[Mrs Anne Main in the Chair]
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship for the first time, Mrs Main. I am grateful to have secured this debate and I am delighted with the support of colleagues, for which I thank them, on a vital subject for us and our constituents.
This is a timely debate that goes along with other big conversation debates about the northern powerhouse. Just last week, the Prime Minister and the Chancellor went to Manchester and set out their commitments to the north-west. Obviously, other hon. Members will want to talk about what the commitments need to be in the north-east as well.
I am delighted that my right hon. Friend the Minister for Universities, Science and Cities is present. We are fortunate to have him here. He has been consistent in his approach, putting forward the agenda for the cities and for the north. He is also a Member from the north, from Middlesbrough. We regard him as a real friend for our cause and are delighted by the time and effort that he is putting into looking at proposals to take forward the economy in the north. We are delighted that he is here.
Last week, the Prime Minister talked a lot about the north-west. Obviously, that interests me as the Member of Parliament for Macclesfield, which, as a few colleagues have pointed out, is in Cheshire in the north-west. I will focus a lot of my remarks on the north-west, but no doubt other Members from the north-east and Yorkshire will want to put forward their views on what needs to be done to help move the agenda forward on the east of the Pennines as well.
There is a lot to celebrate in the north. British Chambers of Commerce has been in touch with me, having found out that this debate was taking place, and it highlights that a quarter of UK manufacturers are in the north; that Sheffield has world-leading expertise in advanced materials; that the second largest digital and creative sector cluster in Europe is in Greater Manchester; that the automotive cluster around Nissan in Sunderland accounts for one in three of the UK’s cars, although I think that more will be going on over in Merseyside to compete with that; and that there is a £6 billion petrochemicals cluster around the Humber. Macclesfield was famous for silk and is now leading the way in life sciences, with 2,200 working at AstraZeneca’s Macclesfield site.
This is something that we can be proud of. I spent a lot of my career—about 11 years—working in Leeds, which is now the second biggest financial and legal services cluster outside London. I worked with Asda and Halifax General Insurance. There are real case studies of best practice here that we need to celebrate, and we need to maximise the opportunities.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the difference between the south and north from a business point of view can be characterised by the fact that only about half a dozen FTSE 100 companies are headquartered north of Watford? That has big implications for many of the things that I think my hon. Friend wants to raise in this debate and means that northern businesses need to be represented strongly.
Absolutely; without question. Having spent many of my working years in the north, it is clear to me that we need more focus, not just from the Government but from business. We know, from the businesses we work with, that there is huge enthusiasm to make the northern economy flourish and become even stronger. There is no question but that there is more work to do, including in the private sector as well as in the public sector.
I should like to set out what the Prime Minister said are his six commitments for the north-west, to remind colleagues. He said clearly in Manchester that he wanted to see an increase in the long-term rate of growth in the north-west at least at the forecast growth rate of the United Kingdom. He wants to see the north-west at the same average employment rate as in the UK as a whole. We have seen progress already. Output per head in the north- west grew faster than, or at least as fast as, elsewhere in the UK during 2013. The ambition is to generate an £18 billion real-terms increase in the size of the north-west economy by 2030, with more than 100,000 more people in employment during the next Parliament. These are big ambitions, and they are so important because in the north-west and in the north generally, historically, we have not seen the employment levels that the area and the region deserve. We need to do more to help achieve those ambitions.
The Prime Minister talked about how those commitments would be achieved. He talked about getting the largest ever and most sustained investment in the long-term transport infrastructure of the north-west and about making sure that we get scientific innovation standing out more.
On infrastructure, does my hon. Friend welcome the announcement about the Mersey gateway bridge, which is being built over the river Mersey, opening up the port of Liverpool with greater Cheshire and beyond? Also, the northern hub and electrification of the trans-Pennine routes will open up Manchester and Liverpool over to Leeds and Hull.
My hon. Friend anticipates things that I was going to say, but yes, absolutely. The Atlantic gateway is one of those vital, iconic and important infrastructure schemes in the north-west that we want to support. I know all too well the hard work that he is putting into Daresbury and into life sciences. A clear strategy is emerging and we need to make sure that we fulfil its potential.
The Prime Minister also highlighted the cultural and sporting strengths in the region.
I should like to spend a little bit of time on how we transfer power to our great cities and how to ensure we link that with the counties around them. Of course, the north of England led from the front during the industrial revolution. The ambition of the northern powerhouse is to ensure that the north leads the post-industrial—what we might even call the re-industrial—21st century, too. We have the support in the north. People from different political parties and others such as the chief executive of Manchester city council, Sir Howard Bernstein, talk about how the north should become the
“destination of choice for investors”.
There is no question about that, but I believe it should be a destination of choice for career seekers, hard-working families, tourists, for audiences, students, and many more. In this region we need to get support behind what I call the four e’s of economic success—entrepreneurs, employers, exporters and, of course, employees—and help more people trying to take that first step in any of those areas.
My hon. Friend will know, of course, that the north-east is leading the way, with the fastest rate of growth of private sector business in the autumn quarter. On supporting the four e’s, does he agree that it is key that the Government, local authorities and the local enterprise partnerships ensure that broadband access, which we all need so much for our businesses, is made available to all parts of the country as quickly as possible?
Absolutely. Superfast broadband is vital, particularly in places such as Hexham, with its rural communities, but it is just as vital in some more remote communities in Macclesfield and the Peak district. I am thinking of Rainow, Wincle and Wildboarclough; if they are going to survive and thrive, they need to have access to superfast broadband.
The other thing that we need to do to support businesses is ensure that they have information about the support that is available. Too often, speaking to the Federation of Small Businesses and small businesses in Macclesfield and in the north-west, I hear that they find it difficult to work out how to get access, whether to employment allowance or export finance or training and apprenticeships. We have to do everything we can to ensure that we communicate well and get the word out: that is partly our job as Members of Parliament, too. Having served on the FSB’s recent productivity inquiry, it is clear to me that it wants better communication.
On strategic priorities, I believe, like many of my colleagues here, that life sciences and transport infrastructure are vital and that the transfer of power away from Whitehall is critical. A growing consensus is emerging on that. Whether I speak to the North West Business Leadership Team or the local enterprise partnerships—the Cheshire and Warrington enterprise partnership is doing a good job—there is support for that approach on strategic priorities.
On life sciences, in early 2013, the prospects for Cheshire East’s Alderley Park site were not good. AstraZeneca had made a decision to relocate—some colleagues will remember this only too well—its research and development staff to Cambridge. Those were concerning times, but now, a year and a half later, we have seen more than 300 jobs brought to the site. There is a new business owner, Manchester Science Partnerships, and a healthy pipeline of businesses wanting to locate there. That success could not have been achieved without close collaboration between Cheshire East council, Manchester city council—they are councils not of similar political views, but of common economic interests, coming together for the local good—and the university of Manchester. It is a powerful case study of how collaborative partnerships can work for the economic interests of local citizens, about which the Minister is absolutely passionate.
On the back of that partnership, we secured a £20 million investment from the growth deal to help further strengthen life sciences in the area, which is a real boost. Success breeds success. We are seeing that sense of partnership and wider collaboration growing. There are imaginative and innovative plans.
