The Economy

Part of Council Tax Rebate – in the House of Commons at 6:11 pm on 31st March 2009.

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Photo of Richard Burden Richard Burden Chair, West Midlands Regional Select Committee 6:11 pm, 31st March 2009

I know that the hon. Lady has a great constituency interest in Jaguar Land Rover as a firm that is strategically important throughout the region and beyond. Discussions have been going on for some time between the company and the Government about ensuring that support is there and that the loans from the European Investment Bank come through. It is vital that those discussions are brought to a successful conclusion.

The hon. Lady mentioned LDV, which I intended to consider next. I often criticise the current administration of Birmingham city council because what it says about itself often exaggerates what it does in practice. However, it was right this weekend to announce waiving business rates for LDV, and it is looking to make orders for that company's products. That was the right decision, and I welcome today's announcement by the Chancellor on doing more about business rates. It is also important that Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs is as flexible as possible in its dealings with LDV. We must all do what we can to ensure that the company gets the support that it needs from the EIB and that other public authorities use their procurement powers to buy the kind of vehicles it produces. In Britain, we have the capacity, skills and technology to produce the low-carbon vehicles of the future, but people and firms must buy them. Public authorities are in a great position to do that. We can also help stimulate investment in the private sector through purchasing those products in the west midlands and elsewhere. Some extension of annual investment allowance would help.

Let me make two other points. First, my hon. Friend Mr. Hoyle mentioned training subsidies and subsidies for short-time working. When an economic downturn happens, it is far better to invest to keep people in work and upskill them than to pay for the consequences of their losing their jobs. Contrary to the position in many parts of the country, the west midlands still invests in training. The figures there are still better than in a lot of other places, but we need to do more to help. A temporary wage subsidy for short-time working must be an important part of that. Part of providing the training is that we have to have the facilities to train people. That is why I want to mention something that straddles both training and construction.

There are genuine questions about how the Learning and Skills Council's capital programme has got into the position that it is in and about how it has become so over-committed. When investment in infrastructure in the third and fourth quarters of last year was still positive nationally, but dramatically falling in the west midlands, now is not the time to allow vital capital projects to go down, either for training reasons or for the construction industry.

A central plank of the regeneration of the Longbridge site in my part of Birmingham is the relocation of Bournville college to that site, with a state-of-the-art building whose construction will provide new jobs in the short term and new opportunities for quality skills training for generations coming through. That will be a visible catalyst to enable south-west Birmingham not simply to win through the current economic downturn, but to deal with the continuing effects of the huge blow that local communities suffered in 2005 when MG Rover collapsed. People in and around south-west Birmingham deserve that kind of fair deal. Keeping faith with the Longbridge project, including Bournville college, is part of that.

My right hon. Friends in the Government face formidable challenges. Their job is made no easier by the sniping from the sidelines by Opposition Members, who complain about the effects of the economic downturn but will not commit the resources that are needed to beat it. Ministers do not have the convenient luxury of opposition, but that does not alter the fact that the west midlands region needs urgent action in the short term if we are to seize the opportunities for the long term. That means urgent action on the automotive industry and doing more on infrastructure, particularly those infrastructure projects that are about building the human capital of the region. Colleges are part of that, including Bournville college.

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