A GOVERNMENT Minister is urging Huntingdon racing car-maker Lola to repeat the round-the-streets spectacle that was the pinnacle of the firm s 50th anniversary a year ago. Barbara Follett, who is Minister for the East of England and in the Department for
A GOVERNMENT Minister is urging Huntingdon racing car-maker Lola to repeat the round-the-streets spectacle that was the pinnacle of the firm's 50th anniversary a year ago.
Barbara Follett, who is Minister for the East of England and in the Department for Communities and Local Government, was in Huntingdon last week to open Lola's brand-new production line at its St Peter's Road factory.
"The round-the-town parade should be repeated, say every five years," she told The Hunts Post during the visit. "The cars are a huge draw, and I have suggested it to Andrew Managhan [group managing director] today."
Mrs Follett had a tour of the plant, seeing not only its successful racing cars - Lola won the Le Mans Series constructor's championship even before the last race of the endurance series - but unmanned Mantis aerial and underwater vehicles, and watched wind-tunnel testing of a half-scale model of one of Lola's Le Mans Series cars.
She also talked to Peter McCool, now head of special projects at Lola Cars. The former McLaren and Super Aguri engineer led Lola's abortive bid for F1 entry in 2010, but the company's ambition to compete at the top level of motor racing has not diminished.
At the official opening of the production facility, she told staff: "This place is absolutely marvellous. As a Star Trek fan, this is exactly the sort of thing I love looking at. You people have great jobs - it must be more like fun than work. Use me to lobby for you."
Mrs Follett is a self-confessed petrol-head who drives a Jaguar XKR. She said afterwards: "I'm so proud of this facility. Some of the stuff here is almost at the level of science fiction and about the way future conflicts will be fought and about surveillance - all without people. They have a very highly-skilled workforce here."
The Minister's enthusiasm for a repeat of last year's extravaganza, which included a static display of about 20 racing cars from the first half-century of the company's motorsport history, stemmed from a drive to expand domestic tourism.
"I'm cautiously optimistic about the regional economy, which is doing better. Order books are looking up, and tourism is better, partly because of the exchange rate but also because people are feeling patriotic about Britain and taking their holidays here.
"It's too early to say all is well, but we are on course to have a small amount of growth - around 0.3 per cent - in the first quarter of 2010.
"Our big problem is unemployment, following an increase in the late summer. It's particularly worrying for young people, who should not get used to not working. That's when people don't aspire to anything. It happened amongst whole families in the last recession in the 1990s where in some places there were three generations out of work," she added.
Her new job at DCLG, where she started last week, includes looking at Government grants for local authorities - the 'floors and ceilings' that penalise both Cambridgeshire County Council and Huntingdonshire District Council.
"I'm looking at settlements and local democracy and efficiency and ways to target certain areas, such as which areas could use more help," she said. "I'm also looking at floors and ceilings. I understand the effects of ceilings only too well from my own constituency of Stevenage.