§ Mr. Alistair Burt (Bury, North)
I thank the House for finding time for me to raise this important topic. It is particularly pleasant to do so under your benevolent eye, Madam Deputy Speaker, bearing in mind how much you know about our area.
The north-west is generally reckoned to stretch from Crewe to Carlisle, and whether it includes Cumberland and the Lake District depends on the statistics being used. The heart of the area is certainly Lancashire, Cheshire, Merseyside and Greater Manchester. It is the United Kingdom's most densely populated area. My constituency and the metropolitan borough of Bury is right at the heart of the north-west.
I am not unique in the House in having been born and brought up in the constituency that I represent—I am aware that there are others—but it gives me a special feel for the area. For that reason I speak for the area not as an outside, objective observer, but as someone who has the heart of the area close to his own heart.
The area is representative of the country as a whole as such it typifies both the optimism and pessimism that the Government face since their election. If Opposition parties seek to use the north-west as an example of what they term divided Britain, I fear they will be genuinely disappointed. At the general election, 34 Conservative Members, 36 Labour Members and three Liberal Members were returned, so it cannot be classed in any way as a Labour party stronghold. Indeed, one reason why we still sit on the Government Benches and the Labour party is on the Opposition Benches is the Opposition's failure to capture seats that they needed to win in the north-west and their rejection by voters in the north-west.
§ Mr. Tony Lloyd (Stretford)
It is curious that the hon. Gentleman should follow that train of thought. Can he explain why the Labour party now has more seats than the Conservative party in the north-west?
§ Mr. Burt
I did not seek to suggest that we had more. The Opposition sometimes suggest that the north-west is a great red area, and that is simply not true. The Labour party recovered marginally from being in the minority. In the last Parliament there were more Conservative Members than Labour Members representing the area and the Labour party's recovery, in the context of the Conservative majority of over 100, is rather marginal. The Labour party expected to do far better in the north-west, but it failed to do so. That is why we are still sitting here.
If a foreign visitor were to come to some parts of the north-west, he or she would shake his or her head at the extraordinary claims of abject poverty and deprivation that he or she might have heard during the election from the Opposition parties. However, if the foreign visitor came to other parts of the north-west, he or she would shake his or her head ruefully and wonder what this talk of prosperity was all about. The region, therefore, like the country at large, has plenty of areas of prosperity but also areas of considerable concern.
In the north-west we tend to suffer from over-concentration on the affairs of our two great cities, Liverpool and Manchester. We have inner-city problems, 924 but I welcome the Government's recent initiatives, such as the Trafford park urban development corporation, the development of Liverpool and particularly the success of the Albert dock. I am glad to see that the Government are tackling inner-city problems in the north-west.
It should never be forgotten that there is a great deal to the north-west outside these particular urban areas. That is sometimes forgotten and glossed over by the outside world. It is remarkable that our foreign visitor, who now sees areas of prosperity and deprivation close together, could have made comments on this disparity at almost any time during the past 300 years. Relative poverty and prosperity side by side are nothing new and it is nonsense to suggest that the phenomenon has arisen since 1979. We should get that one out of the way straight away. However, the problems posed by disparities of wealth now affect our generation, our constituents and the north-west. Therefore, the economic performance of the north-west, coupled with its determination to succeed, is the way forward for us all.
Even in the House, it is sometimes necessary to restate the obvious. That is doubly so in the case of the north-west due to the remarkable lack of knowledge of the area in some places where considerable investment decisions are made. I hope that it will be helpful to the House to consider a little of the north-west's economic history and show how the base of its economy has changed.
Traditionally, of course, the area has been dominated by heavy manufacturing industry—textiles, mining, engineering and paper. There was a concentration of textiles, engineering and paper in my constituency. Those traditional manufacturing industries have been in a long-term decline which certainly predates 1979. Indeed, the textile industry has been in difficulties since the turn of the century.
The reasons for the decline in manufacturing industry in the north-west are not hard to find, and they are almost standard for the rest of the country. They include a decline in markets, poor investment decisions, sometimes poor labour relations, the end of empire and the growth of overseas countries providing more and more of their own manufactured goods. All those factors have affected industry, and employment has declined constantly.
However, that is the old north-west. People sometimes forget that the land that gave birth to Arkwright, Kay, Hargreaves and Crompton is the same land that gave birth to the chemicals at ICI, to the development of Unilever and the development of the world's greatest glass-making company, Pilkington. The new was beginning to replace the old.
The other day I listened to an extract from one of Winston Churchill's famous wartime speeches about: fighting on the beaches. In that speech he was referring to the new world at some stage needing to come to the assistance of the old. The analogy with industry is simple. New industries in the north-west are coming to the aid of those who used to be employed in the old industries. The pattern of employment in the north-west is changing.
Unfortunately, a generation of film and television producers of the 1950s and 1960s has perpetuated the myths of the north-west. While we all enjoy "Coronation Street," and no one would wish to see it disappear from our screens, sadly, down south it fuels an image of the north that can sometimes be dangerous.
§ Mr. Tony Favell (Stockport)
My hon. Friend is portraying the north-west painting a proper picture of itself and so encouranging investment and people, but would he dwell on the picture that the Oppostion paint of the north-west, as a down-at-heel part of the country which is dirty and full of unemployed people when that picture is not true in many parts of the north-west? For example, Stockport, which is an industrial town, now has unemployment of 8.8 per cent.
§ Mr. Burt
Of course, my hon. Friend is correct. One of the problems faced by the north-west in recent years is the difficult balance between portraying its good side and its bad. It would be wrong to ignore the problems in the north-west. However, laying over-emphasis on those problems paints a rather unfair picture. The balance must be right. Sometimes, for political reasons, Opposition Members overlay the problems, and that is no way forward for the north.
§ Mr. Tony Lloyd
This point is fundamental to the whole debate about the north-west. In our great cities, the traditional centres, there are pockets of such desperation and economic devastation, which the hon. Gentleman must accept has occurred particularly over the past few years. If he does not begin to approach questions, such as what is to be done with the inner cities, he is ignoring the basic problem of the north-west. What is to be done in those inner-city areas?
§ Mr. Burt
I suggest that the hon. Gentleman reads what I said at the beginning of my speech more carefully. I do not dissent from his comments. However, to concentrate solely on the problems of the inner cities in the north-west is to distort the picture of the north-west completely. I fear that concentration on those problems by Opposition Members and the ignoring of the rest of the development of the north-west gives the wrong picture of the area to those who have the power to make investment decisions.
We are not an area of the begging bowl. There is a lot going for the north-west, and it is wrong to approach the people who can provide jobs with a begging-bowl mentality. As I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport (Mr. Favell), I shall return to that theme later, because it is important, but I certainly do not try to ignore the problems of the north-west. As the House should know, I have been open-minded and outspoken about them in the past.
