Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. David Taylor: I certainly endorse the hon. Gentleman's point. It is not beyond the wit of civil servants in the Department for Education and Employment to create a model that will provide a per capita sum of direct payment for each child on the roll.

7 Mar 2001 : Column 378

One would think that they were unaware of the existence of even simple spreadsheets to allocate the sums that the Chancellor has available to him. I agree that the situation is grossly inequitable, especially for small schools that may be one pupil short of the band width.

Mr. Heath: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. He and I are as one on this; we represent broadly similar areas and know the true state of affairs in them.

Finally on education, it is rich to hear the Chancellor talk again about the paramount need to recruit more teachers. Of course there is a desperate need to recruit more teachers; there are fewer applications now than in 1997, and there are 11,000 empty places. However, the right incentives are needed, and teachers do not believe that the Government have yet found the incentives to encourage people into the teaching profession. It is a little tardy of the Government to wait until there are 11,000 vacancies before starting to address a problem that people have identified for several years.

Moving on to small businesses, I congratulate the Chancellor on introducing measures of advantage to them in the Budget. However, measures still need to be taken, the most important of which, according to businesses with which I have dealings in my constituency, especially retail businesses, concerns the uniform business rate. That monstrous imposition by the previous Government has continued virtually unchanged under this Government; it actively militates against small shopkeepers and benefits large supermarkets on the outskirts of town. It desperately needs reform or, better still, replacement by a fairer system of business taxation; at least its effects could be mitigated in the short term if the Treasury felt it appropriate to use funds to produce an allowances system for businesses with a small turnover.

The Government do not seem to have engaged with that issue--I wish that they would. I wish that they would also engage with the cost to small businesses of administering an increasingly complicated tax system. A lot of personal taxation measures have implications for small businesses and the way in which they operate. A lot more should be done by civil servants, rather than by people who are trying to run a business and administer the Government's tax system at the same time: that cannot be a sensible way to proceed.

I am worried that a Government who proclaim that the tax system needs to be simplified are constantly complicating it. There was a stretch in the Chancellor's address when I thought to myself, "Every single mother who is trying to work will need a resident chartered accountant to find her way through a system that is being devised to provide her with support." I urge the Chancellor to look at that again.

I shall briefly mention a couple of specific areas. First, the aggregates levy is of great importance to my constituency, which is one of the country's primary producers of limestone aggregates. Everyone accepts that there are arguments both way on that levy. However, there is a consensus that a crude levy which does not reward companies that have made the effort to put in infrastructure to do the right environmental thing, as compared with those who have done no such thing, is a bad environmental instrument. Unfortunately, that is what we have at the moment. Prolonged discussions between the Department of the Environment, Transport and the

7 Mar 2001 : Column 379

Regions, the Treasury and the quarry companies have not yet reached any conclusion. I regret the fact that the levy is to be introduced and that a rebate system to encourage good environmental practice is still wishful thinking. That is however a priority if the levy is to work as we hope that it will.

With regard to rural areas more broadly, I notice that the pesticides tax has still not been removed from the agenda, despite the firmly expressed views of the Minister of Agriculture in many forums, and of the Prime Minister on at least one occasion. The rubric in the documents before us suggests that matters are proceeding on a voluntary basis, with the threat of an enforced pesticides tax on the industry. That could not happen at a less opportune time for agriculture.

There is a growing view that agrimonetary compensation is the Government's response to foot and mouth. It is not. Agrimonetary compensation is intended to deal with the difficulties of currency exchange and to provide farmers with the sum that they should have received in the first place. It is not an adequate substitute for doing what needs to be done to deal with the foot and mouth epidemic.

Of course, I welcome the fact that agrimonetary compensation has been drawn down. Of course, too, I recognise the difficulties caused by the Fontainebleau rebate and the way in which it operates; but agrimonetary compensation is not a substitute for other Treasury action, in conjunction with the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, nor does it answer the question of what is to happen next year, when there will be no agrimonetary compensation mechanism and nothing to replace it.

I know that other hon. Members wish to speak and I do not want to take their time. I conclude by quoting paragraph 5.87 of the Budget document, which is headed "Strengthening rural communities" and which states:

We could all sign up to that aspiration, but the reality in Somerset and the south-west generally is far from that. I should like to have seen genuine measures in the Budget to deal with many of the problems that rural areas face. I did not find such measures in the Chancellor's statement. In that respect, if in no other, the Budget has failed the people of rural Britain.

