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I warmly welcome this debate and the Government’s industrial strategy. It has been proved time and again that the best way to secure prosperity for millions of people around the world is through free enterprise and free markets, and that sits comfortably alongside the modern industrial strategy laid out by the Government. The challenges of globalisation affect us all, and taking a long-term view will tackle the underlying issues and enhance our economy more broadly.
I wish to focus my comments on my local area and a local approach. My constituency is on the outskirts of the country’s second city, Birmingham. Birmingham is a large city that has suffered from a productivity gap with the rest of the country. It has overcome decades of bad press and has a legacy image problem. I bet that if I asked anyone in the Chamber—except Jack Dromey—whether they have been to Birmingham, they would say that they have been for a meeting, been through it on the train or driven through Spaghetti Junction but they do not know much about Birmingham. It is a fabulous city, and I am proud of it. It is much better than Manchester, but this is not the time to go into that, because I want to talk about Redditch, which has its own challenges and has to carve out its own identity.
Redditch is on the outskirts of Birmingham. It is a new town, built to accommodate the overflow from Birmingham’s factories. We have a proud history of manufacturing needles, fishing hooks and parts for military aircraft, which were important in our country’s history. But what will the future hold for the people of Redditch? They wish to be proud of Redditch for what it can do in the future, not just what it has done in the past. That is why it is great to have a framework to tackle structural issues. It is not a world-class region like Oxford, Cambridge or London, so it needs some help to secure its future.
I would like to make some suggestions to the Secretary of State. If Grimsby can have a town deal, why can Redditch not? I have lobbied Treasury Ministers for that, and I would like to see that idea taken forward. We look close to home, to the Worcestershire town of Kidderminster and its ambitious and successful ReWyre project led by Conservative councillors, and see no reason why we could not adopt a similar model to unlock the potential of Redditch.
I would like to see the devolution deal in the West Midlands Combined Authority unlock further potential in our region. It is successfully steered by a Conservative Mayor, and I believe that Redditch can harness that growth. I would also like to see a free enterprise zone or a free port, similar to what we see in Teesport. I understand that there is no reason why a landlocked area could not be a free port.
I will finish my remarks by focusing on skills, which are the single most important factor. We need to see reform of skills funding. The apprenticeship levy needs further reform, and we need further devolution and more freedom for those outside the traditional employment relationship to take charge of their own learning, to ensure lifelong learning for every person working in our country. Skills lie at the heart of the economic transformation needed in our area. They are a crucial aspect of rebalancing the economy and creating growth all around the country. To that end, I welcome the Government’s focus in the industrial strategy on sector-specific deals and their commitment to listen to the full range of voices when developing local and sector-based deals so that firms of all sizes and sectors can buy into the strategy for years to come.
If people can live and work in Redditch, which has a great quality of life, environment and cultural offer, why would they move to the overcrowded and expensive south-east? Redditch is affordable and a clean, green town. We accept that people migrate around the country, but let us work towards the goal of enhancing all areas to make the best use of our country’s natural talent and resources. I believe that the industrial strategy will achieve just that.