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Mike Wood: My hon. Friend rightly speaks about our furniture manufacturers’ reputation for high standards, which is one of the many reasons why Boss Design in my constituency has been picked to furnish the new World Trade Centre in New York. Research by the British Furniture Confederation showed that some products that come into the UK with CE approval are not properly flame resistant and can be burnt to a cinder in as little as 10 minutes, whereas a properly compliant product would self-extinguish within 10 to 15 seconds. Is he as concerned about that as I am?
Richard HarringtonParliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy)
I thank my hon. Friend for bringing that to my attention; it is a relevant point. I remind hon. Members who may have temporarily forgotten that the Prime Minister visited Boss Design and was very impressed with what she saw. I will make sure that the relevant officials are aware of the point that my hon. Friend makes.
We share the desire of businesses for consumers to have confidence that the products in their homes are produced to rigorous safety requirements. We have to work with both business and our EU partners to ensure that regulations are effective and fit for the future. That has nothing to do with whether or not we are in the European Union. There is a commonality of interest and desire among people all over the world to have the same standards.
I recognise that the industry’s continued success relies on having the right skills. As my hon. Friend the Member for Erewash mentioned, just one sofa requires a range of skills, from carpentry to the intricate skills of the upholsterer. The Government are keen to ensure that the industry has the skills it needs. We have heard the call for an immigration system based purely on skills and qualifications, and such a system is set out in the immigration White Paper. There has to be an easy and simple route for skilled workers, because it is otherwise difficult for manufacturers and other employers as far as time and money are concerned. When we talk about friction, we mean not only the friction of raw materials coming in, but of all things to do with business, and we are very conscious of that. That is particularly important where there is a skill shortage. The Government will engage businesses and employers on setting salary thresholds and the conditions around them.
In the long term, we want to nurture home-grown talent within companies, which is where apprenticeships come in. We need to develop that. The apprenticeship levy was a good idea, but it must not become a payroll tax that means that companies are unable to spend money that was theirs to begin with. That will require a lot of work. The sector has been very willing to work with Government to make the apprenticeship levy a success. Whether through the British furniture manufacturers’ FIESTA—Furniture and Interiors Education, Skills and Training Alliance—programme, T-levels or the national apprenticeship awards, the furniture industry has outperformed in its contribution to apprenticeships relative to its size. We have to ensure that the future generation of furniture makers succeed.
Finally, my hon. Friend raised the concerns of her constituents in Long Eaton about High Speed 2, as she has done numerous times in the House. The Government’s local growth team—a joint unit between the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government —is supporting the Department for Transport in working constructively with places along the HS2 route and taking into account the needs of local businesses. I hope that her constituents were able to engage with the consultations on phase 2B of the route which were undertaken between October and December last year. We are analysing the feedback from that consultation and I would be happy to discuss it with her in our meeting on 5 February, which we arranged following her recent questions to me in the House. I will ensure that the relevant officials from all Departments are there.
The country has a rich history of producing world-class furniture, and my hon Friend’s constituency has a tradition of producing world-class MPs. I thank her for reminding us both of the furniture industry’s great contribution to our country and of the strong position it is in to make a positive contribution to a more sustainable future.