HC Deb 15 July 1988 vol 137 cc373-5W
Mr. Cousins

To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster if he will list the Government's achievements for the northern region on a basis comparable with the answer of the Secretary of State for Wales to the hon. Member for Cardiff, North (Mr. Jones) on 21 June,Official Report, columns 498–504.

Mr. Kenneth Clarke

[holding answer 11 July 1988]: I have outlined as follows the activities and achievements relevant to the work of the Department of Trade and Industry along with those appropriate to my wider inner cities brief.

Seasonally adjusted unemployment in the north has fallen by 31,500 over the past 12 months and now stands at its lowest level since April 1981. The total of unemployed school leavers is down by 24 per cent. over the past year. Vacancies continue to rise, while redundancies were 44 per cent. less in 1987 than in the previous year. The CBI and chambers of commerce report good progress in the regional economy in a wide range of industries, with output, sales and investment all buoyant and auguring well for further progress in the future. The number of employees in employment has risen by 13,000 in 1987 and by almost 50,000 since 1983. Similarly, self-employment in the region has increased by 400,000 since 1979, representing more than 40 per cent. of the nationwide increase in self-employment.

In the past year the north has attracted eight new inward investment projects from four countries. These projects involve fixed investment of £14 million and the creation of 1,173 jobs over three years. A further 11 overseas companies announced expansion plans in the region with investments totalling £327 million and creating 1,700 jobs as well as safeguarding a further 1,500 jobs over the next three years. Interest hn the region from overseas continues to show a dramatic increase, with inquiries in the year to June 1988 totalling 284, an increase of 83 per cent. on the previous year.

The Northern Development Company was allocated a total of £1.165 million for 1988–89 for its inward investment promotional programme and for wider activities in support of the region's small business sector and wider regional regeneration. This is an increase of £47,000 on the previous year, with the NDC receiving over 40 per cent. of the total DTI support for English regional development organisations.

In 1987–88, English Estates North completed over 659,000 sq ft of industrial work space at a cost of £19 million and let almost 1,500,000 sq ft of space.

Companies are registering for VAT at a rate of around 6,000 a year, comfortably exceeding deregistrations, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment informs me that the small firms centre in Newcastle dealt with nearly 9,800 inquiries in the six months to 30 June 1988, an increase of 11 per cent. on the: previous six months.

Since June 1987 a total of over 5,500 applications for regional development grant have been received. There have been 329 applications for regional selective assistance during the same period, 34 per cent. higher than the previous year. If the potential of the projects associated with these applications is fully realised, it will increase investment in the north by over £2,000 million and create over 65,000 jobs in the next few years.

Since the launch of the new enterprise initiative in January of this year the DTI has received 430 applications for consultancy assistance front the northern region, and since the launch of the regional enterprise grants in April over 500 inquiries have been received. Marketing of the new initiatives in the region to maximise take-up continues at high levels, and since January the DTI has participated in over 130 events, making direct contact with almost 4,000 representatives of local firms.

In the year to 30 June 1988 the DTI held 933 meetings with companies regarding export problems and participated in 39 seminars/workshops, which were attended by 578 companies. The Department arranged visits to the region for 69 commercial officers from posts worldwide, who were seen by 427 northern companies. The DTI also sponsored eight overseas trade missions organised by the Northern Development Company. As a result of this promotional activity, which continues at high levels, the Department found 177 potential or actual new exporters and attracted 43 companies to subscribe to the export intelligence service.

An application for an integrated development operations programme for the years 1989 to 1994 was submitted to the European Commission in May of this year on behalf of the counties of Cleveland and Durham. It is presently being considered by the Commission, and the Government are seeking speedy approval of the application. An application for an IDOP is being prepared for Tyne and Wear and south-east Northumberland. It is hoped that a formal submission to the Commission can be made shortly.

IDOP status will enable programme areas to obtain maximum and priority assistance under the various Community structural instruments (including the European regional development fund and European social fund). This will greatly assist progress towards economic regeneration in these areas in coordination with United Kingdom measures of regional industrial assistance, spending on infrastructure, and Training Commission schemes.

A great deal of redevelopment activity is taking place in inner areas in the region. The Tyne and Wear city action team and the Cleveland co-ordinating team are effectively co-ordinating Government spending of over £80 million a year in the inner a

£3 million spent so far out of the funds has triggered a total spend of £12 million. My task forces in Middlesbrough and Hartlepool have supported over 70 projects to the tune of £2,500,000, which has helped to trigger a further £9 million of supporting funds. But significantly we are seeing, in the northern inner areas, a revival of private sector-led regeneration. This was exemplified by the excellent response to the action for cities presentation held in Newcastle earlier this year. Another example is the Newcastle initiative, announced last month and involving a number of exciting and forward-looking projects for the regional capital. This initiative, led by the private sector., has received, and will continue to receive, the full support of the Government.