9.17 pm

Mr. Harry Barnes (North-East Derbyshire): Economists make a fairly straightforward distinction between macro-economics and micro-economics and the problems with which they deal. A Budget deals with the macro issues, but we all analyse its micro-economic implications for our constituencies.

The hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Sayeed) made a purely macro-economic speech. He spoke of what he wanted from a Budget and about the developments that would take place. It was a strange speech, as it seemed to start from a socialist position, in which the hon. Gentleman argued for universal benefits, but as the speech developed, other peculiar ideas appeared in it, and by the

7 Mar 2001 : Column 380

end it sounded poujadist, with tax rates all at 10 per cent. It was difficult to see where the revenue would come from for the provision of universal benefits.

My speech will focus on the other end of the spectrum. It will be a micro-economic speech about my constituency and its problems, and how they could be affected by one particular aspect of the Budget. Before Christmas, I spoke at length in the House about a problem at the southern end of my constituency, with the threatened closure of Biwater pipe works. I wanted the Department of Trade and Industry to refer the matter to the Competition Commission. I believed that we could make a case showing why the takeover that had led to the closure threat should not take place.

Despite the arguments that were advanced, the plant has now been closed and 700 jobs have gone. Many other jobs in scrapyards and community services have also been lost because of the closure. In Clay Cross, 8.5 per cent. of males were unemployed before the closure of Biwater. Since then, although one or two of those made redundant have found jobs, unemployment among men has risen to 15 per cent. That is a fairly reasonable estimate, as the people involved in scrapyards and other services connected with the plant are obviously not finding alternative employment.

As we could not save the plant, many people, including me, have had since the closure to turn our attention to the economic and social regeneration of the devastating situation that developed in the Clay Cross area. The Budget statement contained aspects that should be teased out, as they could have great relevance to the developments that are needed. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor said that throughout Britain, whether in new towns, traditional inner cities or former coal, textile and steel communities, the way forward for regeneration is to harness both new public and private investment and to introduce new fiscal incentives to extend the opportunities for enterprise from some of the country to all of it.

Obviously, such issues worry us very much. I shall not deal with all the points made by my right hon. Friend, but I want to mention his six-point programme, which involved policies such as community investment tax credits, development of empty flats above shops, reclamation of contaminated land and so on, all of which are relevant to Clay Cross. What are the parameters of the six points contained in the Budget speech? Does my area automatically qualify, and if we do not, why not? I believe that we have the strongest case imaginable for being included. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry recognised at the Labour party conference the particular problems of the steel, coal and textile industries and others, and referred specifically to the problems that arose in the Clay Cross area because of Biwater.

That is why we need the matters to be fully tied together. The now derelict plant was established by George Stephenson in 1837. The site is contaminated and many difficulties are associated with it, but we want to know what will happen to it. Although it was taken over and then quickly closed by Saint-Gobain, a multinational company, Biwater still owns the land and buildings.

Adrian White is the major mover in this respect, but we do not know about his plans for the area. Indeed, I know of no Government Department or local government department that knows about them. Speculation is rife and

7 Mar 2001 : Column 381

people are worried that the site will be used for an environmentally unacceptable purpose. They are anxious about the possibility that it will be used for incinerators or other disposal facilities. When nothing is said, the rumour develops and as it is not contradicted, we have reason to begin to worry that that might be on the cards.

We do not want more developments such as those that have taken place in our area in the past, which would harm any future work force and the local communities. For example, before I became a Member of Parliament in 1987, the Vinatex plant at Staveley in my constituency was closed. The Vinatex research group has now been established. Serious medical problems have arisen from the plastics that Vinatex produced.

The Pollution Prevention and Control Act 1999 codifies many European Union measures, but it was also influenced by other considerations, such as a visit by the Minister for the Environment to Killamarsh, another problem area in my constituency, where two escapes of acid gas had occurred. He said that powers would be made available under the 1999 Act to make directions. Therefore, if an application is made to use the Biwater site for proposals that we perceive as environmentally dangerous, there are more measures nowadays whereby we can tackle the problem. Perhaps the position could be improved further. Some of the information that has become available through research by De Montfort university into Vinatex might help to strengthen the health and safety aspects of the legislation in future.

