Backbench Business — Summer Adjournment

Part of Child Benefit Entitlement (Disqualification of Non-UK EU Nationals) – in the House of Commons at 6:14 pm on 22nd July 2014.

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Photo of Andrew Stephenson Andrew Stephenson Conservative, Pendle 6:14 pm, 22nd July 2014

I would like to take this opportunity to talk about jobs and skills in Pendle. I will talk about the progress that has been made and the challenges that we still face.

Pendle’s local economy relies heavily on manufacturing and that sector has had a rough few years. Some 1.8 million manufacturing jobs were lost under the last Government and by August 2009, 2,239 people in Pendle were claiming jobseeker’s allowance. Our local schools were also near breaking point, with the lack of school places meaning that children were being taught in temporary classrooms in playgrounds, in converted attics and even in a basement at one school that I visited.

We are making significant progress in tackling that. Thanks to the doubling of funding for new school places under this Government, the popular and heavily over-subscribed Laneshaw Bridge primary school became the first Pendle primary school to benefit from a new multimillion pound building, which increased the school’s capacity from 154 to 210 children. Plans were then drawn up for three more brand-new primary school buildings. The new £5-million Barnoldswick Church of England primary school, which has just been completed, the new £6.1 million St Paul’s Church of England primary school and the new £8 million Whitefield infant school in Nelson are all due to open in September this year. Those four new schools, along with the expansion of others, such as Reedley primary school, which I visited last week, and the £6.2 million investment at West Craven High technology college, represent a capital investment of more than £30 million in our local schools.

Crucially, those new buildings are not being delivered through private finance initiative contracts, as were two of Pendle’s secondary schools under the Building Schools for the Future programme. The new schools have been fully paid for and will not saddle taxpayers will large bills from private companies for decades to come.

There is also a £3.6 million investment in the outstanding Nelson and Colne college, which the former skills Minister, Matthew Hancock, visited in May. Nelson and Colne college has been pivotal in delivering the Government’s ambition of a record number of apprenticeships. In 2009-10, 470 people started an apprenticeship in Pendle. By 2012-13, the figure had increased to 1,150. That is an increase of 145%, which is hugely welcome to young people in my area, especially the 3,600 of them who have started an apprenticeship in Pendle since the Government came to office.

In March, we saw the official opening of East Lancashire’s university technical college in Burnley by His Royal Highness the Duke of York. The new £10 million Visions Learning Trust UTC will provide young people with vital engineering and construction skills. It is supported by large Pendle employers including Rolls-Royce, Weston EU, Graham Engineering, Fort Vale Engineering and Barnfield Construction.

Added together, those investments represent a real boost to education and skills in Pendle and are ensuring that our young people have the skills that our local employers need. They have also undoubtedly helped towards the 41% reduction in youth unemployment that we have seen in Pendle since May 2010.

Turning to the overall jobs situation, the number of Pendle residents in receipt of jobseeker’s allowance has fallen from a high of 2,239 in August 2009, which I mentioned earlier, to just 1,305 in June this year. That is a fall of 42%. That has come about not by accident, but thanks to the Government’s long-term economic plan and the steps that have been taken by our local authorities to support job creation in the area. For example, when one of Pendle’s largest employers, Silentnight, went into administration in 2011, there was concern over the future of its site in Barnoldswick. I visited it soon afterwards to discuss how the company could be supported to remain in Pendle. Very quickly, a package of support was put together by then Conservative-led Lancashire county council. That support meant that by March 2012, the company was not just staying in Barnoldswick, but was looking to create an additional 140 jobs. I was proud to take the Prime Minister to visit Silentnight in May to see a company that is going from strength to strength.

The local jobs market has received a significant boost since July last year, when the Government agreed with the arguments that I and others were making and approved £5 million of additional business support via the regional growth fund to help local mid-sized manufacturers to expand. In the past 12 months, that money has been distributed by Regenerate Pennine Lancashire through the accelerating business growth grants to help 14 business across Pendle, including Optimill in Colne, Mackintosh in Nelson, ACDC in Barrowford, Standel Dawman in Nelson and Pendle Polymer. Between them, those businesses have benefited from almost £1 million in grants, creating well over 100 jobs and safeguarding many more. I am actively working with businesses such as Wellocks and New Call Telecom to support their major expansion plans that could create more than 200 jobs on the Lomeshaye industrial estate in Nelson.

The recent announcement of assisted area status for Pendle is an important step forward for my constituency. The previous assisted area status map drawn up under the previous Government in 2007 included parts of Blackburn, Hyndburn and Burnley, but not a single part of Pendle. As part of the consultation on the new map, Pendle council and the Lancashire local enterprise partnership argued for four Pendle wards to be included, but I met Ministers and made the case not just for those four wards, but for going much further. I am delighted that in the end it was agreed that 13 Pendle wards should be included—more than half the borough—with assisted area status covering businesses stretching from Reedley and Brierfield through to Earby. The new map came into force on 1 July and will remain in force until 2020, which will deliver a long-term economic boost to my constituency. I pay particular tribute to my right hon. Friend Michael Fallon for his help in securing assisted area status for my constituency.

Sadly, all is not well with Pendle’s largest employer, Rolls-Royce, which has sites at Bankfield and Ghyll Brow in Barnoldswick, and currently employs more than 1,000 people. Rolls-Royce has been a major employer in the town since acquiring those sites shortly after the second world war, but the numbers employed have fallen over the years. Most worryingly, under the last Government Rolls-Royce opened a new factory in Singapore to manufacture civil wide-chord fan blades—the same process currently undertaken in Barnoldswick—as the company opted to invest abroad rather than in the UK.

In January the company contacted me to say that following a review it expected the loss of 27 jobs at its Barnoldswick sites. By March that figure had risen to 120, and last week we had confirmation that total proposed job losses would be 156. Consultation meetings have been ongoing since March and the company has been looking at mitigation options, including voluntary severance leavers, individuals taking roles elsewhere in the company, and the release of agency workers. Regrettably, however, those job losses will start soon and will be phased in between now and the end of the year.

I appreciate that all companies need to keep their costs down and run as lean an operation as they can in today’s marketplace, but the number of job losses is deeply regrettable at a time when that flagship British company is growing and winning new orders across the globe. In addition to my regular meetings with Rolls-Royce, trade union representatives, and regular visits to the site since I was elected, I wrote to the chief executive, John Rishton, in June. In my letter I pointed out the potential for its sites in Barnoldswick to expand, the new University Technical College in Burnley where Rolls-Royce helps with the curriculum, and the new assisted area status that covers the site. In his reply, Mr Rishton said that he was appreciative of the support the aerospace sector is receiving from the Government and that the company was making investment in the Barnoldswick sites, but that the reduction in the work force was still necessary. I am sure he will realise that as Pendle’s MP, and as vice chairman of the all-party group for aerospace, I will continue to make the case for investment and job creation in Barnoldswick.

Four years ago I delivered a maiden speech in the House in a debate about building a high-skilled economy. I mentioned manufacturing, skills, and the outstanding Nelson and Colne college. I am proud of what we have been able to achieve in Pendle since then, but there are many challenges still facing the area and our economic recovery is not guaranteed. I wish all right hon. and hon. Members an enjoyable recess, and particularly you, Madam Deputy Speaker, and all the staff of the House.