I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in this debate. I want to begin by focusing my remarks on the north-east economy: the challenges that we face and why my constituents will struggle to recognise the picture presented earlier by the Chief Secretary to the Treasury as he set out the measures in the Finance Bill.
The need to secure a stronger, more balanced economic recovery is pressing. My continued concern is that, unless the Government are willing to act to address the imbalance, the north-east will continue to be left behind. The north-east economy has many strengths and is an asset for the United Kingdom. We are one of the leading export regions in the UK, and in 2011, 2012 and 2013 we were the only English region to achieve a positive balance of trade.
A large contributor to that surplus is Nissan. Its plant on Wearside is one of the world’s most productive, producing a car every 60 seconds. Nissan’s continued success and the skill and determination of the work force are sources of immense pride to us all. We have long been a region with an identity rooted in manufacturing and engineering, and with Nissan, Hitachi and many others we will show just what we can achieve. For that reason, I welcome the measures on investment allowances in the Bill. However, it is a U-turn from previous cuts to allowances and, for all his refusal to acknowledge it, the Chief Secretary must accept that it was a mistake to have made those cuts in the first place. None the less, the measures are to be welcomed.
The automotive industry continues to show great strength, providing high-skilled jobs and investment. However, it is important to acknowledge that, particularly over the past decade, growth has come about through active Government involvement, by working with Nissan and the work force there. Over the past decade Nissan has rightly enjoyed many accolades. At times, sadly, jobs were lost at the plant, but we now enjoy the largest work force there on record, which is of course to be welcomed.