I very much enjoyed my recent visit to the Nissan factory in Sunderland for the launch of the first mass-market electric vehicle to be fully produced in the UK. That will support more than 500 jobs at the plant and 2,000 jobs across Britain’s car industry. I look forward to visiting the north-east again soon.
When the Prime Minister next visits, he will see again for himself that the key issue facing the region is unemployment. There are more than 20 applicants for every advertised vacancy. His policy of local enterprise partnerships and enterprise zones is not having the same effective impact on the region’s economy as the development agency had. Will he consider the appointment of a Minister to work with the local enterprise partnerships and Members of Parliament from the region to push forward the private sector employment agenda?
Ministers do work with the enterprise zones. Let me give the right hon. Gentleman the figures. Obviously we want to see more, but employment in the north-east is up by 9,000 and private sector jobs in the north-east by 37,000 since the election. There is not only the success at Nissan: Hitachi is committed to building a new train building plant in County Durham, which will bring 700 jobs; the new Tyne tunnel opened in 2011; and extra money is going into the Tyne and Wear metro. All those things will make a difference. In the right hon. Gentleman’s constituency, the youth claimant count has fallen by 4% over the past year.
The last time I was in the north-east, I made a speech about apprenticeships. It is remarkable how many people have started apprenticeships under this Government. On the transport issue, we are funding feasibility studies into fixing problems on the A1 north of Newcastle to Scotland and on the Newcastle and Gateshead A1 western bypass. We are also improving the A19 between Newcastle and South Shields. That is a much better record than that of the Labour party. Even though it had a Prime Minister who came from the north-east, it never did what we are proposing to do with the A1.