I thank my hon. Friend for highlighting some of the successes on the eastern or, as we call it, the better side of the Pennines—that is a fact, Mrs Main—early in his speech. On collaboration, I completely agree with what he is saying, but we have a problem in the Humber that goes back to the days of Humberside. Our local authorities are split between east Yorkshire and north Lincolnshire and simply find it hard to get on. Our fear relates to the absence of the local authorities being able to agree to share services or work more collaboratively. We must not miss out in the Humber because our local authorities cannot get on.
I am not familiar with the issues on the ground that my hon. Friend is experiencing, but local enterprise partnerships and the funding that goes through to them are critical to bringing local authorities together. If local authorities are committed to delivering economic growth for local citizens, they will have to work together. I am sure that the Minister will have more to say on that.
My hon. Friend is making a powerful point and an excellent speech. When we are talking about devolving powers and funding, which is exceptionally important for the north, we must remember that the rural areas play a key part across Yorkshire and Humber and on the other side of the Pennines in the north-west. They must not be left behind in this devolution.
Once again, an hon. Friend makes a vital point. It is critical to bring city and county together. There is a lot of talk about cities, and that is understandable, as a lot of journalists work in cities and they get that side of things, but the truth is that the broad and important rural agenda needs to be linked into cities. I passionately believe that city and county need to work together, and it will be through strategic partnerships that we make that work. The initiative in Cheshire, Liverpool and Manchester that we want to move forward is the science corridor, so that we have a thriving life sciences sector stretching from Liverpool to Manchester, down to Alderley Park and east to Macclesfield.
My hon. Friend is talking about life sciences, but it is worth saying that there has been a total renaissance of all science in the north-west. We have the Sir Henry Royce Institute in Manchester, the Cognitive Computing Research Centre at Daresbury, the Square Kilometre Array in Cheshire, the National Graphene Institute at the university of Manchester—
It is difficult to contain the enthusiasm of my hon. Friend the Member for City of Chester (Stephen Mosley) for this subject, and it is great to see, because it makes a difference. I understand and accept the points that he raised. He makes an important contribution through his passion and interest in these matters and through the Science and Technology Committee. At Prime Minister’s questions last week, in response to my question about what we can do at Alderley Park for life sciences, the Prime Minister talked about how it had a crucial part to play in the improvement of life sciences in the country. He said that we need to get more growth deal funding and other initiatives to help bolster life sciences in the north-west.
My hon. Friend the Member for City of Chester anticipated my next point: this is not just about life sciences; it is also about astrophysics. My hon. Friend the Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce) will appreciate the importance of the Square Kilometre Array initiative. It is the world’s biggest radio spectrum telescope, and it is based in Cheshire. It is a globally significant project. We have seen the initial project phase based in Jodrell Bank, and we are pushing to ensure that further phases are headquartered there. I very much hope that the Minister will have a few things to say in support of that, because it will put astrophysics and science firmly on the map in the UK once again. That will not only ensure that the north is known as a leading edge in science, but encourage more leading-edge thinking across industry.
I will move on to infrastructure, because many other colleagues want to speak. One of the things we need to do in the north is ensure that we can get to it and get around it a lot more effectively. There is another powerhouse, I understand, in the south. Some refer to it as London, but people recognise that it is a conurbation of towns and villages from Uxbridge to Upminster and beyond. Crossrail will improve connectivity in that conurbation, but the truth is that we need to do a lot more in the north. As many people will know, it takes longer to get from Liverpool to Hull than from London to Paris, and that has to change. There are exciting positive initiatives such as the big new trans-Pennine high-speed rail project, which some people call High Speed 3, or overdue rail electrification, to which others have referred.
All those things are vital. HS2 will bring greater connectivity, but I want to ensure that we continue to have good, vibrant services with the same regularity and speed on the west coast main line. People will fully understand that HS2 is about driving capacity, which is what we need to ensure that we have the right connectivity. That will ensure that skills are easily transferred among the different clusters in the north that we need to see thrive and succeed in the years and decades ahead.
My last point on strategic priority is on transferring power to the north. It is compelling to see the Government propose an agenda that resonates with local authorities that might not have the same political sympathies and views. Anyone looking at the economic development of the north will realise that it is wrong to think that London should do everything. That is an over-centralised, metropolitan and outdated view of how a modern economy should run.
In the United States and in Germany, economic prosperity is much better balanced across major cities. We need to ensure that the situation is the same in the UK. I am delighted that the Government secured an agreement with Greater Manchester council and the Greater Manchester area to create a new mayor with powers brought in from the existing police and crime commissioner. That has gained real support from local leaders. It might not sit well with Labour Front Benchers, but locally it is sitting extraordinarily well with leaders who want more power. I welcome giving it to them, because with success and progress in Greater Manchester, the counties around will succeed, too, if we create those partnerships.
I fully support decentralisation. I am very supportive of elected mayors—the metro mayor concept is definitely a positive for the north—but I am always concerned that places such as Cumbria do not get left behind. Can my hon. Friend envisage an elected mayor for Cumbria as a counterweight to the powerhouse of Manchester?
It is probably way above my pay grade to try to think through what should happen in Cumbria. Like my hon. Friend, I love Cumbria and do not want to see it get left behind. The infrastructure points raised about rural broadband and transferring power must link into rural communities. Otherwise, the northern powerhouse initiative will not achieve the potential that the north deserves. His idea is worth exploring, but I am sure that he has more expertise in that than me.
In drawing to a conclusion, I want to focus on the lessons from Alderley Park, which was an important experience in my career, to see how partnerships between city and county can bring about successful results. In further reference to the point about Cumbria, let us learn the lessons from such experiences to ensure we take the maximum from them.
Like my hon. Friend, I pay tribute to the work that Manchester has done, but does he agree that Leeds, which also wants to do a deal with Whitehall, needs to show that it will act above politics and provide scrutiny and governance mechanisms that are beyond reproach to demonstrate to people of all parties that it is working for the region and not for any one political party?
As always, my hon. Friend makes an important point. I absolutely agree. Leeds is a city that I know well and love. We must trust local politicians and civic leaders to do the things that are in the best economic interests of those whom they serve. They need to work closely with local MPs and surrounding authorities to fulfil that potential. Whether in the centre of Leeds, Pudsey or wherever, they must work in the economic interests of local residents.
I feel as if I have spoken for a little too long [Hon. Members: “No!”]. Okay, I will take the next 10 minutes. I know that many people other want to speak, so let me draw to a quick conclusion. The report put forward by Jim O’Neill of the Royal Society of Arts, who is a well respected economist and the city growth commissioner, said that, if we get this right, we will get a 5% improvement in productivity throughout the UK. We absolutely need that and the people whom we seek to serve deserve it.
When the Chancellor first set out his compelling vision for the northern powerhouse, he rightly did that at the Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester: a museum that sets out how the north led scientific innovation and industrial progress. Sadly, too many people find out about our industrial heritage from the Science Museum in south Kensington, which is not exactly the economic or industrial powerhouse. That needs to change. We must not let London lead the whole debate. We are not kowtowing to London and we do not want to copy it or do what it says. We need to compete strongly, show what our commitments are and play to our unique selling points. We have huge potential in the north to set out a compelling and attractive vision for a northern powerhouse by engaging with our local businesses and residents. With the Government’s support, we can go on to achieve even greater things.
Order. Before I call Simon Danczuk, I remind Members that, if we have interventions as long as that from the hon. Member for City of Chester (Stephen Mosley), we will be lagging somewhat. There are approximately seven minutes per Member, provided that every Member speaks for a similar amount of time. If not, I will enforce a time limit.
