As the MP for Lancashire West and secretary of the North West Group of Labour MPs in the House of Commons, I am dismayed to see yet another of our successful industries being undermined and under-invested by the Government.
In a region more heavily hit than others by unemployment and industrial decline, the growth of higher education over the past few years has been a signal of hope and opportunity for the communities in the Northwest. The net result benefits us all. The influx of young people from other parts of the United Kingdom and other countries to our institutions adds to this region's vitality as well as bringing in further income to local businesses and services.
Yet, in the last budget, instead of seeking ways to harness these developments and expand opportunity, Kenneth Clarke, in an almost too familiar way, cut higher education funding in the region by Pounds 21.6 million - equivalent to the closure of a small university or HE college. Higher education in economic terms alone is an industry which supports 30,000 jobs and brings in Pounds 1.05 billion to the Northwest region. It has had an enviable record of expansion and higher productivity for which staff have not been properly rewarded, and rather than cuts there should be congratulations for their achievements.
Rather than having a cash-driven higher education sector, we badly need a national debate on the future of the universities. Dearing will address this, but not for two years. What happens in the meantime?
COLIN PICKTHALL Labour MP for Lancashire West Secretary, North West Group of Labour MPs