If the base of the north-west economy is examined, a familiar pattern emerges, as in the rest of the country. Like all manufacturing countries, we have seen a decline in the number of pople employed in manufacturing industry and a consequent increase in the number employed elsewhere. The regional trends publication shows that in 1979 41.2 per cent. of people in the north-west were employed in what might be called traditional manufacturing industries and in construction, compared with 55.7 per cent. Of the population employed in what might relatively be called the service sector. By 1986, those figures had changed, 33.3 per cent. being employed in traditional manufacturing and construction and 63.9 per cent. in what might loosely be termed service industries. Interestingly enough, if those figures are compared even with those for 1985, they reveal an increase in the percentage employed in manufacturing.
The central point is still the same. We have seen the figures for alternative industries in the north-west grow, 926 and we know that the area's industrial and economic base is changing. I shall point to two or three examples in which that is most noticeable.
The old, surviving manufacturing industries are surviving because they have adapted to change. They make better products, and market them better. They are looking hard at where the products should go, and they have the right image. Two publications show the changing nature of two of our traditional industries. The British paper industry has made major strides since the catastrophes of the early 1980s. It now presents itself in a much better way, and its export and productivity statistics are remarkable. Similarly, the textile industry has moved away from the old-fashioned idea of textiles. Now it is again a major sector, contributing to the British economy and to exports, and it has done a good deal to improve its image and activity.
It should also not be ignored that traditional manufacturing industry is surviving because of new techniques. It is easily forgotten that new technology is useful in old manufacturing industries. We sometimes seem to imagine that there is a new-tech industry, located somewhere around Reading or Maidenhead, in which thousands of people are employed making computers. But we forget that high-tech then comes into traditional manufacturing industry and keeps it going. We must remember that the old skilled industries now have a balance between the old and the new skills. That is why some of them have survived and prospered throughout a very difficult period.
As well as the old traditional industries, we have the growth of new industries in our area. The north-west is singularly blessed with such industries, which will provide employment for many years to come. There is aerospace and the nuclear industry. Again, it should not be forgotten, when attacks on the nuclear industry are made from the Opposition Benches, that that industry in all its forms employs many thousands of people in the northwest, and will continue to do so. We have the telecommunications industry, the pharmaceutical industry and the computer industry itself, and there has also been a substantial growth in self-employment. The enterprise centre in my constituency has been working for five years. Each year, about 325 firms have commenced business, employing 400 people per year. Those new firms have a success rate of about 50 per cent. There has been a cheering growth in self-employment throughout the region, as well as in my constituency.
There has also been an encouraging growth in small business. In 1984, the Conservative authority in Bury opened a small business unit with centralised services. Various firms could come along and grow at their own pace and in their own time. It started with six firms. All 74 units in that building have now been filled. I pay tribute to the hard work of those in the centre who have created that growth. The traditional industries have survived and there are new industries.
There has also been growth outside the manufacturing sector and an increase in employment in the service sector. There has also been an increase in tourism. The North-West tourist board maintains that the north-west has a great deal to offer. According to the statistics, that is true. The latest figures show that 150,000 people in the northwest are employed in jobs connected with tourism. Between 1984 and 1989 the number of jobs in that sector is expected to grow by 25,000. Total spending on tourism 927 in the north-west each year is £580 million; £1.5 million a day is spent on tourism. Furthermore, £150 million comes from overseas. That is a great new development in the north-west.
In the next fortnight a steam railway will be opened in my constituency. It will run from Bury to Ramsbottom, which is in the north of my constituency. Ramsbottom is developing a small but effective tourist industry. Places that people never thought of as tourist spots have become popular. I note the presence of the hon. Member for Wigan (Mr. Stott). The so-called music hall joke, "Wigan pier", attractively presented by very good people with very good investment, has become a major tourist spot. I do not know anybody who has returned disappointed from a visit to Wigan pier. We have much to learn from that development. Ramsbottom should be similarly developed. It has connections with Dickens, and it will have one of the finest and longest steam railways in the country.
§ Mr. Favell
Is my hon. Friend referring to our hon. Friend the Member for Littleborough and Saddleworth (Mr. Dickens)?
§ Mr. Burt
I do not know whether it is possible to develop my hon. Friend the Member for Littleborough and Saddleworth (Mr. Dickens) as a tourist attraction. I am sure that many people would like to visit him. He is freely available here on many days of the week. That is why the Strangers Gallery is packed.
I thank the Government for providing, through the Department of the Environment, a £300,000 grant to develop that steam railway in the north of my constituency.
A number of factors underpin all these economic changes. One of them is communications. Manchester airport is a major source for the development of the region as a whole. During the past decade its growth has been phenomenal. In 1981 Manchester airport carried 4.7 million passengers. In 1987 it will carry 8.75 million passengers, and by 1995 that figure will rise to 16.1 million. More and more routes are being developed. All hon. Members pay tribute to the work of Mr. Gil Thompson, the managing director of Manchester airport, and to the work of the authority that helped to run the airport for many years. Manchester airport has a key role to play in the development of the north-west.
There are also many fine motorway links. One cannot move in the north-west without coming across a new motorway. The hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. Pike) found that out a few years ago when a new motorway was constructed almost on his doorstep. The north-west is blessed with a fabulous motorway infrastructure. We also have the 19th century legacy of the railways. I ask my hon. Friend the Minister to ensure that the rail link between the centre of Manchester and Manchester airport should be constructed as soon as possible. We have noted with concern the development of Stansted and Government assistance to provide a rail link. We hope that the time will soon come when a rail link is built between Manchester Piccadilly and Manchester airport.
Another major factor that underpins the change in the north-west is education. We have first-rate educational facilities, in particular higher education facilities, in the north-west. It contains the universities of Manchester, Liverpool, Manchester and Salford. There is also the University of Manchester Institute of Science and 928 Technology. There is the Manchester Business School and the Liverpool, Manchester, Preston and Stockport polytechnics, all of which perform to very high standards. Both independent and state education are first rate. The north-west's education provision will be of great benefit to the area for years to come.
As for the changing pattern of our economy, I have dealt with the old image of the area. The major problem is employment, and it will continue to be a problem for some time. It would be foolish to ignore the loss of jobs in the area. We have seen employee numbers fall from about 2,670,000 in 1979 to 2,260,000 in 1986, but it is interesting to note the changes in pattern over the past few years. Between 1979 and 1983, including self-employment, the figures for people who were in work declined from 2,870,000 to 2,526,000. But if one looks at the figures between 1983 and 1986, one finds a net increase in employment from 2,526,000 to 2,530,000. That has been achieved through the growth of the service and self-employment sectors.