It is a delight to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Main. I commend the hon. Member for Macclesfield (David Rutley) on securing this important debate. Let me also thank hon. Members for the welcome I received on entering the Chamber.
Unlike other hon. Members, I have not been provided with a list of Government initiatives to read out during the debate. I like to consider myself to be something of a champion of small businesses in the north of England. I am a firm believer in the power of business to transform people’s life chances and spread prosperity and opportunity throughout the whole country. In that, the relationship between Government and business is vital.
The fashionable view held by some hon. Members—perhaps not those in the Chamber—is that the Government’s role should be simply to step out of the way of business. I certainly do not share that view, though I accept that we can have too much regulation and red tape. There are areas where business and Government can work more productively together. For that to happen, there needs to be proper engagement and an awareness of what Government policy means to people on the ground. I want to highlight a couple of areas where I believe more Government engagement with business is needed to tackle persistent problems.
The first example is business rates. As chair of the all-party parliamentary group on small shops, I hear that raised frequently by retailers, especially in northern towns, because they have been adversely affected. I was pleased to hear the Chancellor promise in the autumn statement a review of the business rates system along with other support for small businesses, but the reality is that the cancelled revaluation had a devastating effect on northern towns that were already hit hard by the recession. With property prices falling, shop owners in Rochdale were left facing artificially high business rates and effectively subsidising big retailers in fancy parts of London.
The clear unfairness in the business rates system has also led to a growing micro-economy of firms trying to exploit rates confusion. I recently raised the case of a surveyor based in Heywood, next door to Rochdale, which I believe is acting unethically and potentially illegally. For a start, that firm calls itself the Rating and Valuation Agency, which I am sure hon. Members will agree sounds like it is trying to masquerade as a Government agency. The firm’s tactic is to offer to get businesses a discount on their rates in exchange for a small fee and a share of any discount that it manages to secure as commission.
It will be no surprise to hon. Members to hear that the majority of businesses that used the firm got no reduction at all. What is surprising is that businesses then received letters from RVA aggressively demanding money and threatening court action. RVA claimed that it was owed money as a result of business rate reductions passed on by the Chancellor in the autumn statement. Outrageously, in some cases it was demanding more than 50% of the discount offered by the Government. Something needs to be done about that.
Similar things are going on all over the country, especially in the north where the rates are most damaging. I have seen research showing the activities of firms that charge fees of about £800 to submit business rates appeals on behalf of small businesses. In such cases, up to three quarters of appeals are withdrawn because they are considered to be of too poor a quality by the Valuation Office Agency. Businesses are clearly being ripped off, but I want to make a broader point. The only reason why such sharp business practices exist is that we have an unfair and antiquated rates system. If we had a fair system, based on regular revaluations, we could avoid all of the chaos and misery being caused to businesses.
Great work is being done by local authorities such as Rochdale and Blackburn—both Labour authorities—on business rates. In Rochdale, a scheme has been introduced recently that allows a reduction on business rates—80% in the first year and 50% in the second year—for people who take up vacant shops, in an attempt to fill empty shops and commercial properties on the high street. That revolutionary approach should give our town a real boost. Blackburn is doing something similar. However, all of that good work will be undermined unless central Government step up and sort out the mess in the business rates system. That is why I have talked about how the Government have failed to support businesses in the north of England with business rates.
Support for business comes not only from Government, but from the banks. Recently, I was shocked at my treatment when I was trying to open a business bank account in Rochdale. The local branch of the Royal Bank of Scotland told me there was a waiting list of two weeks to open a business bank account—I kid you not. Lloyds took my details, but failed to get back to me and several months have now passed. Those are two banks that have received significant sums of taxpayers’ money, and yet are failing to perform the primary function of supporting the local economy. The contrast between those two banks and Santander, a Spanish bank, where I received an excellent service, was telling. We need to see more action from the Government on bank support for businesses. Government need to play a more active role to ensure that banks lend properly to businesses and give them the level of service that they deserve.
We all know that the past few years have been tough, especially in many of our northern towns and cities. To turn the situation around, we need to help businesses to grow and develop. Businesses need all the support that they can get from Government. In the areas that I have highlighted, there is clearly room for improvement. In years gone by, the north led the way in innovation and economic growth. If we get the right support, I am convinced that we can do so again.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (David Rutley) on securing the debate and on setting out a really good argument in favour of investment in the north of England and of supporting our businesses. I will keep my remarks focused on Pendle and the support that businesses there have received, as well as some of the challenges that we still face.
Pendle’s local economy relies heavily on manufacturing, and Government support for manufacturing is critical to Pendle and much of the north of England. Only last Friday the Chancellor of the Exchequer, wearing a hair net, visited Farmhouse Biscuits in Nelson to hear about its success and some of the challenges it still faces.
Some 1.8 million manufacturing jobs were lost under the previous Government and by August 2009, in Pendle, 2,239 people were claiming jobseeker’s allowance. That number had fallen to a little more than 1,000 by November last year—a drop of 55%. As a result, some of the larger employers are starting to increase pay and improve conditions. For example, boohoo.com recently significantly increased wages, and the Daisy Group, based on the Lomeshaye industrial estate, has just given all its staff an extra week’s holiday entitlement.
That situation did not come about by accident, but because of the hard work of local businesses and the actions of the Government and our local authorities to support job creation in the area. For example, the then Conservative-led Lancashire county council acted to support one of Pendle’s largest employers, Silentnight, when it went into administration in 2011. I have talked about that before in a Westminster Hall debate, so I will not go into any detail. All I will add is that I was proud to take the Prime Minister to visit Silentnight in May 2014 and to see a company going from strength to strength—it is staying in Barnoldswick and now has about 800 employees, 150 more than four years ago.
Other Government support for businesses throughout the UK has been welcomed, in particular by businesses in Pendle. Barnoldswick bicycle part manufacturer Hope Technology—also visited by the Prime Minister, in April 2013—took advantage of the Government’s significant research and development incentives, allowing it to expand and innovate more rapidly. The company’s latest plans are for a new £4.5 million centre for research and development and a 250-metre, Olympic-length velodrome, the first velodrome built outside a major city in the UK.
Hope Technology employs 110 people and exports about 65% of its products to Indonesia, Malaysia and Hong Kong. The company reckons that the self-funded flagship expansion will create more than 50 new jobs and put Barnoldswick firmly on the map. Any more support that the Government can give to such companies would be much appreciated.
Manufacturers in Pendle and throughout the north also welcomed the increase in capital allowances announced in the 2012 autumn statement. The Chancellor of the Exchequer said:
“I would like to help small and medium-sized firms more, and I thank my hon. Friends the Members for Burnley (Gordon Birtwistle) and for Pendle (Andrew Stephenson) for their thoughts on that matter. Starting on 1 January, and for the next two years, I will increase tenfold the annual investment allowance in plant and machinery. Instead of £25,000-worth of investment being eligible for 100% relief, £250,000-worth of investment will now qualify.”—[Official Report, 5 December 2012; Vol. 551, c. 881.]
The businesses located in Pendle and I are pleased that the Government not only continued the scheme after the initial two years, but increased the allowance further, incentivising manufacturing businesses in the north to invest in new plant and equipment.
