HC Deb 25 March 1999 vol 328 cc513-4
7. Mr. David Amess (Southend, West)

What recent representations he has received on the criteria for awarding assisted area status. [77039]

The Minister for Small Firms, Trade and Industry (Mr. Michael Wills)

In the public consultation on the review of the assisted areas map, we received more than 300 representations on the criteria that should be applied.

Mr. Amess

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that I visited Europe last year and had a meeting with a European Commissioner to try to persuade him to give financial help to Southend? He clearly told me that it was a matter for Her Majesty's Government to nominate Southend for assistance. Is the Minister also aware that Southend has high unemployment, a low per capita gross domestic product and terrible transport problems as a result of Government cuts of £600,000? Will he support the bid by the Liberal-Labour controlled council for assisted area status for Southend?

Mr. Wills

The hon. Gentleman raises several concerns that are shared widely throughout the United Kingdom. We are considering all the issues and we shall make our decision shortly.

Mr. Gwyn Prosser (Dover)

Is my hon. Friend aware of the particular problems of east Kent—the structural changes in employment, the loss of the Kent coalfields in my constituency, the loss of frontier jobs when the single market came in and the impact of the channel tunnel on ferry jobs? Is he aware that in the past five years of the present round of assisted area grants, we have been able to invest £160 million in the constituency and the surrounding area? Will he take all those special issues into account in his deliberations?

Mr. Wills

We are well aware of the concerns of my hon. Friend's area, not least because he has been indefatigable in pressing them on us over the past few months. We shall take them seriously.

Mr. Christopher Chope (Christchurch)

About a quarter of the existing assisted areas will lose their assisted area status under Government plans. The Government have a treaty obligation to disclose their new assisted area plans and map by 31 March this year. The Minister has not been able to guarantee that the Government will do that. Is that because they want to conceal the truth about their plans for reducing the assistance to large numbers of people until after the local government elections in England and the elections for the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly?

Mr. Wills

I am surprised by the hon. Gentleman's question. The short answer is no. We are working towards the Commission's preferred deadline of 31 March.