West Midlands (Regional Assistance)

Oral Answers to Questions — Trade and Industry – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 5th June 1985.

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Mr. John Mark Taylor:

asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry how many applications for regional assistance have so far been received in the newly designated assisted area in the west midlands.

Photo of Mr Norman Lamont Mr Norman Lamont , Kingston upon Thames

Up to 24 May, 369 applications for assistance had been received by the Department's west midlands regional office.

Mr. Taylor:

I thank my hon. Friend for that encouraging reply. Perhaps I could put to him the equally important question: is he satisfied that west midlands industry has been adequately informed about the range of assistance available under regional aid so that it might not say that it has not been given sufficient information?

Photo of Mr Norman Lamont Mr Norman Lamont , Kingston upon Thames

That is unlikely, as we have received more than 7,000 inquiries about regional selective assistance since the scheme's inception. Indeed, in case of doubt, we have gone out of our way to advertise such services, with about 40 seminars, which have been attended by more than 4,000 business men. My hon. Friend might like to know that the inquiries received by the Department and those that have become firm applications are equal to £100 million of expenditure— that is, grants of £11·8 million—which would create or safeguard about 7,400 jobs.

Photo of David Winnick David Winnick , Walsall North

Is the Minister aware of the large-scale redundancies and closures in the west midlands and the fact that, apart from Northern Ireland, that region now has the largest percentage of people unemployed for longer than 12 months? When will the Government recognise the tremendous harm that they have done to the west midlands by their disastrous economic policies? The people of the west midlands want to be able to earn their own living again, but there is no sign that such a policy will come from this Government.

Photo of Mr Norman Lamont Mr Norman Lamont , Kingston upon Thames

The Government have done two things. First, they have categorised parts of the west midlands as assisted areas. I have given information that shows that potentially there is a great deal of help available for firms in those areas.

Secondly, through their support of British Leyland, the Government have put a great deal of money into supporting not only the motor industry in the west midlands but those who supply it.

Photo of Mr Martin Brandon-Bravo Mr Martin Brandon-Bravo , Nottingham South

When dealing with the applications, will my hon. Friend ensure that they are not simply transferring existing jobs from one part of the country to another? Has he considered the possible inadvertence of enabling a foreign manufacturer to reduce his surplus manufacturing capacity at marginal cost by assembling in this country? Will he look carefully at the activities of the Sprick Corporation of West Germany and the possible adverse effects on TI Raleigh in my constituency?

Photo of Mr Norman Lamont Mr Norman Lamont , Kingston upon Thames

Obviously I shall consider the case my hon. Friend mentioned. When giving selective assistance to foreign investors in Britain, one of the major factors that we take into account is the impact on existing firms. Therefore, that is already part of the system. On the point about transferring jobs, my hon. Friend will know that as a result of our review of regional policy we have tightened the criteria to reduce the element of job shuffling.

Photo of Geoffrey Robinson Geoffrey Robinson Shadow Spokesperson (Trade and Industry)

On the question of Government aid to the west midlands, I am sure that the Minister is aware of the critical decision at Talbot, given the hold-up of payments on the Iran contract. Is he aware that with the barter trade arrangements, which we know are notoriously difficult, complex and at a difficult stage, the collapse of the Iran contract could prejudice the whole of the Talbot operation in the west midlands, with 10,000 jobs at stake? If his Department is not already active, will he consider taking an initiative to resolve the problem?

Photo of Mr Norman Lamont Mr Norman Lamont , Kingston upon Thames

I assure the hon. Gentleman that I am extremely involved in that matter. We are well aware of the position and are doing everything that we can to help.