Employment, Universities and Skills and Housing

Part of Business of the House – in the House of Commons at 10:01 pm on 8th December 2008.

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Photo of Tobias Ellwood Tobias Ellwood Shadow Minister (Culture, Media and Sport) 10:01 pm, 8th December 2008

Two in three of all jobs created are in the public sector, according to the Financial Times today. Four in five jobs created by the Government have been given to migrant workers.

We had a brief discussion about the importance of level 3 apprenticeships. The number is down and has been falling for the last seven years, yet those apprenticeships are critical in supporting businesses' employment and training needs. The Government are not taking us in the right direction.

More important is the worrying cultural change and the attitude of today's youth towards work. A small but increasing number of people are growing up to believe that it is acceptable to live off the state. The economic and social significance of that is extremely serious. With limited ambitions, people do not gain educational qualifications to the same standard, skills are not obtained and the capability of the work force is diminished. If there is one failure that hangs round the neck of the new Labour project, it is that it has overseen a generation's declining aspiration in favour of the expectation of state support. It has never been easier for Britons to be sponsored by Government to do nothing. That is a sad indictment of where we are today. It not only costs the state more in increased handouts, but there is a loss of potential income tax, which means less money for the Government to inject in the economy.

An area of the economy that is suffering, and has not been mentioned yet, is tourism. It is Britain's fifth biggest industry and of huge importance. It generates revenue of about £90 billion a year and is considered the hidden giant of our economy. Tourism is twice the size of the IT sector and four times the size of the agricultural sector, yet it is rarely mentioned. It is responsible for one in four of the new jobs created in the UK, and with 30 million visitors to the UK every year we are the sixth most popular country in international tourist tables—something of which we can be very proud indeed.

The recession is not just affecting businesses through the banking crisis, but also because fewer people are choosing to holiday and to travel from abroad to seek work in the service industries. Labour is ignoring the problems of the tourism industry. When I asked the Minister with responsibility for tourism when she last had conversations with her counterparts in the Departments for Transport and for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, and indeed the Treasury, I found that such meetings never happen. No one in the Government is looking after tourism from the Government perspective.

To make matters worse, a complicated and confusing structure is compounded by devolution. Visit Scotland does its own thing, as do Visit Wales and Visit England. Regional development agencies disperse responsibility for tourism around nine regions, to the point that in Boston, Massachusetts there are separate offices for six RDAs representing different corners of Britain, all trying to attract people to the UK. How mad is that? There is overlap that needs to be addressed, but it has not been done because no one in the Government is taking responsibility.

Another example of poor co-ordination is between the Home Office and the tourism industry. Visa costs have jumped by 130 per cent. according to the Tourism Alliance, which has led to a loss of about £160 million a year. That is bad enough, but if we look at who is coming to Britain, we see that although there were 100,000 applications for British visas from China last year, France and Germany receive 500,000 tourists from China every year. That is simply because the visa for those countries is so much cheaper.

Heathrow is another great example of a failure of co-ordination between Departments to ensure that the gateway to Britain is something of which we can be proud. The Heathrow experience is now listed as most business people's first bad impression of Great Britain, yet no one takes responsibility for co-ordinating all the agencies, organisations and Government Departments so that we can try to correct that.

A recent report by Deloitte shows that there is an absence of proper Government support that would allow the United Kingdom to punch above its weight when it comes to tourism. The last tourism Bill to pass through Parliament did so in 1969. We are overdue an assessment of where British tourism stands. One industry that could have been helped is the pub industry. I am sure that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, are a supporter of your local traditional pub, as many of us are. It is in such pubs that responsible drinking takes place. Sadly, 36 of those traditional pubs shut every week. Once they are closed, they are gone for good.

What have the Government done to help those pubs? They decided to increase duty on alcohol. There are reasons why they did that, to do with tackling the booze culture, but the move affects traditional pubs across the board. Apparently, duties have gone up to negate the reduction in VAT, but when VAT goes back up again next year, will duties go back down? No. It is yet another whammy that will hit our traditional pubs.

The reduction in VAT is viewed as a joke. Many small and medium-sized businesses in the tourism industry are already offering 15 per cent. discounts, so reducing VAT by 1, 2 or 3 per cent. is negligible; it has no impact whatever. The administrative changes needed to show the reduction in VAT will cost each retailer an average of about £2,300—and the change is to be for just one year. Tourism is important to Britain, yet we are not harnessing the opportunities that British tourism could provide. That attitude will not change until the Government start to appreciate this £90 billion industry, which accounts for 1.4 million full-time employees—that is 7 per cent. of the work force—and 200,000 small and medium-sized businesses.

I shall conclude, because I know that time is against us. We enter the stormy seas of this recession poorly prepared, and we are all the more exposed as a result of failure to navigate the quickest course out of it. Instead of assisting small businesses, we are burdening them with higher taxes. Instead of helping banks to provide loans, the Government are loaning taxpayers' money to banks at 12 per cent. interest, which means that there is no liquidity to pass on. Instead of harnessing the full economic potential of the next generation, the Government are fuelling a cultural shift towards mediocrity.

I fear that only a change in Government will invigorate people and bring about the seismic shift that is needed to reverse that flawed attitude. I hope that after that change, we will be able to rejuvenate the next generation, so that they stay in school until they are 18 not just because the Government tell them to, but because they want to; so that they seek a job not because otherwise they will lose their benefit, but because they have a skill on which they can build, that gives them a good salary and of which they can be proud. For the sake of Britain, the sooner the next general election is called, the better.

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