§ Mr. Tony Lloyd
This is stupid nonsense, even by the hon. Gentleman's standards. To talk about a 4,000 increase in employment over the period is a joke. The reality is that the numbers of the self-employed and builders in the north-west, according to the Government's statistics, have declined in real terms. In 1976 14 per cent. of the work force in the north-west was self-employed. In 1986 the figure was 15 per cent. The growth of the job-creating service sector, about which the Government boast, is false. In the north-west we have experienced a loss in jobs. Self-employment and service jobs have declined.
§ Mr. Burt
Once again our concern over the dismal picture that is being painted by the Labour party about the north-west has been justified by the words of the hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Lloyd). If I had been one of the 4,000 who had got a job between 1983 and 1986 I would have been pleased. The hon. Gentleman missed the point that I was making. I was referring to a considerable drop in employment in our area between 1979 and 1983, which continued an historic pattern, but I was showing that between 1983 and 1986 not only did that fall in employment stop, but it was reversed. If the hon. Gentleman looks at the figures for the past year he will find that that historic trend has been further reversed, and more people are coming into employment.
No Conservative Member who represents the northwest tries to gloss over the problems. We know that there has been a lot of unemployment, but I am talking about recent changes and the way forward. On that the statistics are clear. I do not know about the hon. Gentleman's statistics on self-employment, but mine show that in 1976 209,000 people were self-employed in our area, but by 1986 that figure had increased to 276,000. Those are considerable increases, whatever the hon. Gentleman thinks. The pattern of the economy shows a welcome increase in the past few years with regard to employment with a change in the historic pattern of employment ebbing away.
The vacancy statistics are encouraging. They show that vacancies increased by a third in one year. Our local newspapers are full of new jobs. However, there is the problem of skill shortages. I shall quote from the latest CBI survey on the problem of vacancies and skill shortages. With regard to the north-west, it says: 929The number of vacancies is increasing and overall unemployment is now falling. However, redundancies are still occurring in manufacturing sectors, although not on the scale experienced in the past. Employment prospects are best in the non-manufacturing sectors.Although skill shortages continue to be reported, they are not on a large scale. The main shortages are of skilled operatives, of plant and project engineers and in computer-related activities.We are starting to get to grips with the problems of skill shortages, and that is largely due to the measures that the Government have taken to assist in training.
I should like to pay tribute to the good work that is being done by jobcentre teams throughout the north-west, particularly in my constituency, which work extremely hard and have a good record for finding people jobs.
That deals with employment, but I should like to consider the overall picture as seen by the CBI in the Greater Manchester area and regionally. Regionally, the CBI reports:Overall business is good, and the improved situation is expected to be sustained … Recent reports from … the Manchester and Merseyside Chambers of Commerce indicate that there was a steady overall improvement in the performance in the North West region at the end of 1986 and in the first quarter of 1987. There is now a more optimistic view of the industrial and commercial trends and the region's investment performance is improving in both quantity and quality.Those words come not from Government sources but from sources outside the Government. They reflect the picture which I have put forward of the changes taking place in the north-west.
There have been individual success stories all around the north-west in recent years. Just a few years ago, Vickers wondered where its next frigate would come from and worried about labour relations with Cammell Laird at Birkenhead. The back-to-work committee from Birkenhead lobbied north-west Conservative Members here, seeking support for their company because they could not find it elsewhere. They found their works blockaded by strikers and pickets. They were desperate to show that they needed their jobs and could return to work. They knew that if there were not good industrial relations at Birkenhead, the company would die. They pleaded with us about their future. We took their pleas to the Minister. Eventually, Birkenhead won the order for a type 22 frigate because it was known that the workers were determined to remove the bully boys from their midst and produce a good future. Vickers' success was mirrored in Barrow's privatisation. Vickers has become a success story for the north-west and for the Government.
Mirroring what happened with Vickers, there are examples all around the north-west of manufacturing and service jobs being created. The Manpower Services Commission's publication on trends has a section on company expansion and development. The 1987 winter edition refers to a number of those developments and jobs. Isolated success is no longer the story of the north-west. There is continuing success in many sectors.
I should like to put my comments in a nutshell. The truth about the north-west is not as the Opposition have often presented it. It is not all doom and gloom. We know that the area has problems, but there are also many patches of success. The task for all of us is to ensure that 930 those patches of success spread, especially to deprived areas and other areas that need assistance. I am pleased by the Government's commitment to the inner cities.
I have had my battles with the Government on employment. I remember a speech which I made in the House, which was subsequently translated into an article for the Tory Reform Group. I resile not one whit from it because I was concerned then about the Government's emphasis on employment and the fact, that they were not getting the messages from the grass roots. I am now less concerned. The Government have listened to some of the arguments and there have been some changes. I know that they do not ignore the pain and problems caused by unemployment in the region.
I hope that I have made it clear that the north-west is now an area for the development of new and old industries. I hope that I have made clear the importance and influence of new technology in the old industries, of tourism and of growth in the service sector. Lastly, and most important, I hope that I have made clear the need for the north-west positively to put forward its own image. We do not have a begging-bowl mentality. We know that our region has many positive advantages. We appreciate the fact that people, whether from the City or from overseas, invest not through sentiment but for hardheaded reasons. In the north-west, we can provide them with an area where land prices are cheaper, so that they can build and develop their companies on green field sites more cheaply than in the south. We offer them a place where rates are cheaper and where the new community charge will benefit them. We offer them an area where homes are cheaper for their employees and their families. We offer them an area where there is less congestion and where their employees will be happier. We offer them an area where quality of life is second to none and where the costs to their companies are low. We offer them hard-working people committed to a brighter future. We offer them a fine infrastructure and great educational opportunities for their children. We offer them a new north-west.
My message to investors is not to be put off by the stories of inner-city areas but to come with us to the areas of growth and development in the north-west and, above all, to get in quickly, because the north-west is expanding. It is bringing in new people. There will be a great future. If the companies miss their chance now, they may never get a chance to come back to the fastest-growing and best part of the north-west. If they want opportunities for development they can contact me at the House of Commons. They want to locate in my constituency of Bury, North and the metropolitan borough of Bury. I know that and you know that, Mr. Speaker, and it is about time that those investors in the City knew it as well.
§ Mr. Tony Lloyd (Stretford)
It is almost a tragedy to hear what amounts to a form of economic assassination by Conservative Members who want to ignore the plight of our area. My constituency is still home to the largest concentration of industry in the north-west. I am the first to admit that many firms are still successful, for even in the middle of a Government-induced recession, there is still employment in the depths of despair.
The fact remains, however, that our manufacturing base is in a difficult condition. When the Government produced figures for the EC recently, they predicted a rise in unemployment in the area to 1990. They also said that 931 the problems of ageing infrastructure in the north-west outstripped the available resources and that there was therefore a danger that the infrastructure would continue to worsen.