Local businesses in Lancashire received another significant boost in July 2013, when the Government agreed with the arguments that many of my Lancashire colleagues and I were making and approved £5 million of additional business support through the regional growth fund to help local mid-sized manufacturers to expand. In the past 12 months, 14 businesses in Pendle have benefited from almost £1 million in grants, regenerating Pennine Lancashire, creating well in excess of 100 jobs and safeguarding many more. Such support is in addition to numerous other Government programmes, such as the textile growth programme and various supply chain initiatives, which have also been welcomed and used by many Pendle businesses.
The announcement of assisted area status for Pendle last year is another important step forward for my constituency. The previous assisted area status map, drawn up under the previous Government in 2007, included parts of Blackburn, Hyndburn and Burnley, but not a single part of Pendle. During the consultation on the new map, Pendle council and the Lancashire local enterprise partnership argued for four Pendle wards to be included. I met Ministers and made the case not only for those four wards, but for going much further. I am delighted that in the end it was agreed that 13 Pendle wards should be included—more than half the borough—with assisted area status now covering businesses stretching from Reedley and Brierfield through to Earby.
On support for the skills agenda, in addition to four new primary schools in Pendle, a major investment at West Craven high school and a new university technical college in Burnley, the outstanding Nelson and Colne college continues to go from strength to strength. Nelson and Colne college recently benefited from a £3.6 million investment in its facilities and has been pivotal in delivering the Government’s ambition of a record number of apprenticeships—the number of apprenticeship starts locally has more than doubled.
In my part of the country, we have some of the lowest property prices. Even with many more people in work, regeneration and private sector housing schemes can be tricky to stack up financially. In September 2013, I led a debate here in Westminster Hall on regeneration in Brierfield and Nelson. I talked about the Brierfield Mill development in my constituency. It was the largest redundant mill complex in Lancashire, and in March 2012 the Government gave Pendle council a £1.5 million grant via the Homes and Communities Agency to buy it.
Under the previous Government, the mill complex had been bought by a Birmingham-based Islamic charity, which planned to convert the site into a 5,000-place boarding school for girls. Now in public ownership, the 380,000-square-foot complex of buildings on a seven-acre site is located next to the M65 motorway and Brierfield railway station. The site has the potential to be a key driver of jobs and growth.
Bringing such a large grade II listed building back into use in such a deprived part of the north of England, however, will require some public funding in addition to private sector investment. Architects have come up with an impressive vision for the site, which will be renamed Northlight and include 71 retirement flats, a 78-bed hotel and spa, leisure facilities, business units, a new marina on the canal and a family pub. Using the Government’s business premises renovation allowance or BPRA scheme, now available thanks to the new assisted area status that I mentioned earlier, private sector investors are lined up for almost every part of the project, but they still need some more support to make the whole thing viable. The Lancashire LEP has bid for some of the funding in the second phase of the growth deals.
In advance of the decision being announced, I am delighted that the Minister responsible for the deals, who also happens to be responding to today’s debate, has kindly accepted my invitation to visit the site this Friday. I am hoping that, after visits to Brierfield Mill by the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury and two successive Ministers of State for Housing and Local Government, my hon. Friend can finally move forward the £34 million landmark regeneration scheme, which I have been working to resolve since my election.
Brierfield Mill is by far the largest regeneration project the local business community and the council are trying to undertake, but it also links in to the need for more Government support for developers in the north who want to redevelop brownfield sites. It is great that figures show that house building has increased by 20% over the last year, but in some parts on the north, such as Pendle, property prices are so low that developers struggle to make any money redeveloping ex-industrial brownfield sites. They therefore focus on easier-to-develop greenfield sites. That is especially the case in Pendle, where we still have about 1,200 empty homes, down from about 2,000 in 2010.
We have a real challenge with brownfield sites, and we need funding for them. I am delighted that the Minister of State, Department for Communities and Local Government, who is responsible for housing and planning, announced last week that east Lancashire has been shortlisted as a brownfield housing zone. I am keen to see that go forward, but we still need more support.
I could go on longer, but many Members want to speak, so I will conclude by saying that significant progress has been made, but I look forward to more being made over the coming weeks and months.
It is a delight to serve under your chairmanship yet again, Mrs Main, and to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Pendle (Andrew Stephenson), a fellow Lancastrian. It is great to see so much support for the debate, and I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (David Rutley) on securing it.
The issue before us is the diversity of the north and why the north is different. I was going to say that it is different from other regions because all of us there have to cope with Yorkshire, but I will not say that. What I will say is that a feature of our region going back over different Governments over the years has been its distance, in a sense, from this country’s powerhouse—Greater London. One of the oddest things for many of us who were new Members of Parliament in 2010 was that, for the 13 years of the previous Government, and indeed before, to be fair, the divide between the London powerhouse and the rest of the country, particularly the north-west region, had simply got wider and wider.
When I looked around my constituency as a new Member of Parliament in 2010, I saw its huge strengths. The Lancaster part had its university in the top 10, and it was spewing out businesses. Fleetwood perhaps felt that it was somewhat in decline because of the state of its fishing, but there were still incredible businesses there, such as Fisherman’s Friend, a family business that exports to more than 100 countries and reinvests in the town. The rural parts—other Members have mentioned rural areas—also had huge strengths in terms of their businesses and farming businesses, which had been through bad times and good times.
As the Member of Parliament, I was told that there was lots of potential, but there was a feeling that, “We can’t do anything unless London tells us what to do.” In 2010, businesses told me that banks wanted loans paid off quickly. There was a lack of confidence, and banks wondered whether they should invest their money. People were trying to get together, including with the county, to look at some kind of north-west or Lancashire investment bank or, indeed, at having a stock exchange in the north again—in 1914, there were 64 stock exchanges across the country.
There is potential in the region, but how do we open it up? To give the Government great credit, the single biggest thing they did to finally convince businesses in my area that it was worth investing again was committing to building the M6 link road to Heysham, with funding of £111 million. That was a difficult decision in 2010-11, in the midst of our worries about recession and of cutting back on the deficit. A plan for a motorway had been on the drawing board since 1938, so the Government’s commitment to implement it—it is nearly finished—was a massive statement of confidence in the area.
There is also the investment in the coastal communities fund, with £67 million going into Fleetwood’s flood defences. That was a Government commitment. The biggest commitment, however, as Members have mentioned, has been in infrastructure—in our connections with the rest of the country and, yes, with Yorkshire, which will allow people from Yorkshire to visit Lancashire to see how great it is. In particular, there are the connections with London, and High Speed 2 is vital, but we should not forget the investment in electrification from Preston all the way through to Blackpool, something the previous Government did nothing about. There is also the electrification from Manchester to Liverpool, something the previous Government, again, did nothing about.
The incredible thing for a new Conservative Member of Parliament in a north-west seat was the view that nothing seemed to have happened before and that we could not do anything without asking the Government. The Government tended to ignore the north-west, except, perhaps, what we in north Lancashire used to refer to as Greater Manchester and Merseyside. We need to get that balance right.
I have been enjoying the hon. Gentleman’s speech, but I just want to correct him on one or two points. The truth is that the previous Labour Government put a lot of investment into the north-west, not least through the regional development agency, which did an excellent job of sharing out the money. That money went not least to Lancaster university, which had an absolute fortune spent on it under the Labour Government, and the hon. Gentleman’s constituents and others benefit from that.
