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Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:35 pm on 12th March 2020.

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Photo of Theo Clarke Theo Clarke Chair, International Development Sub-Committee on the Work of the Independent Commission for Aid Impact, Chair, International Development Sub-Committee on the Work of the Independent Commission for Aid Impact 4:35 pm, 12th March 2020

Let me begin by thanking my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond (Yorks) (Rishi Sunak) for his excellent first Budget yesterday. He set out an ambitious economic agenda that backs business and innovation and invests in hospitals, schools and police, and I welcome the freezing of beer and fuel duty. It is a Budget that benefits everyone in Britain by levelling up the economy and delivering on our ambitious manifesto commitments to spread opportunity across every community. I agree with the many other hon. Members who welcome the Chancellor’s increased support for businesses in the light of the current coronavirus pandemic, and I also welcome the Government’s extra support at this difficult time.

To return to the economy in general, my constituents in Stafford have seen at first hand the economic advantages of having a Conservative Government. It is estimated that someone working full time on the minimum wage in the west midlands is over £5,200 better off than when Labour was in power a decade ago, which represents a real improvement in the lives of ordinary people. As a former entrepreneur who set up and sold my own small business prior to entering Parliament, I understand the importance of job creation, and we must continue to back wealth creators. Nationally, it is the Conservatives who have put employment at a record high, and I welcome the more than 3 million new jobs created since 2010. Over the past decade, the British economy has grown faster than those of France, Italy and Japan. I was particularly pleased that the Office for National Statistics recently announced that employment in the west midlands has risen by 0.7%—the highest employment rate across the whole country.

With its rich history of shoemaking to its role as a thriving engineering centre, my constituency of Stafford has long been a key region for British manufacturers. We have an ambitious local plan to increase tech start-ups in the region to create a “silicon Staffordshire”. A great example of that is the local employer Risual, which is one of the UK’s leading technology firms. I recently visited the company, and I congratulate it on its excellent work in championing apprenticeships and ensuring that local students have access to quality jobs. It is a great example of an internet business helping to create real jobs on the ground. I also recently met the local Staffordshire chamber of commerce and our excellent Mayor of Birmingham, Andy Street, and I agree with both that a skilled workforce is vital to securing our economic future. That is one of the reasons why I am such a big champion of apprenticeships, and I am pleased that the Government are continuing to promote them and T-levels. It is important that we continue to strive to plug any local skills gap.

Last Friday, I visited Stafford College, which has been rated outstanding by Ofsted, and met some of the students and apprentices who form part of our future workforce, learning about their specialist training with local employers across Staffordshire. I was therefore pleased to hear in the Budget that the Chancellor has committed an additional £3 billion to a skills fund to help ensure that young people are gaining the skills they need to get well-paid jobs. I look forward to working with employers to ensure that the west midlands continues to create a record number of jobs to be filled by local people. Young people are the future of our country, and it is vital that they are being trained to become employees with transferable skills who can contribute to the economy.

Stafford is open for business and the people of Stafford have always believed in getting stuff done, which I am sure our Chancellor will appreciate. My constituency also has General Electric, which employs 1,700 people and is a great example of a multinational company providing high-quality jobs for my constituents while also playing a major exporting role for the UK.

Finally, I would like to congratulate MOD Stafford in my constituency and pay a huge debt of gratitude to all our armed forces personnel for the vital contribution they make in serving our country. I was particularly pleased that the Chancellor announced yesterday that we will now have a national insurance holiday for employers of veterans in their first year of civilian employment, a much-needed step in encouraging companies to employ ex-servicemen and women. I encourage the Government to continue to maximise employment levels for those who have served in our armed forces.