Debate on the Address: Better Jobs and a Fair Deal at Work

They say that success has 100 fathers, and as we have seen over the last week, in any election 100 reasons are put forward as to why one side won and another lost. But I think it is beyond question that one of the reasons why yesterday’s Queen’s Speech set out the legislative programme for a Conservative Government is that one of our pivotal arguments was about how we can level up the United Kingdom. That was one of the key arguments at the last election, and it is a key reason why last week Conservatives were successful in local authorities such as Dudley and Conservative Mayors such as Andy Street in the West Midlands were successful.

It is about the need to level up, to ensure that every part of the United Kingdom enjoys our success and prosperity and that no area gets left behind, including my constituency of Dudley South. In 1997, Dudley’s gross value added per head was around 78% of the national average. By 2010, that had fallen to just 64%. My hon. Friend
the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Kevin Hollinrake) alluded to the disparity between East and West Germany as a comparator. I do not have a similar analogy, but clearly a 36% gap with the national average cannot be allowed to continue.

Action has been taken over the last 11 years to start to address that gap, to the extent that before the pandemic, in the five years leading up to 2019, salaries in Dudley had increased more quickly than anywhere else in the country. We have seen investment in areas such as Dudley South, including in the west midlands metro tram extension, which will link my constituency in Brierley Hill and Netherton through Dudley to Birmingham’s national rail network; in our enterprise zones, to create jobs; and in the future high streets fund, to get our town centres back on their feet. But there is still a wide gap, and many of the measures announced by Her Majesty yesterday will see concrete action to start to close that gap further and ensure that people have opportunities to succeed, regardless of where they live or who their parents are.

For example, the skills and post-16 education Bill is particularly important for my constituents in Dudley South. For years, if not decades, we have talked about closing the gap in the level of skills and qualifications in the Black Country compared with elsewhere in the country. The Bill will help to address that gap and ensure that my constituents have the skills that firms need for the jobs they have and, at least as importantly, the skills that will be needed for the jobs that we want to attract and create. I went to state schools in Dudley, but few of the people I was at school with in the 1980s and 1990s still live in the area, because so many have had to move away for work. We cannot allow that to happen infinitely.

The House will be aware that I chair the all-party parliamentary beer group. Hospitality is one of the largest employers in the country, particularly among under-25s, so the support given has been necessary. I hope the Treasury will look at differential duty rates and reforming the duty system to support draught beer, which will support thousands of beers—sorry, thousands of jobs—in every part of the country according to the economic model, and perhaps thousands of beers, too.