We must be constantly on our guard against developments being foisted upon us, and the attitude "jobs at any price", even when they could be dangerous. We want growth, and co-ordinated action by the Government to provide the necessary improvements to prosperity in an area that has been shattered by a specific development.

Some aspects of the Budget will affect Clay Cross and the surrounding areas because of their general impact throughout the country. For example, we will get our share of the money for education and health. That will have some knock-on consequences. However, perhaps it is only in the long run that they will help such a deprived area. John Maynard Keynes said:

Many capitalists adopted that attitude to the operation of economic structures. Co-ordinated activity that brings together the different resources that begin to become available is important.

I cited the part of the Chancellor's speech that referred to new public-private investment and fiscal incentives. If I was running things, I would not necessarily propound and advocate such measures. I would press for public provision and funding, and the use of Government resources to achieve results. However, I live in the world as it is, and I am trying to fight for a large corner of my constituency that has been hammered. Public-private investment and incentive schemes will exist, and I want to ensure that we get our fair whack and are not overlooked.

Although there are many different schemes for which we can apply, sometimes in competition with other areas, we need to ensure that Government bodies, with local people, help to produce ideas for growth in the whole area. One particular body that does that is the Government office of the east midlands. Another body that is

7 Mar 2001 : Column 382

responsible for co-ordination in Government--in addition to the Cabinet Office--is the Prime Minister's Office. There are connections to the Prime Minister's Office in relation to this matter, because we need to ensure that it is not only matters that have been in the pipeline for a while that are covered. For example, there are developments at Clay Cross, new business provisions at Coney Green and the Markham employment growth zone, from which there will be some feed-in. Clay Cross has assisted area status, which gives it access to regional selective assistance and enterprise grants.

However, it must be realised that wider problems affect the area of north-east Derbyshire. Its unemployment difficulties make it less easy to handle the situation, and that needs to be taken into account. Some special funding arrangements, and some central planning, need to be put in place to try to address our problems.

One such problem is an issue that other hon. Members have already mentioned: the problem of poor local government funding. In the North-East Derbyshire district and within Derbyshire county council area, ever since the Local Government Act 1988, which introduced the poll tax--the only element of that Act that was ever shifted was the change from the poll tax to the council tax--we have had ghastly funding provision in the county.

Funding has picked up recently, and there have been specific grants from the Department for Education and Employment and others in connection with education, but generally we have been at the bottom of the list for funding provision. Before the introduction of the 1988 Act, the schools in Derbyshire had the smallest class sizes in any shire county in England. By 1997, their classes were among the largest. That was the function of the formula that was being operated.

Two particular fiddles are involved. One is the area cost adjustment, which takes a great deal out of our money not only in terms of education but in other areas of funding. The effect was multiplied to cover other elements of provision in county council services. A lot of people in the county travel to work in neighbouring areas such as Chesterfield and Sheffield, and we lose massive amounts of money as a result. I think that we are the third worst area in the country in that regard. According to something called the enhanced population figures, the daytime population figure is taken into account in an exaggerated way, rather than the resident population figure.

That problem will not be put right until the proposals in the Green Paper take effect--despite the pressures that have been brought to bear--which could mean waiting another three years for it to be corrected. Account has to be taken in the meantime, therefore, of those who have suffered seriously over the years that the problem has existed.

We also suffer from having lost objective 2 funding, as we were near an area with objective 1 funding, which is pulling in provisions that we find it difficult to obtain. The fact that the Department of Trade and Industry did not get the position that was put to the European Union right must also be taken into account in the context of our funding provision. In certain parts of my constituency, we even do very badly in terms of lottery funding, although Killamarsh in the north has done slightly better. When the district council tries to put that right by appointing a lottery officer, it is hamstrung by not readily having the resources to run that kind of activity.

7 Mar 2001 : Column 383

My constituency has specific difficulties, and the Budget contains an opening--apart from the general provisions from which everyone will benefit in the long run--for specific provision for areas that have suffered from bouts of loss of industry, particularly in manufacturing. I hope that our claims will be heard and fully considered, and that Ministers will elaborate on the measures that have been outlined briefly to us, so that we are fully involved. We need some central co-ordination to ensure that we get the type of provision required.

Next Section

IndexHome Page