New assurance on region's economy from minister

Mark Spencer MP
Image caption Mark Spencer says the East Midlands is ideally placed to trade with the rest of the country

So where are the future jobs for my kids going to come from?

That was the rather exasperated question posed to me by a dad, who's funding his children through college.

It's also a question that's been on the mind of many of our MPs.

They've been debating the state of the East Midlands economy and the future of our manufacturing sector. And the picture they painted was robustly rosy. Surprised?

The parliamentary debate was secured by the Sherwood Conservative Mark Spencer.

Manufacturing is no sunset industry, he said.

"We are heading in a high technology direction," he told MPs.

"The East Midlands is ideally placed to trade with the rest of the country and the world. We should be cheerleading and banging the drum for the region."

In the East Midlands, a higher proportion of people continue to work full-time in manufacturing than in any other UK region.

'Missed out'

Nationally, the rate is 10.5%. In the area covered by the Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire Chamber of Commerce, that rate tops nearly 17%.

But, according to some Labour MPs, the region has missed out on government funding to help new business starts up.

That concern centres on RGF (Regional Growth Funding) and it was summed up by the Leicester South Labour MP Jon Ashworth.

"In round one, the East Midlands made up 13% of the bids for funding yet won just 4%. Frankly, that's just not good enough," he said.

That worry was backed up by Chesterfield MP Toby Perkins.

"We faired worst than any other region for funding," he said.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Derbyshire exports more per person than any other county, according to MP Heather Wheeler

So why in RGF round three did the North West get £88m and the East Midlands receive a lowly £14m?

The clue is in the government's strategy. In "rebalancing" the UK economy, it's wanting to help English regions that have traditionally relied on the public sector for jobs.

"This government is addressing the need to rebalance our economy," said Andrew Bridgen, the Conservative MP for North West Leicestershire.

"We can't have 50% of the economy, the private sector, supporting itself and the rest of the public sector. That led to the huge deficit we are trying to sort out from the last Labour government."

In the debate, a succession of Conservative MPs followed to highlight business successes in their own constituencies: I learned there are more brewery starts ups in Derbyshire than anywhere else in the UK. That was courtesy of Erewash's Jessica Lee.

Or that Derbyshire exports more per person that anywhere else in Britain. Derbyshire South's Heather Wheeler is to thank for that one, together with - among others - Rolls Royce, Toyota and JCB.

Apprenticeships up

The Business and Enterprise Minister Michael Fallon offered another eye-catching fact: annual exports from the East Midlands are now worth £18bn. That's an all-time high.

So is that where the future jobs for our kids are going to come from? Youth unemployment in the region is still high.

Yet apprenticeships in the East Midlands are up and regional unemployment is down.

"Let me reassure you that this government is committed to manufacturing," said the minister.

This Coalition government feels it's got a good story to tell in the East Midlands.

With key shire county elections this May, the economy and people's perceptions about it will be critical to how people will vote.