The hon. Member for Bury, North (Mr. Burt) talked about Vickers. I found it amazing that he should boast about its success because it was the result of public spending. When public spending is the vehicle of recovery, there is some opportunity for social and economic progress. Many of our industries rely on the public sector, and manufacturing is still the driving force in the local economy.
The Government, however, have withdrawn money from the electricity supply industry, British rail and the nationalised sector with the result that jobs have gone every week. That being so, I find it difficult to accept the Conservative view of recovery in the north-west. The Central Electricity Generating Board, for example, has not built one new power station during the Government's tenure of office with the result that jobs and skills have been stripped from my community.
§ Mr. Burt
The hon. Gentleman is persisting in describing the north-west as a predominantly manufacturing area built on the public sector. That is no longer true. Does he agree that, in common with manufacturing areas all over the world, there has been a decline in the number of jobs in manufacturing and a consequent rise in other sectors? The hon. Gentleman must concede that there are more jobs in areas other than manufacturing and that the number of new jobs in those industries is growing. The new north-west is composed of traditional manufacturing industry and the new industries of which I spoke. If the hon. Gentleman persists in saying that there is only a hard core of industrial areas dependent on the public sector, he is not painting a true picture of the north-west as a whole. The hon. Gentleman should remember that he in his area is not the only hon. Member who represents the northwest. If he takes a wider view, he will see how wrong he is.
§ Mr. Lloyd
None of my colleagues has suggested that the north-west is an exlusively manufacturing area. In 1979, fewer than 1 million of its 2.5 million jobs were in manufacturing. Many of the non-manufacturing jobs relied on manufacturing, however, which is why we have lost nearly 500,000 jobs, some 330,000 of which were in manufacturing. That is a colossal decline, but the tragedy is that those jobs did not have to go. Some went as a result of the workings of the public sector cycle, others went because of the Government's incompetent policies. They almost waged war on manufacturing between 1979 and 1981. Since then, by incompetence, the Government have kept interest rates sky high. Conservative members have spoken of rate increases. We hear much about that. If any Conservative Member wants to talk to people in manufacturing industry and in the service sector about what the costs are in their own industries, they will find that high interest rates are the predominant factor talked about. That is a direct responsibility of the Government.
§ Mr. Peter Thurnham (Bolton, North-East)
The hon. Gentleman said that the Government have declared war on manufacturing industry in the north-west. I have never heard such nonsense. Was it not the Amalgamated Union of Engineering Workers that shut down the engineering 932 industry in not only the north-west, but in the whole of the country for three months in 1979? Was that not declaring war on the industry?
§ Mr. Lloyd
The hon. Gentleman suffers from a type of myopia when it comes to the reality of his Government. There have been 330,000 jobs lost forever in the north-west in manufacturing. That was nothing to do with the AEU or with the trade union movement, but everything to do with the Government Front Bench and the sycophantic Back Benchers who are not prepared to fight for industry in the north-west. A figure recently produced by the City of Manchester—although I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will dismiss it because it comes from a source of which he does not approve—shows that venture capital flows into the south-east at 3.5 times the rate it flows into the north-west. That is not because we do not have the skills or the competence but because of the bias of the City of London and the incompetence of the management of capital interests in a region such as ours.
The hon. Member for Bury, North talked about the begging bowl. I have no begging bowl to hand out. My colleagues and I have talked to industrialists and people such as Lord Weinstock, who is still a leading light in the biggest private company, who told us that he would not invest in the north-west because many of the jobs that his company was now investing in were work for women, and that women in the north-west did not have the nimble fingers necessary for such work.
§ Mr. Burt
The hon. Gentleman has related statistics about investment going into other areas of the United Kingdom. What do his colleagues and he intend to do to present a positive image of all the north-west to encourage those investors to come to our area, because simply relating statistics of manufacturing decline and the problems in certain areas is, as I indicated in my speech, not enough. We have much going for us in a positive way in the north-west, about which I have heard little. I have heard nothing from the hon. Gentleman to convince me that he has changed his mind. When will he see that, unless we put forward the best image of the north-west, not glossing over the problems but examining why on a hardheaded, practical basis investors should come to our area we shall never achieve anything.
§ Mr. Lloyd
If the hon. Gentleman is patient I will develop the many things that we can do. There are many things that we ought to do in the north-west. I welcome the injection of money that is coming in through the urban development corporation in Trafford Park, not because I necessarily think that is the right vehicle and the right mechanism for those things to be done, because I do not think that is the case. The money that is finally being put in by the Government has long been sought by those interested in the north-west. At last we have a response from the Government because they recognise the irrelevance of their policies over the past seven or eight years. It was necessary for us to say that, without sizeable public expenditure in those areas, we would not begin to resolve those problems. When we have a Government who 933 talk about the inner cities, that is pumping no real money into those areas and that is channeling no money in any targeted way or in any meaningful sense, we have a Government who want the cosmetics of the inner cities but that want nothing to do with the large-scale social and economic problems of those areas. Headlines in local newspapers referred to a recent initiative in my area that saved £100,000 to be pumped into two local government wards in my constituency. In those two wards there are 20,000 people who are to receive that massive cash investment of £100,000, which is £5 per head of population. Conservative Members may think that £5 per head is a huge success for the Government. It actually represents £10 per head for each unemployed person in those two wards. That is the level of investment received from the private sector.
§ Mr. Favell
The hon. Gentleman has been saying a great deal about what the people of Brighton, Bournemouth, Bristol and London should be doing for Manchester. What is Manchester going to do for itself? May I remind the hon. Gentleman that the greatness of Manchester was built on the backs of Mancunians and the greatness of Liverpool was built on the backs of Liverpudlians and not on the backs of Brighton, Bristol and Basingstoke? It is nonsense to suggest that there should be more public sector spending in Manchester. Statistics show that Manchester council already spends more per head of population than any other city in the country. Manchester should start setting out its stall and getting back the sort of image that it used to have, which is hard-headed business-like devotion to making brass instead of bleating that the south owes it a living.
§ Mr. Lloyd
The hon. Member for Stockport (Mr. Favell) is a relative newcomer to the north-west and does not fully understand what goes on there. For example, the one thing that Conservative Members always parade as a triumph of north-west ingenuity is Manchester airport. That has been run, virtually since its inception, by the local authority. It is the fastest growing enterprise in the area and it has been run by the public sector, by municipal Socialism. Conservative Members find that difficult to accept. We hear the occasional accolade from the more sensible Conservative Members who accept that the local authority, when given a chance to do such things, does them very well.
The reality is—Conservative Members cannot shirk this—that when we see the withdrawal of what amounts to £1 million per week from just one local authority, which happens to be one of the bigger local authorities in the north-west, inevitably we see a massive withdrawal of purchasing power from the local economy and we see a downward cycle created that affects service industry, manufacturing industry and so on.