I hate to disagree with the hon. Gentleman. I agreed with a great deal of what he said in his speech, but the absurdity of the previous economic strategy—the regional development agencies—was that London, which is the richest part of the country, had its own agency. I know something about that, having been a member of it. What the hon. Gentleman says was not the message I got from Lancaster university, Lancaster council or Lancashire county council when I was elected in 2010. As I said, the regional development agency for the north-west concentrated wholly and utterly on Merseyside and Greater Manchester, and we got precious little.
The point raised earlier about regional development agencies is one of the big myths still perpetuated by some. The reality is that, during the period they existed, and for all the work they may have done, the north became relatively less well off and relatively poorer compared with the south.
My hon. Friend is exactly right. We only have to look at the figures: the north-west’s contribution to GDP in the 13 years before 2010 was falling and falling as Greater London expanded. I am not particularly blaming the previous Labour Government, because this was a continuation from previous Governments. Governments made huge attempts to address these issues, and I am old enough to remember the ’60s, when Governments would suddenly announce they were going to provide money to put a car factory here or an agency there, but there was no follow-through.
The Government’s priority should be to get the fiscal thing right, and what we have seen on corporation tax is all very welcome. However, the infrastructure thing is massive in enabling the north-west to contribute to rebalancing the economy. That is important, and the Government have followed through on it, for which I am grateful.
I would add, because the Minister is here, that we are still looking to bids to remodel junction 33 on the M6, and there is still a bid under the regional growth fund for a Fleetwood fish park, which is for a minor £3 million, although it would generate £20 million-odd of further investment.
There is a challenge for all of us as Members from the north to galvanise the region to start doing things off its own bat, without asking central Government what should happen. I give due credit to the metropolitan leaders who have come together. Bringing Yorkshire metropolitan leaders together with Lancashire metropolitan leaders—Manchester and Liverpool are still part of the old County Palatine of Lancashire—is fantastic, and we should do that more. We should be thinking about these things, and my hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle (John Stevenson) talked about Cumbria.
The north could generate investment potential, and I want to lay down markers now. As northern MPs, we should perhaps look together, across parties, at a northern investment bank or a northern stock exchange—all these things are possible. The Government have laid down a marker and given us the best chance of realising them, but we have to put our bit in as well.
Some of the most exciting and innovative developments in this country today are along the science corridor, which a number of Members have mentioned. It crosses several constituencies, including mine and that of my immediate neighbour, my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (David Rutley), to whom I pay tribute for calling the debate. The Government have rightly committed many millions of pounds of national funding to supporting the corridor and adjacent infrastructure—not least in my constituency, where £45 million of growth deal funding has gone towards the Congleton link road, about which I have spoken in the House on a number of occasions; I am grateful to Ministers for listening and responding to my points. It is of great importance to businesses in my constituency, such as Reliance Medical, Senior Aerospace Bird Bellows and Airbags International. However, that is not what I want chiefly to speak about today. I want to focus on Jodrell Bank.
The world famous dish of Jodrell Bank lies within my constituency, although I must confess that the controls are in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield, so we share an interest. Jodrell Bank is important locally, regionally, nationally and internationally. I want to highlight that importance and express concern about a threat to its work and to recent Government investment in it.
To provide some context, I should say that Jodrell Bank has been at the forefront of radar technology since it became world famous in 1957, as the Lovell telescope emerged as the only instrument capable of using radar to detect the Russian satellite Sputnik. It now hosts the e-MERLIN national facility as well as the Lovell telescope. It continues to produce world-class science. It also hosts the outstanding Discovery centre, which has done much to increase public awareness of science in the UK. That has more than 140,000 visitors a year, including about 16,000 schoolchildren taking part in its education programme, and it has received numerous awards. The BBC transmitted its “Stargazing Live” programme from Jodrell Bank from 2011 to 2014.
As we heard, the Square Kilometre Array is at the leading edge of astrophysics research, and continues to receive the full support of universities, businesses and public sector agencies across the north and beyond, which work together to underpin its activities. It is a very important area—a national and global network of telescopes, with Jodrell Bank at the centre, carrying out unique, world-leading science, across a wide range of astrophysics and cosmology. The facilities at Jodrell Bank are used by almost every university astrophysics group in the country and hundreds of scientists in the UK and Europe, and across the globe. The developments being undertaken by Jodrell Bank, and its potential developments, are of huge importance to jobs and the economy.
In 2013, the Minister’s predecessor as Science Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Havant (Mr Willetts), opened the SKA and Jodrell Bank as its centre. The SKA is a project that joins thousands of receivers across the globe to create the largest, most sensitive radio telescope ever built. Members of the SKA include Australia, China, Italy, the Netherlands, New Zealand, South Africa, Canada, Germany and Sweden; and the UK leads it. At the opening Dame Nancy Rothwell, of the university of Manchester, called it a “cutting edge science project” and said that it would
“become a real science and engineering hub”.
The Minister’s predecessor said:
“This project is pushing the frontiers and that is why the Chancellor has awarded some of the extra £600 m towards science development”
to it. He said it was
“a global strategic project but one that Great Britain is a major player in.”
The economic benefits of that work for the national economy cannot be over-estimated. However—and it is a big “however”—it is threatened. Professor Simon Garrington of the university of Manchester has spoken of the detrimental effect of radio interference from surrounding developments on the work at Jodrell Bank:
“Radio interference has an impact on almost all the experiments that are carried out at Jodrell Bank.”
He explains that in many observations radio interference is the main factor limiting the quality of the data and that
“every increase in interference...reduces the amount of useful data that are left”.
He adds that
“when there are lots of these…as might be the case for emission from housing developments then it has a significant impact on the data.”
Even a domestic microwave in someone’s home can have an impact on the work at Jodrell Bank. It is important to remember that decades ago Professor Lovell moved his work at the university from the centre of Manchester to Cheshire, to avoid such interference.
Professor Garrington says that the work of Jodrell Bank has already been hampered by local development, explaining that the
“discovery of pulsars was led by Jodrell Bank for many years”
“now…we can no longer find new pulsars and our experiments are limited to timing the pulsars which are already known. We do make the most precise measurements...but really interference limits the extent to which we can search for new pulsars.”
He explains how researchers at Jodrell Bank have done the most extensive analysis anywhere, to understand how towns, developments and roads affect the work. He has given evidence to a planning committee in Cheshire in the past month, and says:
“We have in the last few months constructed a detailed map which quantifies this loss due to distance and terrain...What this model shows is that the largest potential contribution is often from local villages such as Goostrey”.
Goostrey is a village in my constituency, between 1 mile and 2 miles from Jodrell Bank. Professor Garrington adds that modelling of the proposed development in Goostrey
“shows that it will add significantly to what is a present and growing problem...We believe this continued development at this rate so close to Jodrell Bank poses a significant impact on the science that can be carried out at this international institution.”
I will, Mrs Main. I am raising this concern because the village of Goostrey has 900 houses and there are now plans to build up to 250 additional houses. Applications have been put in and some have been agreed. The latest one is for a development of 119. A public meeting was held in the village only last Friday, attended by 250 people, asking for consideration of an exclusion zone for further housing development around Jodrell Bank of up to, say, 2 miles; no doubt the parameters could be established by discussion with Jodrell Bank, which I understand supports the proposals. I am keen that the Science Minister should be aware of the request, and I hope that he will consider it.
