'BASINGSTOKE is booming'.

That was the message from chief secretary to the treasury Liz Truss MP when she visited the town on Friday last week to extol the latest figures which show Basingstoke is approaching 88 per cent employment, one of the highest rates in the country.

The minister, who is second-in-command of the treasury behind the chancellor of the exchequer Phillip Hammond, stopped in at Basingstoke College of Technology (BCoT) and the Basingstoke Small Business Forum while visiting the town and emphasised that it is the high-tech sector which will continue to drive job and exports growth in the town.

During her visit to BCoT, speaking exclusively to the Gazette about why she thinks Basingstoke is an economic success story, she said: "It is a combination of factors. There are national policies such as reducing corporation tax and putting in the apprenticeship levy but it is also the local factors such as great leadership and vision, the transport links Basingstoke enjoys as it is a great location and investment.

"The south east exports more than any other part of the country (£45bn worth), including London, and Basingstoke plays a big part in that.

"It's great to see Basingstoke booming."

She was guided around the college by principal Anthony Bravo and accompanied by Maria Miller MP, speaking to students in such diverse fields as automotive engineering, animal health and welfare, and catering.

The trio discussed an array of subjects as they toured BCoT, particularly focusing on the role of apprenticeships, apprenticeship levies and the government’s new T-levels, which are A-level qualifications in technical subjects, before sitting down for a more formal discussion.

Ms Truss added: “This is a great college. It was fantastic to get a taste of the products from the catering department of course but also to see the real investments students are making in the subjects they study such as engineering which is going to lead to employment.

“You cannot miss the sign at the front saying 97 per cent of students here go on to university of in to employment which is testament to the work done here.

“We had a really interesting discussion about technical education and vocational education which the government is doing a lot of work at the moment with T-levels.”

In a light-hearted moment, during her visit to BCoT’s exotic animal centre, Ms Truss came across a lizard by the name of Boris, taking a picture of the creature.

She added: “I will be talking to the foreign secretary (Boris Johnson) about it!.”

The minister was accompanied on her visit by Basingstoke MP Maria Miller.

On employment figures, she added: "We have an awful lot of SMEs in Basingstoke who employ a large portion of people who live here so we are more resilient to changes that big companies go through. It is an incredible business base to have.

"Investment plays a big part as well, for example the £40m spent on our road network which makes Basingstoke an attractive place to live and work."

The chief secretary to the treasury added: “I was struck during my visit by how much appetite there is to build on the jobs boom that Basingstoke has experienced since 2010.

“And jobs and investment in technology and start-up business will be key to this.

“Basingstoke and the surrounding area is already home to billions of pounds of exports and huge success stories who have exported their products to the world, and the government wants to see even more of this.

“We are committed to keeping a strong business culture in the UK. Which is why we have kept corporation tax low and made it easier for companies to take on staff.”