Policy for Growth Debate
11th November 2010
James Morris highlights the need to focus on the generation of private sector jobs in the Black Country and calls for a speedy sign-off of the Black Country local enterprise partnership (LEP).
James Morris (Halesowen and Rowley Regis) (Con): I welcome the debate introduced by the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr Redwood). It comes at a crucial time for the area that I represent in the west midlands and the wider black country. I want to speak briefly about the growth challenge in the black country and the wider west midlands.
We have inherited some deep underlying problems after a period where we have had very low levels of private sector jobs growth, where unemployment is much higher than in other regions, and where growth has been lower than the UK average. Annual growth in gross value-added between 2002 and 2007 was the lowest of all regions in the United Kingdom. Rates of innovation have been poor, and productivity has been low. Labour Members talk about the effectiveness of the regional development agencies, but that is the reality of the economic situation that we face in the wider west midlands.
We have big, long-term challenges to address in the black country, so how do we do it? We need to promote enterprise, as many hon. Members have noted. We need to concentrate on stimulating the small and medium-sized enterprise sector. Organisations such as the Black Country chamber of commerce and the Federation of Small Businesses have been putting a great deal of effort into ensuring that we build on our SME base. We also need to build on the existing capabilities in the black country, where we still have a vibrant SME-based manufacturing industry. We also have companies involved in metal recycling, which does not sound very glamorous but is an innovative and important business in the black country.
We need to focus with laser precision on the generation of private sector jobs in the black country, and we need to drive innovation and raise skill levels. I strongly believe that a focused black country local enterprise partnership, working with those local authorities and with businesses, can deliver much more than was delivered by the one-size-fits-all regional development agency. I urge the Minister to sign off on that black country LEP if possible, once certain issues have been addressed, so that we can get on with the job of dealing with the long-term problems that we have inherited.
We need to build on the great industrial and enterprise heritage of the black country, with its long history of industrial innovation. We need to promote manufacturing, champion enterprise and develop the skill base in the black country economy, and we need to drive the private sector job growth that will be critical to the future of that economy.