I am delighted to follow Mr Sheerman. We work together in many areas, including as co-chairs of the all-party group on manufacturing. He displayed his typical passion in his speech this afternoon. My view is that we must be forward looking in our approach and embrace an increasingly dynamic economy. If we tie that in with our industrial strategy, we have much to be optimistic about.
I start by acknowledging the positive news on employment. A record 31.8 million people are in work, which is reflected in the figures in my constituency. Businesses can be particularly proud of the fact that there has been a 74% fall in unemployment since 2010. Naturally, as the unemployment figure falls, it becomes increasingly difficult to reduce that figure further. For that reason, we must think differently about developing a skills base and investing in research and development. Industry 4.0 is a prime example of an idea that must be integrated into Government policy and that must span a range of Departments.
I also welcome the introduction of T-levels. Technical education has the potential to boost productivity. The new system, which will be introduced in 2019, increases the number of hours on such courses and includes good, strong work placements. I spoke in a recent debate on the productivity plan. If we are to improve productivity in the UK, we must first improve our domestic skills base. The £500 million per year in extra funding for technical education is a boost. Warwickshire college, which is in my constituency, is an example of what can be achieved.
Giving parity of respect to technical education in relation to A-levels has been something in which I have long believed. I am pleased that the Government have recognised the significance of this standard. More generally, strengthening ties between our education system and business should be a priority, particularly as the demands on businesses will continue to shift with the changing landscape of the economy.
I welcome the national productivity investment fund, which was announced in the autumn statement, and the funding that will be provided through the spring Budget to upgrade transport infrastructure. In the midlands, some £23 million will be directed towards improving the transport network. Wider spending on infrastructure with a focus on providing the very best framework for business is vital. The launch of the industrial strategy challenge fund is also very welcome, particularly with its focus on investing in innovation. It is absolutely the right approach to take and I hope that it can be built on as the strategy develops.
During the Queen’s speech debate last year, I spoke about the importance of shaping an industrial strategy to give certainty and confidence to British business. Despite being a little alone with that opinion on the Government Benches, I welcomed the industrial strategy Green Paper and the development of the Department. With this new funding, projects that further the capabilities of the automotive sector and that increase the longevity of batteries in electric vehicles can go a long way in securing a prosperous and sustainable future. Investment in infrastructure in tandem with investment in R and D is vital if our potential is to be realised.
The midlands is well placed to be at the forefront of such technologies, and it is in that context that I welcome the launch on Thursday of the midlands engine strategy, which specifically mentions the automotive industry and the fact that 39% of UK employment in the sector is in our region. With a strong science and research base, providing additional support to the midlands is the most effective way of enabling the UK to take a greater share of the international market. Regional empowerment should be a key consideration of Government policy. Sustained support for the midlands engine is, therefore, vital.
My final point is about the concern of a number of businesses in my constituency about business rates. In recent weeks, I have canvassed opinion locally on the upcoming changes to rateable values. By way of an example, a pub in my constituency is seeing a rise from £18,000 to £68,000. Another is seeing an increase from £33,000 to £94,000. Elsewhere, a business is seeing its rateable value rise to £12,500; being £500 above the rates relief threshold will mean a further tax bill of £6,000. Even for successful enterprises, these significant hikes in business rates risk jobs losses and closures of businesses altogether. The £1,000 business rates discount for one year for pubs with a rateable value of up to £100,000 is put into context with the rises I have just mentioned. Allocating £435 million towards supporting those that will be particularly impacted is welcome, but I urge the Chancellor to review the issue urgently.