It is a pleasure to speak under your chairmanship, Mrs Main. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (David Rutley) for securing the debate.
In 1992, Bill Clinton’s campaign slogan was “It’s the economy, stupid.” That is still apt today, after 23 years. This last year, the UK economy had the highest growth rate of any western nation, and I happily report that businesses in Calder Valley, where 20% of my constituents work in manufacturing and 40% in the banking and financial sector, are all punching well above their weight in contributing to economic growth. The majority just get on and do—and make no mistake, they always do it with sheer Yorkshire grit, bucketloads of innovation, fabulous Yorkshire canniness that creates an eye for fabulous future leaders, and reinvestment into businesses, which sustains them through bad times as well as good.
I am not going to mention the Government’s advertised 636 schemes of finance and support for business, because like most northerners I am a little sceptical about what real help some of those schemes offer. However, I will talk about the schemes that Calder Valley businesses tell me about, which they feel are incredibly helpful to them. Those schemes give hard-working Calder Valley businesses relief and help them on their way, allowing them to get on and build the local and national economy further.
The huge success story is, without question, apprenticeships, of which there have been more than 1.5 million in the past four years. They have massively reduced youth unemployment and trained future engineers, manufacturers, bankers, retailers and administrators, to name a few. In Calder Valley more than 2,100 apprenticeships have started in the past two years: 490 in engineering and manufacturing; 350 in retail trades; 610 in banking and financial services; and 110 in construction.
Small business rate relief has been a huge relief to small start-ups. It has been helpful in particular to hard-pressed high street retailers, helping small retailers to compete with blue chip retailers, but it has also given a helping hand to dozens of start-up businesses. Small business loans have been a huge hit locally; 43 individuals have applied for and received a small business loan and mentoring in the past year, of whom 40% were female and 40% were under 30. They are a great way to promote self-worth and entrepreneurial spirit.
Many Calder Valley businesses have benefited from the regional growth fund, helping to boost job growth. Unemployment is down to just 1.8%, and we have the highest number of women in employment and the highest average earnings in west Yorkshire. Companies such as AD Plastic Solutions in Hebden Bridge, Archway Engineering in Elland, Kavia Tooling in Todmorden, Microsearch Laboratories in Mytholmroyd, F. Crowther and Son in Brighouse and Calder Valley Skip Hire in Ripponden are great Calder Valley businesses punching above their weight with a helping hand from Government.
On the national infrastructure level, Calder Valley businesses are really excited about High Speed 2 coming to Leeds, bringing much needed capacity on our overcrowded east coast main line. Hon. Members can imagine how excited those businesses are about the announcement of High Speed 3, as my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield mentioned. That vital infrastructure investment will enable our national economy to grow, flourish and compete on a global level.
It is not all about rail, either. Money spent on widening the trans-Pennine M62 route has enabled easier commutes and passageway to markets for our businesses. That has been vital for keeping the cogs and gears of our great northern powerhouse well oiled, so as to contribute towards the great economic recovery of our nation. So it is not just the economy, stupid—we should add, “With a welcome hand from Government where that is needed and wanted.”
I will also try to be brief, Mrs Main, as I believe my hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey (Stuart Andrew) wishes to speak. It is always a delight to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Calder Valley (Craig Whittaker). I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (David Rutley) on securing this debate.
I am incredibly fortunate in the Ribble Valley to have businesses both small and large. Between Salmesbury in my patch and Warton in a neighbouring patch, BAE Systems employs 11,000 people, and it is well known that for every job created at BAE Systems, about three are created in smaller businesses down the pipeline. The Consortium of Lancashire Aerospace has firms in a number of my hon. Friends’ constituencies, which do rather well from having BAE Systems nearby—and more power to their elbow.
There are also much smaller businesses in my constituency, such as the paper cup company in Clitheroe that has seen investment of £250,000 and brought jobs back from China to Clitheroe. Lancashire does rather well: in the area of high-end, high-spec jobs, the ability to get access to fast broadband has brought high-tech jobs into Clitheroe. A company called YUDU has created a tremendous number of jobs there. The skills available in Lancashire can lead to jobs for so many young and enterprising people working hard in firms large and small throughout the area.
Although it does not come under the portfolio of the Minister, I want to touch on an issue that, as I represent a rural constituency, worries me greatly. A lot of our small businesses are farms. Recently, a number of farmers have not been able to get paid for the milk they have produced. Indeed, in the month of December alone, 60 farmers went out of business throughout the country. We know how important dairy farming is to the United Kingdom and to the north of England in particular. I hope that the Government will get involved directly to ensure that farmers get their money and that something is done about the insane pricing of milk throughout the country, as it is now cheaper to buy milk than water. Something has to be wrong there. When milk is being sold at 89p for four pints, the contracts between farmers and those buying the milk must be insane, and it is no wonder that those businesses cannot make a go of it.
Tourism is also important to me, and the fact that we have our wonderful countryside is down to our farmers. If we want to attract people from large cities into rural areas, we must ensure that we have viable businesses there. We desperately need to do something about small farming businesses.
When the Minister goes to Pendle, I hope he will also spend some time in the Ribble Valley, where a number of businesses are built on tourism and on hospitality in particular. I went with the hon. Member for Rochdale (Simon Danczuk) to the Baum, which has won the Campaign for Real Ale’s award for pub of the year. I now have a CAMRA pub of the year next door to me, the Swan with Two Necks. Businesses such as those, and James’s Places, which runs the Emporium, the Waddington Arms, the Shireburn Arms and Mitton Hall, are providing lots of extra jobs to the hospitality trade in the area—James’s Places provides over 300—that help young people in particular.
Our farming, hospitality and hostelry industries mean that the Ribble Valley has some of the finest places for people to go. They are backed up by Ribble Valley council, which runs the Ribble Valley Food Trail. People can go to see where a lot of their food is produced and sold. There is a wonderful weekend when people can come into Clitheroe to celebrate what is wonderful about food production, hostelry and beer production. The Bowland Beer Company has been taken over by James’s Places and will be coming into Clitheroe shortly, bringing huge investment. Thwaites Brewery is also coming into Ribble Valley from Blackburn, which will help secure hundreds of jobs for east Lancashire.
The Ribble Valley is a rural area that has seen wonderful investment from small and large businesses over the year thanks to this Government. We now have an unemployment rate of about 1%. I want to see that continue—and with this Government’s policies and support, it will.
No pressure, then.
I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in this debate, not least because it enables us all to showcase some of the exciting things that are happening in the north. For too long, some have painted a picture of the north that fails to focus on the real positives that are happening there. I have also seen some great partnership across the Pennines today, despite the contribution of my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Goole (Andrew Percy).
During my time in this House, I have been impressed by the real determination of businesses in my constituency to do everything they can to help get the economy out of recession. They have continued to invest and have actively sought new markets to help their businesses to continue. Some are now really reaping the rewards, with many investing in premises expansion, such as Vickers Laboratories in Pudsey, or seeing a growing export market to major economies such as China—that is the experience of Hainsworth Mill in Stanningley, which for generations has been producing quality products, including the cloth for the Woolsack in the House of Lords.
That determination is still there even in businesses that have suffered a major catastrophe. For example, the premises of Airedale International were completely destroyed, but it has shown real commitment to the north by relocating temporarily and rebuilding those premises. I pay tribute to all the businesses, large, medium and small, that have kept going. Their commitment, along with the Government’s long-term economic plan, has seen unemployment in my constituency fall by nearly 50%—it now stands at 1.7%.