Manchester, indeed the whole community in the northwest, wants the ability to spend its own money and create it own jobs. That is right and proper. We want the institutions. For example, we want the institutions that have been given to Scotland and funded by the Government. We want a development agency. Scotland, quite legitimately, has the Scottish Development Agency. I do not begrudge Scotland that for one second. However, the Government look at the north-west as a mere colony and are not prepared to let it have such facilities. When 934 local authorities such as Manchester and Liverpool make decisions about economic development the Government say that they will truncate that development and prevent the local authorities developing enterprise in their own areas. They do that, ironically, at the expense of the private sector that Conservative Members claim that they support and want to help.
In economies such as ours the private sector depends on the public sector because there is an inter-relationship. The idea that the private and public sectors operate as wholly independent sectors is not only nonsense, but is completely irrelevant to the sort of economy that we operate.
The largest private sector company in Britain, GEC, still has a significant involvement in the public sector whether through the railway system, the CEGB, the arms trade or whatever. We heard the row not so long about GEC when the discussion was raging as to whether we had bought from GEC in this country or whether we had bought American technology. Once again, the public sector determined whether the private sector would make a profit. That is the reality of the modern economy. We want a relationship between the public and private sector where they work together.
§ Mr. Favell
The hon. Gentleman has put his finger on the problem. The problem in the north-west is that there are Socialist controlled areas, that believe that the private sector depends on the public sector. In fact, the reverse is true. The public sector depends on the private sector. It depends on the enterprise of private individuals and of private companies, of people who go out and make the money on which the public sector depends. A town's prosperity does not grow out of the town hall. The town hall exists on the back of the prosperity of a town or city and once places such as Manchester and Liverpool, the great Socialist citadels of the north realise that, they will re-install the sort of prosperity from which those towns and cities grew. The prosperity of Liverpool and Manchester come not out of the town halls but out of individual private enterprise. The sooner those cities realise that, the sooner they will get back to where they should be.
§ Mr. Lloyd
The reality of the north-west is slightly different. Once again, the hon. Gentleman demonstrated his ignorance.
The city of Manchester, certainly on its southern edge, relied on Trafford park for its employment. That was the manufacturing base. Trafford park, as the hon. Gentleman probably does not realise, is in the borough of Trafford. Historically, the borough of Trafford was a Conservative-controlled, low rating authority. The borough of Trafford underwent a job shedding, the like of which was never seen in any other parts of greater Manchester, not because of the high rating city of Manchester or the low rating borough of Trafford, but simply the damage that was done to the manufacturing sector. I have seen horrendous levels of unemployment in my part of the city of Manchester and in my part of Trafford. The idea that the hon. Gentleman somehow has the mechanism of private sector development ready to set up market stalls in old Trafford and McDonalds takeaways in Moss Side is a nonsense. Business is starting in Moss Side and Trafford. We welcome that. I welcome it 935 when Conservative Members manage to get their Government to eke out the money that will invest in such areas.
There is no substitute for a real and sensible pattern of public sector investment—a real programme that is organised around the public and private sectors working together to bring in that kind of investment. The private sector in the north-west has failed the north-west. It will continue to fail the north-west if we do not get new investment in new technology on a regular and consistent basis where it is needed. That is not happening. That is why we need the private sector to work with the public sector, and for the public sector to be given the institutions and mechanisms to invest in that area.
Give us our north-west development agency. Give us institutional financial agencies. Give money to local authorities. Give money to the public sector mechanisms that are prepared to make the economy work. We shall then have a chance. I freely concede what the hon. Gentleman said. There is a lot of good in the north-west—there is a lot of good in my area—and we have to enhance it. To turn away from the real problems that exist in manufacturing and service sectors blinds not only our community but central Government to the needs of our area. It is desperately important that we have a recognition. Let us enhance what we have. Let us enhance what is good there. Let us make sure that what is good there can thrive. It must be accepted by Conservative Members that, even now, it is not always in the state that we would like it to be in. Let us also not kid ourselves that when there are pockets of deprivation, if we are not prepared to make the public sector work, if we are not prepared to allow the public sector to help the private sector to work, we shall not be able to get investment in the areas that need it. We will not create the north-west that we want.
Opposition Members despair when Conservative Members claim what they want. As things stand, as long as they talk the rhetoric of a rosy future for the north, we shall not get that type of effort from the private and public sectors. A recognition of the real problems is what matters. We do not want simple words, whether they be from the Prime Minister or from anyone else. We want real action that is targeted to the unemployment problem, the need to create skills and the need to create investment in such key areas. That is not yet happening, and the north-west must begin to demand it.
We shall have the Government for the next four years. We have to work with them. We shall continue to press them not to kid themselves—they have their sycophants on the Government Back Benches—that things are going well in the north-west. The hon. Member for Stockport knows that he has one of the lowest rates of unemployment in the north-west, in his constituency. Nevertheless, without Government targeted action, unemployment in the north-west will not go away. The future of the north-west without the Government doing considerably more than they are now doing, will continue to be the social cancer, the social malaise from which we suffer. Conservative Members will do us all a favour if they press their Government to do more—privately; out of the headlines; we do not mind; simply do it. Without that, the north-west will not have the opportunity to go in the way that we all would want.
§ Mr. Peter Thurnham (Bolton, North-East)
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Bury, North (Mr. Burt) on his choice of the performance of the economy of the north-west as the subject for debate and on the excellent way in which he described the growth of the north-west, in contrast to what we heard from the hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Lloyd). I could not disagree more with the hon. Gentleman's comment that the northwest depends upon being spoon-fed by the Government.
I am very familiar with the turbo-generator industry, and I was working at Trafford Park at a time when I suspect that the hon. Gentleman was still in his pram. I know the industry there and I have worked in the Trafford plant. The future of that industry lies in competing in worldwide markets, not on the pattern of ordering power stations in this country.
If the Government have not ordered power stations in the past five years, it is because sufficient electricity has been generated by existing power stations. There is no point in building a power station that is not needed. The future of the industry depends upon the needs of the worldwide market, and that is where its success will lie.
The north-west economy depends upon the performance of individuals and firms which can see their opportunities to develop.
§ Mr. Tony Lloyd
The hon. Gentleman touching on a fundamental point. When we have a world economy that does not want to order power stations, and a Government who deliberately choose not to order them, what do we do with an industry such as that? Do we say "OK. that industry is finished; it is no longer needed," or do we say, "By the time the 1990s come round we will want to order power stations and we will want those skills and technology, therefore we need to maintain the viability of that industry so that we can produce cheaply and efficiently at home"? The hon. Gentleman talked about world markets, but they have not been there. Unfortunately, that industry has hung on, both in the north-east and in the north-west, but not because of action by the Government.
