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Volume 550: debated on Tuesday 11 September 2012

3. What assessment he has made of the effect that investment in infrastructure will have on the economy. (120136)

A competitive market economy such as Britain needs modern infrastructure if it is to succeed, yet in areas such as roads, energy and broadband, the last decade saw us fall behind the rest of Europe. This Government are righting those wrongs by overseeing a £250 billion investment in infrastructure—double the amount in the previous Parliament, even in these straitened times. Our new legislation will guarantee billions more in investment from the private sector. This will bring the new roads, the superfast broadband to our cities, and the new rail connections such as the northern hub. We are also cutting through the delays in Whitehall and in the planning system to make sure that we deliver faster than Labour did.

I welcome all that investment in infrastructure, particularly the investment in electrification of the trans-Pennine rail route and the full funding of the northern hub rail project. Will my right hon. Friend continue to invest in infrastructure so that we can recover from the shocking situation we inherited whereby for every 10 jobs created in London and the south-east under the previous Government, only one was created in the regions?

My hon. Friend points to the stark truth that, as he says, for every 10 jobs created in the private sector in the south of England only one was created in the north of England. In a region as important as the west midlands, for example, private sector employment fell during Labour’s period in office, and that was before the crash. We are investing in the infrastructure. The trans-Pennine electrification is incredibly important. The stretch between Liverpool and Manchester is already under way, and of course it then crosses the Pennines. We are also fully committing to the northern hub—something that was not done under the previous Government.

I support the Government’s national infrastructure plan. I particularly welcome specific projects such as the dualling of the A11 and the potential new A14 toll road in Cambridgeshire near my constituency. Is not the lesson of such discrete local transport infrastructure projects that they deliver a much more profound impact on jobs and growth than grandiose projects such as High Speed 2, the business case for which is fatally flawed?

I agreed with my hon. Friend until his last sentence. He is right to say that it is not just the big projects announced from this Dispatch Box that count; the local projects in Peterborough and elsewhere will also unlock jobs, development and investment. Of course, we cannot make all those announcements here in the House of Commons. However, we have provided local authorities with the funds to make those transport changes and improvements. We call it the Growing Places fund, and it is worth about £500 million. In the city deals that we are striking with different cities, we are improving road and rail connections to create jobs and get the private sector growing, which is what we all want to see.

The huge contraction in our construction sector is one of the reasons we are in a double-dip recession. We have seen two reshuffles—one in the UK Government and one in the Scottish Government. In Scotland, the new Cabinet Secretary for Infrastructure, Investment and Cities will be building not the case for schools, hospitals and railways but the case for independence, and we have a UK Chancellor who thinks that a credible economic policy is just about rolling up his sleeves. When we will see a change in direction from this Government to make sure that we are creating investment and jobs right across the UK?

In this case, I agreed with the first half of the question. I do not think that the Scottish Government are focused on the priorities of the Scottish people, and I made that case when I spoke to CBI Scotland in Glasgow last week. However, I disagree with his attempt to compare the record of the Labour Government with that of this coalition Government. We are spending more on capital investment than the previous Labour Government planned to spend in this period, as they set out just before the general election. We are spending more on capital investment in the essential infrastructure of this country than they did. We are also taking tough decisions on welfare and the like in order to get the deficit down and get money spent where it can create jobs.

Will the Chancellor consider extra investment in the ports of Neath, Port Talbot and Swansea in order that they become recognised by the European Commission as core ports and therefore trigger TEN-T—trans-European transport network—investment in an area where it is much needed?

I am keen to see further investment in our ports. I am happy to engage in a specific conversation with the hon. Gentleman about his proposal and, if necessary, speak to the Welsh Government about it.

Does the Chancellor agree that the projects that have the most beneficial impact on the economy are those that are fully self-financing in the private sector because they are popular?

I agree that we want to see private sector investment, and tens of billions of pounds of private sector investment is coming into the United Kingdom. Indeed, today the Chinese company Huawei has announced a $2 billion investment in the UK. I absolutely agree with my right hon. Friend. We want to create the low-tax, competitive conditions for the UK economy in which the private sector can grow, but I think he would recognise that there is a role for public money in providing large-scale transport infrastructure, for example, which these companies need to succeed.

In a speech yesterday, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury declared that

“infrastructure is at the centre of our strategy to kick-start our economy.”

With that in mind, will the Chancellor tell the House whether the value of orders for infrastructure investment made by the private sector rose or fell between 2010 and 2011?

For a start, we have just announced £40 billion of additional guarantees for private sector infrastructure. If the hon. Lady wants the figures, £113 billion was invested over the period from 2005 to 2010, and £250 billion of investment for both the private and public sectors has been announced in this Parliament.

As the Chancellor will know, there is a difference between announcing something and actually delivering it. The answer to my question is that those orders fell by a fifth, from £7.3 billion in 2010 to £5.9 billion in 2011—a result of the collapse in business confidence that the Chancellor’s disastrous decision to cut too far and too fast has resulted in.

Is it not the truth that next week’s Infrastructure (Financial Assistance) Bill is necessary only in order to create the impression of activity and to distract from this Government’s complete and utter failure to deliver the infrastructure investment that they have been promising and that the country is crying out for?

There is a difference between announcement and delivery: Labour announced no more boom and bust, and delivered the biggest boom and the biggest bust. We know all about the record of the last Labour Government. One of the quite extraordinary things is that, despite spending and borrowing all that money, they did not actually invest in the modern infrastructure that the private sector needs to create sustainable jobs. That is the lesson that the hon. Lady should learn from their last period in office.

We are told by the Government that we urgently need more airport capacity, so could the Chancellor explain why his only policy on the issue is to commit the Government to doing nothing at all for three years, until after the next election? Surely he appreciates that voters need to know where the Government stand before they vote.

As my hon. Friend knows better than pretty much anyone else in this House, we made a very firm commitment that we would not proceed with a third runway in this Parliament, but Howard Davies is now looking at all the options for airport capacity in the south-east. This issue has evaded Governments of all political colours for the past 30 years, and it is time that we tried to achieve some cross-party consensus, because I am absolutely clear—[Interruption.] If the Labour party was so good at building airports, where are they? Where are these additional airports that it built? The truth is that the south-east of England needs additional airport capacity. The question is where we place it and I think that Howard Davies is the right man to advise us all.