The Economy and Business, Innovation and Skills

Part of Corporation Tax Bill – in the House of Commons at 4:29 pm on 26th November 2009.

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Photo of Jim Cunningham Jim Cunningham Labour, Coventry South 4:29 pm, 26th November 2009

I was a little disappointed while listening to the shadow Chancellor, Mr. Osborne, outline how he would approach the current economic difficulties. Eighteen months or so ago, the Opposition's main argument was not to do with the economy; their theme then was that Britain was a broken society. Since then they have abandoned that, however, and they are now instead trying to suggest there was no international banking crisis, but that the difficulties were all down to the Labour Government, even though most people know that to be untrue. The current economic difficulties are different from the difficulties of the '80s; the current situation is an international crisis, whereas in the '80s it took place in this country and was Government-made. That is the fundamental difference, and it is one of the reasons why the current economic crisis is also a lot deeper.

I certainly remember the '80s, and it is worth while all of us remembering them. I have a manufacturing background, and in the '80s under the previous Government manufacturing was almost entirely massacred, certainly in the west midlands. We need only recall what happened to the car industry-what happened to all the car companies that were household names not only in our country, but internationally, and the small businesses that relied on them for their trade. There were some problems with Rolls-Royce, too. All that happened under the previous Government. The Conservatives do not like to talk about the past, because when we look at how they behaved in the past, it gives us a good idea as to how they will behave in the future.

In today's debate I have identified only one Conservative alternative proposal to our policies: public sector cuts. That has serious implications. Would such cuts mean that we would go back to having fewer doctors, nurses and schoolteachers? Would public sector pension funds come under attack? The throwaway line on those cuts in the shadow Chancellor's speech today gave a lot away, although he was not spelling it out. However, if the Conservatives want to be an alternative Government, they need to spell this out to the British people now; they cannot hide from that. All the shadow Chancellor did today was quote Labour MPs and attack the Chancellor or the Prime Minister. That was a smokescreen put up to hide the fact that his party's proposals would represent a return to the past in the form of a modern-day version of Thatcherite economics.

I want to discuss some matters of local concern for me and for my Coventry constituents, in particular the recent announcement by Ericsson that 700 jobs will go. A couple of years ago there was a similarly arbitrary proposal from Peugeot. It is clear from talking to the labour force that they feel that they do not have as much protection as labour forces in Europe. We could refer back to more of the history, such as what happened at Rover. The Government must seriously think about giving people's jobs in this country more protection. As I am sure my hon. Friend Mr. Robinson would confirm, the company in question told us in a telephone conversation that it would not go back on its decision, but that it would start to consult. In such circumstances, all that happens in a "consultation" is that company representatives announce, "We're now going to tell you that your jobs are going."

The other important factor in the Ericsson situation is that we are short of technicians in this country, yet most of the jobs that will go will be technicians' jobs. That is another reason why the situation is so serious. That will, of course, have an effect on Coventry, but there is another issue that we in Coventry want to talk about in connection with investing in skills in the area and the wider west midlands region. We know that Warwick university is going to make cuts, yet we are always saying we want more skills. There is also a big debate going on about student tuition fees. If we are not very careful, that could become a form of student rationing. More importantly, however, jobs may be going at this university. We are due to have a meeting with the vice-chancellor to discuss that.

If the Government truly want to help Coventry economically, they could also look at the Nuckle project. My hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, North-West and I have had a number of meetings on that over the last five years. The council blames the Government for the delay, and the Government blame the council on the basis that the council has not produced a business plan. If the Government truly want to start getting the west midlands economy going-and in particular the Coventry economy-they must start to throw their weight behind that project, because it is, in a way, a west midlands project.

I am sure many Members will know about the Ricoh arena in Coventry, which is now in many ways really a national arena. It attracts a lot of visitors, as well as a lot of bands and various groups, and it could be a major player in the Olympics. That is why the Nuckle project that I mentioned is important, because we need a new railway station in the vicinity of the arena to allow people to travel back and forth. The project could create more jobs, and I hope that the Minister for Business, Innovation and Skills will talk to my right hon. Friend the Chancellor to give this a little push; as he is a west midlands MP, I would like to think that he will.

I must pay tribute to my Front-Bench colleagues from the west midlands, because the Government have taken the area seriously. If they had not, would we have had a Select Committee and a Minister? The aim is to give a bit of impetus to the west midlands, but it is equally important that Ministers understand that unemployment in the west midlands is far too high. It is probably about 10 per cent. now -[Interruption.] My hon. Friend Rob Marris seems to agree with me, and he is quite good with figures.

The Government have to start to take a good look at what is happening now in the west midlands, particularly in manufacturing. The innovation fund could be used a little more to help companies such as Jaguar and a number of others that wish to go into green technology. That is where the fund could play a major part in creating the new industries for the west midlands, and Coventry in particular. Its universities have always played a major part in engineering projects in Coventry. If the Government can get strongly behind these areas, they will start to get the west midlands moving again and give the labour force confidence, and we will retain those skills in the west midlands. These issues are therefore vital to the west midlands.

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