§ Mr. Thurnham
This country's exports would not be at a record level and our share of world trade would not be rising if we were not able to take advantage of new markets that are developing. It is no good looking back to previous markets and imagining that in some way we can fossilise industries which were previously in demand. I am sure that if industries offer the best products they will always find markets for them. We should develop new products for new markets.
I invite hon. Members and my hon. Friend the Minister to visit Bolton to see what is happening there. Bolton and Bury are linked, because we are in the same travel-to-work area. My hon. Friend the Member for Bury, North spoke very well about what is happening in Bury. He will be well aware of the changing skyline in Bolton. There is a new mood of confidence developing in Bolton, and it is evident from the skyline.
The new town centre development is a visible sign of what is happening. We have a £60 million investment based on a £3,250,000 urban development grant. It was the biggest urban development grant of its kind when it was obtained, and it is an example of the leverage that can be obtained by successful partnership between central 937 Government, local government and the private sector. I congratulate my noble Friend the Duke of Westminster on the enormous investment that he has made in bringing about this new town centre development, which provides almost 250,000 sq ft of shopping space.
Bolton is an old-established market centre and that development provides visible evidence of its success. It is part of over £150 million of new investment that is in the pipeline for Bolton and the surrounding area. We have new transport links with the £30 million route 225 to the west, and a new rail link, of which my hon. Friend will be well aware. The Windsor link will provide a through line for the first time from Bolton to London. There is a £30 million investment in that line, in new rolling stock and in a new railway station at Bolton, which contributes to the advantages of the town for new industries.
I commend to my hon. Friend the Minister the new "Quarterly Economic Review" produced by Bolton district council. It is evidence of the strength and diversity of the economy and it lists some of the inquiries for industrial space and the sorts of industries which are seeking to come to Bolton. The industries vary from curtaining to carpets, cricket to computers, paint to pharmaceuticals and plastics to putty, as well as gas storage, tent manufacture and administrative facilities for a children's charity. We can see the enormous diversity that is the basis of the strength of the economy.
The hon. Member for Stretford appeared to doubt the growth in self-employment. I draw his attention to a booklet that has just been published by the Conservative Political Centre, based on the community programme schemes in Bolton which I was able to persuade the previous Minister to back. I recommend to the hon. Gentleman "Operation Longstop". He should note the figures for the growth of self-employment in the northwest. It has steadily increased year by year from 214,000 in 1979 to 280,000 in 1986. That is evidence of the way in which new jobs can be provided by people themselves, rather than looking to other employers or to the public sector.
The review described Bolton as being on the move and said that the most buoyant part of the property market was in small units. In 1986, 700,000 sq ft of property was let, but 70,000 sq ft of that was in units of fewer than 2,000 sq ft. Again, that is evidence of the growing demand by new and small firms. My hon. Friend the Minister will be well aware that Bolton Business Ventures is one of the leading enterprise agencies in the country, and claims to have helped to create more than 700 jobs since it was set up in 1983. I commend to my hon. Friend the work done by that agency to create new jobs.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bury, North, in his excellent speech, spoke of the film makers sometimes giving the wrong image of the north. I am pleased to say that there are now signs of the film-making industry developing in the north-west, and it can create an image of what is happening there as part of the new industries arriving in the area.
Tourism is creating 50,000 jobs a year in the country as a whole. I am pleased that Opposition Members are no longer deriding the tourist industry as a candyfloss industry. It is making the most of our industrial heritage and showing what can be done. Real jobs of lasting value can be created. At the moment, Bolton has a heritage 938 centre being built in the Lion Yard, and that will add a feature to the town. One of the best attractions of the north-west is that the people can come to see the old industries actually working, as is evident at Styal Mill.
Unemployment in Bolton is now at its lowest level for five years. That shows that we are winning the battle to develop the economy, to generate new jobs and to show the town as one where prosperity will increase. I commend the efforts of the Bolton chamber of commerce, which celebrates its centenary this year, in helping to bring that about and showing the town in the way that my hon. Friend the Member for Bury, North said it must show itself. It must no longer denigrate itself or ask for its future to be dependent on Government handouts.
It is evident that the future of Bolton and other towns in the north-west is in the hands of the people. They are taking advantage of that, and other people should also come and take advantage while they can. Large properties are still on the market—;some of the old mills have been demolished, but there are still mill spaces that provide economical areas for people who want to move there. However, they will not be available for much longer. I join my hon. Friend in his call to people to come to the northwest to see what can be done and to live in an area which I feel is a much more pleasant area in which to live than the congested areas of the south-east.
§ Mr. Michael Jack (Fylde)
It is not often that one can make an unusual announcement at the beginning of a debate of this nature, but I wish to inform my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State and others that the northwest has recently been visited by a man from Mars. Luckily he did not arrive in any form of extra-terrestrial vehicle. Instead, he was the guest of Granada Television as a member of the delegation that it brought to Blackburn as part of its "State of the Region" series.
I watched the programme with keen interest. The company took a delegation from Slough, included in which was a representative of Mars, the confectionery company. The members of it saw the low-cost housing, the low-cost industrial units and the help that had been given to the area. The reporter then put a microphone under the nose of a man from Mars and asked. "What do you think of it?" He replied, "I never knew that it was like this." The reporter asked, "What should we do in the north-west to try to promote the advantages which you have seen?" He replied, rather irreverently. "Get off your Burns and go and sell it." That was a man from a highly successful company from a highly successful part of the country. He was impressed, and he told us in the north-west to put forward our message.
I found the message of the hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Lloyd) most depressing. I sent out a letter to the industrialists in Fylde asking them to set out the barriers to job creation in the north. I was staggered by the replies that I received. The managing director of a company called Dudley Industries, which produces the air dryers that we see at motorway service areas, wrote,The north-south divide has no relevance to my company. It is simply the competitiveness with which we can produce that will get us the jobs.It is that attitude of mind that is so important.
The hon. Member for Stretford referred to GEC. Perhaps he has not left the Manchester area to observe that GEC has substantial investments in Fylde with its 939 specialist mouldings division and in Preston with the traction division. It is necessary to travel around to get to know our region before making comments about where investment will take place.
I think that our constituents will be impressed that we choose to rise at an early hour to discuss the problems of the north-west. Many of those who are employed by the 3,500 manufacturing companies in Lancashire will be travelling to work now. I have a book entitled "Lancashire at Work," in which the phrase "county of opportunity" is used. That is a much more up-beat, positive message to put forward than that of the hon. Member for Stretford. Fifty of the 3,500 manufacturing companies employ between 500 and 45,000 people. That is not a message of depression.
It is interesting that earnings in the north-west were the third highest in the United Kingdom in 1986 at £198 per week. That says something about the strength of northwest industry and what it is doing. Value added is an interesting measure that relates to the sophistication of businesses in the region. In other words, how much can we contribute in value to basic raw materials? For the United Kingdom last year, value added per employee in manufacturing industry was £14,052. It was £14,266 in north-west, which took the region ahead of the west midlands, the east midlands and Yorkshre and Humberside. That is a sign of the strength of the region's economic performance.