My constituency and those businesses make up part of the Leeds City Region LEP. One of the largest outside London, it generates nearly 4% of the UK’s economic output. It has a work force of 1.4 million people in over 100,000 businesses, building an economy worth over £55 billion in 2012. It is also now recognised as a national centre for financial and business services. As my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (David Rutley) mentioned, Leeds is the second largest financial centre in the UK.
To date, the LEP has worked to unlock the city region’s potential and develop the economic powerhouse that will create the jobs and prosperity we need. Its ambition is to make the city region a net contributor to the UK economy. To do so, it has provided grant investment to over 336 businesses already, with the potential to create over 3,000 jobs. It has also given loan investments, so that major projects that had stalled in recent years can get under way.
Another sector with real potential for the Leeds area is the creative and digital industry, which is one of the LEP’s priority sectors. CDi Print Yorkshire is an initiative match-funded by the British Printing Industries Federation. Unique to the region, it works across the creative, digital and printing industry, supporting and connecting businesses so that they can really grow. The wider region already has 120,000 employees in this sector, and there are more of the top 100 digital agencies in Leeds city region than anywhere outside London. That is allowing them now to bid to become recognised as a tech city.
I recognise that time is running out fast, but because all those things are going on, and because of the real examples we have heard about today, I believe that the north is vibrant and growing and the potential is there for the taking. With the northern economic powerhouse and the investment that we are seeing, which I hope will include a rail link to Leeds Bradford airport, it is true that it is not grim up north—it’s great!
What a pleasure it is to serve under your chairmanship again, Mrs Main, and I agree with what the hon. Member for Pudsey (Stuart Andrew) was saying: it is not grim up north—it’s great. It is a fantastic place and I think it has been really interesting in this debate to see how hon. Members can come together and really want to champion the north as an area.
I particularly thank the hon. Member for Macclesfield (David Rutley). We have discussed economic development matters before, and he has always provided consistent support for businesses in wanting to champion them in the House. I commend him for that, and he has done it again this afternoon. He said that Macclesfield is famous for silk, but for my generation, Macclesfield is famous for Joy Division and Ian Curtis. I would be more than happy to talk about them for the next 10 minutes, but I think economic development in the north is equally important.
Our past and our industrial legacy have been mentioned time and again. It is certainly true that industrialisation—the industrial revolution—started in the north. Just to keep hon. Members onside, let us be frank: it started in the north-east. The north-east, the north-west and Yorkshire and the Humber were drivers of innovation, entrepreneurialism and prosperity, and they offered a real counterpoint to the capital of London. Do not forget that London was the capital of the empire—the biggest city in the world—but it was not dominating or eclipsing the fantastic powerhouses of the north. We need to have the model that we had in the 19th century back in a modern, innovative 21st century economy, and this is about working together to make sure that happens. We want to see the north thrive and see the creation and expansion of highly skilled, well-paid jobs in businesses and industries that are innovative, highly productive and selling their goods and services to the rest of the world. I hope that the whole House can share that vision.
The hon. Gentleman and others have talked about devolution and governance of the north. All credit to the Minister; he is very knowledgeable and passionate about this matter. A key offer, which has been mentioned several times in the debate, is to ensure that the north can shape its own destiny. Why should we, as hon. Members, be going cap in hand to Whitehall officials—it is usually officials—who have no knowledge, frankly, of the north and no awareness of the nuances of how the dynamics of local economies work? Why can we not have the tools and powers to realise our potential and shape our own destiny?
Successive Governments have moved in that direction. This Government are continuing to do so, and the next Labour Government, in about 113 days, will be continuing it as well. The Leader of the Opposition has said that he wishes to devolve £4 billion of Whitehall spend directly to city and, crucially for the hon. Member for Macclesfield, to county regions, too. That is about double the sum proposed by the present Government. I am interested in what the Minister has to say about further devolution and further governance arrangements.
In many respects, governance can be a very theoretical issue. Something I admire about the hon. Member for Macclesfield and other hon. Members in this Chamber is their practicality. When we consider Government support for businesses, we have to think about practicalities. If I run a company in Macclesfield or Hartlepool, what does Government support actually do? How does it help me to grow my business? Where do I go? We have heard today about 636 different initiatives from the Government. The situation is far too complex. It is difficult to navigate and it changes far too often. All Governments are guilty of rebranding, of initiative-itis, of wanting to announce something. I can understand that, but we have to recognise that we need continuity, stability and long-termism in business policy to ensure that businesses know where to go, how they access support of different types and how they make sure that support grows and thrives.
Let me put my party political hat on now. The Government are particularly bad at tinkering. We have heard about the abolition of the regional development agencies early on in this Parliament, and a number of reasons were given for that abolition. Chiefly, one of them seemed to be, “The last lot brought them in. We have to get rid of them to effect change.” I do not think that is right, and it has been detrimental to the northern economy. There could be some great debate here, but I think it is recognised that the three RDAs of the north—One North East, Yorkshire Forward and the Northwest Regional Development Agency—worked pretty effectively in trying to regenerate their areas and provide economic development and support to businesses in the regions. The setting-up of their replacements—the LEPs—took a couple of years, and businesses were uncertain about what to do. A gap was left in support, so we have lost two or three years in which we could have really chased ahead in respect of economic growth in the regions.
It is really unfair to say that the reason why the RDAs were abolished was that they were not invented by this Government. They were abolished because they were not focused enough on the north. We have heard that there was one in the south-east and one in London—that is not very regional. The fact remains that the Centre for Cities report states that between 1997 and 2008, for every 10 jobs generated in London, one was generated in the north. That is why the RDAs had to go.
But why outright abolition rather than reform? I certainly could not justify the idea of a south-east regional development agency, but making sure that there could be reform while trying to have as much continuity as possible would have been best for business and providing Government support.
I have to correct the hon. Gentleman on the idea of a consensus that the RDAs were performing well. In the Humber, we felt strongly that the Yorkshire regional development agency was very much Leeds-focused, and it is fair to say that since the introduction of the Humber LEP, we have a real vision of what we want for our economy in terms of new renewable energies and a real drive to get to that. We did not have that under Yorkshire Forward.
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. If we are going to have true devolution to the north and a recognition that city regions can really power local economies, how do we ensure that areas that are peripheral to the centre of cities—[Interruption.] Let me finish, because this is an important point that affects my constituency, too. How do we ensure that those areas can really have change as well? For example, Newcastle will help to drive forward the north-east economy, and Middlesbrough, to some extent, will drive forward the north-east economy when it comes to Teesside. In Hartlepool, we have fantastic areas of specialism in respect of high-value manufacturing. The idea that we could be left behind is absolutely ridiculous, and other areas—other towns and rural villages—will have the same approach. Will the Minister respond to that? Given the city region model, how do we ensure that places such as Rochdale, Hartlepool and areas in the Peak district are not left behind? That is very important.
I want to mention a number of other things briefly in the time I have available. The hon. Member for Macclesfield and other hon. Members have mentioned connectivity, which is a really pressing point for the north. A couple of years ago, a report by the Institute for Public Policy Research showed that the gap in spending on transport in particular is very acute. On a per-capita basis, the spend in London is 500 times as much as for the north-east, 20 times as much as for the north-west and over 16 times as much as in Yorkshire and the Humber. If we are talking about the link between city regions and other outlying areas, connectivity—being able to get to the jobs and businesses of the future—is absolutely crucial. How will the Minister deal with that?
