount Goschen)

My Lords, the Government continue to support the vigorous development of the northern region through our national economic policies, effective partnership, including the private sector, and by continuing improvements in the local delivery of services to business.

Lord Dormand of Easington

My Lords, some of the recent developments in the region are welcome. But is the Minister aware that the northern region has the highest level of long-term unemployment in the country outside Northern Ireland? Is he further aware that some parts of the northern region have very high unemployment indeed because of their history and structure? When a pit is closed—and all the pits in the northern region are now closed—as many as 2,000 men may be put out of work. Does he believe that present government policies are dealing with that problem?

Viscount Goschen

My Lords, the noble Lord is quite right to highlight the recent positive developments in the region, particularly in the field of inward investment, where the region has attracted some £4 billion worth of inward investment, which is clearly very good news indeed. Of course the region has suffered historically from its changing industrial base. That is why we have put considerable efforts into regeneration and into addressing the specific problems caused by the closure of the coal-mines. Through the work we have done with the TECs, British Coal Enterprise and English Estates, we have developed a wide range of policies to address specifically the problems caused by those changes.

Lord Elliott of Morpeth

My Lords, does my noble friend appreciate that those of us who live in the northern region are fully aware of its transformation caused by the influx of new industry and investment encouraged by the Government in recent years? Will be accept that at this time there are more young people than ever before doing some form of training in the northern region? Will be accept also that unemployment continues to fall, even though I recognise that it is still too high? Finally, does he appreciate that Newcastle United Football Club is at the head of the premier division?

Viscount Goschen

My Lords, I rely on my noble friend for my sporting information. On the more serious points, training is a very high priority and that area has been targeted through the TECs. Unemployment continues to fall in the region, and that is very good news indeed. My noble friend's remarks reflect the optimism that has been caused by that major injection of inward investment. There really has been a terrific boom in the region which attracts more inward investment than any other area in Europe.

Lord Haskel

My Lords, will the Minister join me in complimenting the local councils, which have been most instrumental in attracting inward investment? I should point out that most of those councils are Labour controlled.

Viscount Goschen

My Lords, local authorities, in partnership with the Conservative Government, have succeeded in attracting those considerable levels of investment into the region. I believe that our overall enthusiasm for attracting such investment transcends even party boundaries. We feel that there is a strong feeling of partnership involved, and that is something upon which we have been working extremely hard.

Lord Peston

My Lords, I was a little disappointed to hear that the noble Viscount believes that the performance of Newcastle United is of minor importance. In fact, there is a fair amount of research evidence which shows a positive correlation between the performance of football teams and the local economy. However, that is an incidental point.

The Question actually refers to "additional proposals" rather than just proposals. Therefore, does the Minister agree that the persistence of long-term unemployment suggests that at least something more needs to be done? Aside from the excellent feelings about inward investment, that obviously does not greatly assist with long-term unemployment, which will often occur among older men for whom something additional is required. Do the Government have anything to say on that aspect of the matter?

Viscount Goschen

Yes, my Lords; clearly inward investment is extremely important. However, it is only part of the story. The other efforts that we have been making have been towards regeneration. We have been targeting funding through the single regeneration budget, with some £240 million allocated to projects in the north east to date. That is the largest allocation for any region outside London. The urban development corporations have also carried out extremely good work, and we have been pursuing the City Challenges, with six approved challenges in the north east and some £37.5 million guaranteed public support. In addition, there are enterprise zones. Indeed, there is a wide range of policies. The key challenge for the region now is to face the competitiveness agenda and to ensure that it takes forward its competitiveness into the next century.

Lord Dormand of Easington

My Lords, in his reply to me the Minister mentioned the TECs. However, is he aware that it was revealed over the weekend that three of the TECs in County Durham are now in the red? Surely something ought to be done about that situation. Further, and on an equally important matter, does the Minister accept that the Northern Development Company has a crucial role to play in the regeneration of the region, especially as it consists of the employers, the trade unions and the local authorities? If the noble Viscount agrees with that view, will be give the House an assurance that its government grant will not be reduced next year?

Viscount Goschen

My Lords, I should point out that TECs are extremely important in terms of training. The noble Lord and the House will be aware of the efforts that have been put into them to achieve the training objectives that we have set for the region. Indeed, they are extremely important. As regards the noble Lord's specific question, I shall endeavour to find the information and, if he will permit me, I shall write to him. On the question of development corporations—

Lord Dormand of Easington

The Northern Development Company.

Viscount Goschen

Again, my Lords, if the noble Lord will permit me, I shall look into the specific issues in terms of the funding of the development company. I understood him to be referring to the development corporations, which of course have been a tremendous success, have performed the time-limited role, and, indeed, have benefited from the noble Lord's services over a number of years.

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