Kidderminster Enterprise Zone
Mark Garnier (Wyre Forest, Conservative)
My hon. Friend makes a very good point. The whole point about an enterprise zone is that it will not only help people in the immediate vicinity, but attract many people and a lot of economic activity from a fairly wide area—a point I will develop later in
my speech. The economy of the south of the county looks to the rural and research-based drivers in her constituency, and the north of the county looks to the black country as its engine for growth. It is for this reason that strengthening the advanced manufacturing base in the north of the county will draw down the manufacturing prosperity of the black country into Worcestershire.
The issues Worcestershire faces are important and the LEP has already got to grips with the major economic priorities and challenges that the county will face in the coming years. Crucially, private sector employment shrunk over the past decade by 1%. This trend was more marked in the north of the county, with Kidderminster seeing an 8% reduction in private sector employment and Redditch seeing a 14% reduction. That said, Redditch has a greater proportion of manufacturing jobs in the region, which is encouraging.
Moreover, work by the West Midlands Regional Observatory shows that Kidderminster and, to a lesser extent, Redditch suffer from problems relating to longer-term restructuring and job losses from the contraction of their industrial base, lower employment rates and higher claimant levels, especially among young people, and a higher proportion of the working-age population having no qualifications at all. To deal with those issues, the LEP sees restructuring the local economy away from public sector jobs, supporting and growing the tourism industry, and building on the industrial assets in the north as the key priorities. It was with this in mind that the Worcestershire LEP identified Kidderminster as the unanimous option for the Worcestershire bid for an enterprise zone.
The town of Kidderminster was once the hub of the world’s carpet industry, with some 20,000 people employed in that key industry as recently as the ’70s and ’80s. Carpets declined as the preferred floor covering, although I am pleased to say that that trend is now in reverse.