My hon. Friend the Member for Rochdale (Simon Danczuk) mentioned business rates, which is a really important matter that disproportionately affects businesses in the north. The situation needs to change. We welcome the Chancellor’s review of business rates and hope that recommendations will be brought forward. I hope that the Minister, in turn, will support what the Labour party has been doing in calling for a cut to business rates in 2015 and a freeze on them in 2016 to ensure that there is an absolute requirement and a recognition that business rates are a major cost for businesses and detracting from further growth and prosperity.
Access to finance was also mentioned and the attitude of the banks when it came to my hon. Friend. There is still a problem with access to finance, in having that transactional, often confrontational relationship between a bank and a business. Is the British Business Bank doing as much as it should? Do we have proper local knowledge to ensure that regional banks have the understanding and recognition of what a local economy requires? That is very important, and I hope that the Minister will have time to say something about how we ensure that we have responsive banking systems and financial arrangements in local areas.
I want to mention some hon. Members’ favourite subject—Europe. Is the Minister concerned about—
No, but it is hon. Members’ interest in certain areas. There is a concern that because the Commission does not recognise the governance arrangements of LEPs, millions of pounds are being lost or certainly delayed on their way to the regions. My own area of the north-east has the potential to be delayed to the tune of £724 million, and for the north-west the figure is £895 million.
It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Main, in what has been an excellent debate. Some of the remarks made by the hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr Wright) were excellent, but some were not. Let me pick up the point about RDAs. My hon. Friend the Member for Warrington South (David Mowat) was right. The RDAs were not abolished because they were not invented by us; they were abolished because they did not work. During their existence, the north’s share—I am talking about the north-east, the north-west and the administrative region of Yorkshire and the Humber—shrank as a percentage of the national economy. The hon. Member for Hartlepool will know, having grown up on Teesside, as I did, that there was an accurate perception during all the years of the 1970s and into the ’80s that the strength of the Tees valley was often under the shadow of Newcastle, to the north. One of the great successes in the north-east has been the revival of the identity of the Tees valley through its very successful LEP, which is making great progress.
I join colleagues in congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (David Rutley) on giving us the opportunity to have the debate, on his excellent speech and on his very kind words to me at the beginning.
The Government are committed to the creation of a northern powerhouse, and we have had an expression of the northern powerhouse in the number of Members at this debate: 17 Conservative Members with constituencies or affiliations with the north. I speak as a proud northerner, born and bred in Middlesbrough. I sometimes carry around with me a medallion that was struck in 1881 to commemorate the unveiling of a statue in Middlesbrough, erected by public subscription, to the first mayor of Middlesbrough and first Member of Parliament for Middlesbrough. He was an industrialist, an ironmaster; Bolckow was his name.
The reason why I often refer, as the hon. Member for Hartlepool did, to those times is that, as he will agree, there was no distinction then between industrial leadership and local leadership. There was an expectation that the people who would drive forward the local economy through their businesses would give of themselves, their time and their investments in helping to make those places successful. I hope that we will get back to the time when mayors of Middlesbrough and other great towns and cities around the country had statues erected to them by public subscription to thank them for their achievements. Certainly, that is the direction in which we are going; we need to give more power to the north.
What are the elements of what we need to do? One element is raising the long-term growth rate of the constituencies and communities in the north. As the hon. Gentleman and many other hon. Members said, the north drove the British economy at various times in our history. There is no reason why its growth rate should be below the national average. Our ambition must be to have it pulling the national average up, rather than being below it.
We need to continue the progress on raising the employment rate. We need to continue to address the need for investment in long-term transport infrastructure. One thing that has excited colleagues and constituents and representatives of all parties across the north is the vision for transport improvements, whether through the HS2 or HS3 connections that are being made.
The north-west is already, as my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield said, a global centre for outstanding scientific innovation. My hon. Friend the Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce) made that point as well. It is also, as many hon. Members mentioned, a good place to live in, to work in and to visit. We need to celebrate and build on the quality of life in the north.
We need to ensure that the voices of people in the north acquire greater power and influence. It seems to me that the influence and the ability that Teesside has, and Middlesbrough in particular, to shape its own destiny was rather greater when decisions were made on the banks of the River Tees than when they came to be made on the banks of the Thames. I think that we need to revive that tradition.
Let me deal with some of the points that hon. Members made. Both Cheshire Members referred to the Square Kilometre Array. We are very proud of this asset. The heritage of Jodrell Bank in being at the leading edge of science is very important to us. I am due to meet the review panel for the SKA next month, and I will signal our wholehearted commitment to the project and to promoting Jodrell Bank as the rightful location for the SKA’s headquarters. I will take up with my ministerial colleagues the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton.
In the few minutes that I have in which to speak, I want to pay tribute to the leadership that my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield has given on the Alderley Park taskforce, which has been a phenomenal success. He will, I know, share the credit with the many local leaders, both in industry and in the local authority, who have worked together in just the way that he has described to create a prospering park with a great future. I am informed that, to date, the BioHub has attracted more than 70 biopharmaceutical companies, employing 281 staff. It is home to businesses that have been supported by some of the initiatives that many hon. Members have mentioned today. I place on the record my thanks to my hon. Friend and to all the other members of the Alderley Park taskforce for their efforts in building on this opportunity.
The common denominator of the remarks that have been made by hon. Members from right across the area —the 17 Conservative colleagues and our two Labour colleagues, who made important contributions, is that—
Well, at least two parties were represented here. We need to recognise that the prosperity of the country requires every part of the country to be firing on all cylinders. That is the common denominator of all the points that were made.
Local rivalries were on display in some of the remarks. Some rivalries are more friendly than others. I dare say that Middlesbrough and Hartlepool have also had their moments over the years.
Indeed. That just underlines the point that no two places are alike. They may be close geographically, but they have different histories, different traditions, often different industries and different politics. If we try to subsume them all into an approach that gets them to fit in with a central Government view of how the world should be, we will suppress the very individuality and difference that gives them their energy and creative spark, so one thing that we have tried to do—with success, I think—is to work through, first, the city deals and then the growth deals, and we have replaced the regional development agencies, in which great cities such as Manchester and Liverpool lost their identity, as did counties such as Cumbria and Lancashire. By taking the RDAs away and giving voice to representatives of real places rather than administratively concocted places, we have begun to empower those places and, in addition, the various deals that we have done have all been proposed and made in the areas that they represent, and they gather strength from that.
This is the beginning of a process that will continue. My hon. Friend the Member for Pendle (Andrew Stephenson) has displayed his tenacity in the number of Ministers he has lured to his constituency. I need to declare in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests that a pint of Pride of Pendle might be waiting for me when I make—
Indeed. I look forward to visiting my hon. Friend. His tenacity and commitment to his constituency are shared by Members right across the Chamber. I have set out what we are trying to do. I think that it does enjoy some cross-party consensus, and that is all to the good. The relationships between authorities have crossed party lines, and we have enjoyed in this debate a fair degree of political consensus. I hope that we will continue to do so.
I end by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield on bringing us together to affirm, in ringing tones, our commitment to continuing the revival of the north that is proceeding apace under this Government.