I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will respond to certain messages because I believe that the Government still have an important contribution to make in the development and renaissance of north-west industry. I ask them to remember the power of the public pound in terms of purchasing power with companies such as British Aerospace and British Nuclear Fuels Ltd. There is an opportunity for BNFL to receive orders for pressurised water fuel elements for the new power station at Sizewell. There will be new export opportunities. I hope that the Minister will hear his purchasing power in mind.
§ Mr. Jack
I shall not give way. I am sure that my hon. Friend understands that only a short time is available to me.
I wish to thank the Government for their continued support of the motor industry and their efforts to keep it moving. It is pleasing that over 50 per cent. of United Kingdom car production is produced at home. The spinoffs from help to that national industry affect the northwest. In Fylde, one small company called Sykes Pickavant won the garage tool of the year award. It is a little-known award that may seem to be insignificant but it is an example of how employment has been created by the help that has been given to the motor industry in even the smallest ways.
When Ministers talk with industry they should also talk to the financial markets. The Guardian Royal Exchange in my constituency is the classic example of the decampment of work down telephone lines, via the company's electronic office, to the company's data processing headquarters in Fylde. I wish that more people in the City would make such a move. It is a relatively easy one and the benefits, highlighted by my hon. Friend the Member for Bury, North (Mr. Burt), of low cost houses and leisure facilities would be an attraction to anyone to get out of the overcrowded south-east.
940 I make a special plea for those parts of the north-west which are benefiting from tourism, but which still have high seasonal levels of unemployment. With regard to the Fylde coast, stretching from Fleetwood through to Blackpool, will the Minister give serious consideration to restoring its assisted area status? The Peel industrial estate, phase one, was fully let when that facility was available. However, now that assisted area status has been removed, phase two of the development of the industrial estate is struggling. I ask the Minister to reconsider sympathetically the Fylde coast.
§ Mr. Jack
I am not begging. I am making a request for consideration, and I know that the Minister will take greater note of the comments of my hon. Friends and myself than those from the Opposition Benches.
I wish to pay a compliment to a Cinderella industry that does not get discussed often—produce pre-packing. Produce pre-packing reflects the fact that, in Lancashire., we have the second largest amount of grade 1 agricultural land in the country. That land produces some splendid crops and they are packed by companies, such as L.O Jeffs, which is part of Northern Foods, and has a turnover of £16 million. That company, through its managing director and its entrepreneurial spirit, has shown that the natural advantages of the north-west, the locational advantages of the north-west, entrepreneurial spirit reacting to the needs of the major supermarkets and innovation are key elements in creating a company that started with a turnover of £5,000 after the war and now has a turnover of £16 million and employs 450 people.
That is the type of success story that I believe we should be promulgating throughout the north-west. I trust that the Minister will not just consider horticulture as part of agriculture. Horticulture is not party to the problems of the common agricultural policy. Horticulture provides a real opportunity for the north-west to exploit its natural advantages and create jobs.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Mr. Robert Atkins)
I welcome the initiative of my hon. Friend the Member for Bury, North (Mr. Burt) in highlighting the performance of the economy of the north-west. I represent part of the north-west and the red rose county of Lancashire and I am pleased that my hon. Friend has had the opportunity to raise this matter.
I was delighted by the support that was given by my hon. Friends the Members for Bolton, North-East ( Mr. Thurnham) for Fylde (Mr. Jack) and for Stockport (Mr. Favell). That support comprehensively saw off the speech of the hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Lloyd) who adopted what we have come to expect as the traditional Labour approach to these matters. I believe that it is about time that the Labour party moved into the 20th century and realised that, as my hon. Friend the Member for Fylde rightly said, the north-west needs to be talked up and sold.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bury, North has already said that there is a great deal of good news that needs to be told with conviction if the extensive assets of the north-west are to be capitalised upon with increasing effectiveness. The continuing upswing in the economy as a whole provides the region with particular opportunities.
The north-west, with its broadly based manufacturing and commercial activities, is well placed to tackle the new 941 market opportunities at home and abroad. The United Kingdom economy is in its strongest position for years and the north-west is sharing in this economic resurgence that has been stimulated by Government policies of the past few years. We believe that the talents and skills of the individual can be released to create new wealth by adding value and finding new markets. Those policies are now paying dividends as output, productivity and profitability rise in the north-west in line with the rest of the country.
Inevitably, over the past two decades, employment in manufacturing has had to decline as a proportion of total employment in all major industrialised countries. In the late 1970s, overmanning and low productivity were especially prevalent in the United Kingdom. Therefore, with the onset of a world recession, which was not just confined to this country, there was bound to be a reduction in the numbers employed in companies that were aiming to survive. The north-west's manufacturing industry had to shed substantial numbers as a consequence, as we all know.
However, we need to see that in a wider perspective. Unemployment persists in all major EEC countries, but in the north-west new jobs are being created in the service industries through business start-ups and self-employment. The rate of unemployment is, therefore, declining. In June 1986 it stood at 14.6 per cent. and now it is down to 13.3 per cent. Overall, we do the region a great disservice if we fail to acknowledge that the north-west has successfully been creating a great many new jobs.
It is the Government's view that real economic growth can be sustained in the north-west, and elsewhere, only through the enterprise culture. The enterprise allowance scheme has, for example, done a great deal to encourage the growth in self-employment. In Manchester, for example, more than 4,000 people are now running their own businesses with the aid of the scheme.
At the same time, this large region retains a formidable range of major companies, underpinned by networks of smaller firms. Outside the south-east the north-west contributes the most in terms of GDP manufacturing output and employment to the United Kingdom as a whole. Over three quarters of the Financial Times top 100 companies are represented in the north-west. Companies from abroad have come to the region, liked what they found, and invested on a permanent basis.
As my hon. Friends have said, the region has an unrivalled transport network and the only international gateway airport outside London. Its highly skilled work force is better suited to advanced industrial activities than almost anywhere else in the world. As my hon. Friend the Member for Bury, North said, in the north-west we have the largest campus in western Europe, encompassing the universities of Manchester and Salford, the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology, and various polytechnics.
However, I know that, despite those strengths, much of the region's industry has had to go through a major process of rationalisation over a protracted period. As part of that adjustment process, successive Governments have made regional financial assistance available. The northwest is receiving more of this type of assistance than any other English region. It has received £113 million in regional development grant for 1986–87 and £19 million in regional selective assistance in the same period.
942 My hon. Friend the Member for Fylde made the case for the Fylde coast and Blackpool, and as one who lives not a million miles from the area, as he well knows, I am sympathetic to the points that he has made. However, at this stage, I see no reason to change the map with the travel-to-work areas considered as he has referred to them.
The Merseyside development corporation was set up by the Government in 1981 to revive a depressed area of Liverpool. The corporation has spent in excess of £100 million. The private sector has responded to that, and the results are there for all to see. Indeed, only yesterday, on a visit to Liverpool, I was able to see a great deal of the tremendous work that has been done there. Liverpool successfully mounted the country's first international garden festival in 1984 which gave a lot of people in the north-west and other parts of the country a great deal of pleasure. The corporation also managed to restore the Albert dock warehouses, which is one of the finest groups of historic buildings in the country. I recommend anyone to go to see it because it is the most marvellous attraction. Partnership with the private sector is providing high-quality commercial development.
I recently had the opportunity of looking round the Salford quays project where an extensive derelict area is being transformed by commercial development, following Government funds to reclaim the infrastructure of the site. Again, it is well worth seeing the transformation that is taking place.
Back in Liverpool, the Wavertree technology park, which again I saw yesterday, has been created from 60 acres of derelict land with the help of a £6 million reclamation grant. At Speke, there is a proposal for Baltic Developments to colloborate with English Estates to develop yet another derelict site, which will eventually create 4,000 new jobs.
In Manchester, the Government have set up an urban development corporation at Trafford park, where, once more, Government help with infrastructure improvements is confidently expected to lead to about £500 million of new investment and up to 16,000 new jobs.
Even more recently, a private sector initiative has been announced to redevelop the Prince's and Waterloo docks in Liverpool with an investment of over £300 million, creating jobs for an estimated 5,000 people. Such expressions of confidence give me encouragement for the future of the north-west. Recently, announcements were made about setting up task forces in Preston and Rochdale to focus help on the local communities' attempts to restore pride, initiative and success to those deprived areas.
However, I must stress that we see the future performance of the north-west economy as relying at the end of the day on the enterprise of companies and individuals, not on Government intervention. We are trying to release the real potential and entrepreneurial energies of people in the north-west by creating an environment where they see genuine incentives for individual effort. I wish that some local authorities in the area could do more to recognise the importance of economic development. A crippling rates bill in some areas does not help companies to create jobs.
I emphasise yet again that we wish to co-operate with local authorities, not to confront them in the context of our inner-cities initiative. It was, therefore, instructive to go to Salford, as I did and meet the council which is cooperating in a big way. At the launch of the task-force initiative in Preston the Labour-controlled council made 943 it clear that it wishes to co-operate, and it is doing so. That is all to the good. It is much better to co-operate and take advantage of what is happening than to have a policy of confrontation and to refuse to accept that the Government's initiatives can be successful.
There are many signs that the economy in the northwest region is becoming stronger and that it has emerged from the recession in the early 1980s in much better shape to face the years ahead. Overall business confidence is strong and there is a general expectation that recent improvements will he sustained. The rate of investment has increased. The Ford motor company has recently spent £87 million on its Halewood plant in Merseyside. Again. I had the opportunity to visit that plant yesterday. Despite the history of the plant in years gone by when it featured largely in the public prints and the media for its problems, it has developed extremely well. There is a lesson in that for Ford and the rest of Merseyside. It has made achievements in personnel, industrial relations, investment and the quality of its products. I recommend all hon. Members to go and see what has been achieved by Ford.
Nabisco is investing more than £25 million in its biscuit factory at Aintree. Philips Dupont Optical is investing heavily in a new compact disc plant at Blackburn. In Workington, British Alcan Aluminium has recently announced a major modernisation of its high-duty aluminium extrusion plant. Many hon. Members will know how pleased I am that the British aerospace industry has had a successful year in the region not just with the major companies, but with the various supporting companies which play such a large part. I know how much my hon. Friends appreciate that.
Equally, British Nuclear Fuels, an important company, has done well. Its future might have been threatened if the Labour party had come to power, but not with the return of the Conservative Government. I know how pleased it is that things are going well and how successful and important the Springfield site is, which is located in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Fylde and employs some of my constituents.
At the same time, we have had difficulties in the motor industry. I know full well the particular problems of Leyland Bus and Leyland Truck, now Leyland DAF, how they have faced those difficulties and are now on the road to greater profits and security. Other high technology industries are equally vigorous in the area. Both ICL and Ferranti are respected worldwide as companies whose technology is as advanced as any of their international competitors.
Many companies in the more traditional sectors are also showing that it is possible to compete effectively against all corners by a combination of good management, marketing and timely investment in the latest manufacturing technologies. Coats Viyella is now spearheading a resurgence of the textile industry and Coloroll has become a major force in the home furnishing sector.
The service sector is also buoyant. Manchester is the biggest financial centre outside London. More than 40 international, foreign and merchant and other banks are 944 represented in Manchester, including three major international banks that have very recently come to the city. As hon. Members have said, Manchester international airport is growing rapidly, handling at present between 8 million and 9 million passengers a year. I cannot forgo the opportunity to mention in glowing terms the albeit smaller success that is brewing for Blackpool airport, so crucial to the Fylde coastal area, which often gets forgotten in the consideration of aviation activities in the north-west. I hope that that airport will continue to develop successfully.
The north-west has forged an increasingly effective regional policy in Inward which is promoting the region as an excellent location for inward investment. It is working closely with English Estates in the north-west to ensure that suitable locations are available for overseas companies to assess.
After what has been, even at this early hour, a sparkling debate, with many hon. Members putting the case for the north-west and arguing that the region has a lot going for it which perhaps other people do not appreciate, I recognise that a great many challenges still lie ahead, particularly in old urban areas where we must focus the experience and resources of the wider business community on identifying new market opportunities which, with imagination and determination, can attract new enterprises and generate additional employment.
I accept the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Fylde who, in his maiden speech not so long ago, used the expression directed at business men and others in the country to "Think North-West". That is extremely important. Talking down the north and the north-west does not help our prospects. We have a great deal going for us and we should make people realise our strengths, not our weaknesses. We are no different from other parts of the country in terms of the problems that face us. However, we want to ensure that people are aware that the north-west has an enormous amount going for it. People should come to us not only for communications reasons, but because the region is ideally located. I moved to the area 11 years ago and I would not move away for all the tea in China. It is a successful and attractive part of the country which should have more attention.
I believe that with the right approach the public and private sectors can work together to build on the natural strengths of the region and its people and bring real prosperity. In the long run, the health of the economy in the north-west must depend on giving the people who live there the opportunity to exercise their natural talents for entrepreneurialism, industry and commerce. If we can create the right conditions in which interprise can flourish, I know that the north-west will have a strong and prosperous future.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Bury, North on raising this subject for debate. I hope that his constituents and the constituents of other hon. Members who are present today will realise how much we care about the north-west and how important the north-west is to the future policies of the Government.