We are making good progress in building a northern powerhouse. Over the past year, private sector employment in the north has increased by more than 200,000, a faster increase than the national average and faster than in the south. We want to sustain that by investing in new transport, new skills and new science, by devolving power and by bringing our northern areas closer together into that powerhouse.
May I applaud the Chancellor and the Government for their work on creating a northern powerhouse? Will he ensure that rural communities participate in that wealth growth, and that rural broadband reaches farms and rural businesses that want to drive the rural economy and economic growth?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right that we want our rural communities in the north to be part of the powerhouse. It is not just about connecting the cities; it is about ensuring that the rural economy is a vibrant part of the northern economy. Superfast broadband is a key part of that, and, as she well knows, we have made special efforts to develop it in North Yorkshire. Rural transport is also incredibly important, as is supporting agriculture. The investment that we are making in agricultural science will benefit agriculture all over the country, including in her constituency.
The Chancellor will have noticed that, for the first time in a recessionary period, the unemployment figures in Scotland—our northern powerhouse—are consistently better than in the rest of the UK, as the SNP Government, where possible, have followed different economic policies. Is his opposition to proper economic powers for Scotland based on a fear of being further outperformed by the Scottish Government? Is he afraid of the competition from a real northern powerhouse?
I am delighted for Scotland that unemployment has fallen and it is seeing growth. I remember, however, that the SNP predicted that our economic plan would cause unemployment to rise in Scotland and shrink the Scottish economy. That has not been the case because Scotland has been part of a stable United Kingdom that is following a long-term economic plan that is benefiting the entire country.
20. On 4 November at Treasury questions, I raised the issue of Brierfield Mill, the largest redundant mill complex in Lancashire and situated in my constituency. Following that, my right hon. Friend the Minister for Universities, Science and Cities visited the project on 16 January. Now, inexplicably, the Lancashire local enterprise partnership has failed to bid for even a penny of funding as part of the second round of the growth deal. Will my right hon. Friend agree to meet me urgently to discuss Government support for that important project? (907255)
I am well aware of the economic potential of the Brierfield Mill development and when I met my hon. Friend in Nelson recently we talked about those benefits with local businesses. He is a champion of that development and it is extraordinary that the Lancashire LEP and, in particular, Lancashire county council have not promoted the project. He is promoting the project because he is a champion of his constituency and I will happily meet him to see how we can progress the Brierfield Mill project and bring more jobs to the Pendle constituency.
The Centre for Cities recently reported that for every 12 new net jobs created in the south-east of England, only one is created in the rest of the UK. What is the Chancellor doing to address that two-tier economy?
The hon. Gentleman says it is a two-tier economy, but youth unemployment is down by 45% in his constituency and unemployment down by 31%. I agree that the Labour Government in the Welsh Assembly are doing damaging things to the Welsh economy, but thankfully the UK Government are promoting Wales and the Welsh economy and, as a result, we are seeing jobs being created. I am happy to continue to come forward with policies that support Wales and its economic development.
The north-east chamber of commerce recently said:
“Businesses are surging into 2015 on a wave of sustained growth and positivity”,
and unemployment is falling faster in the north-east than anywhere else in the country. Will the Chancellor ensure that the north-east is properly connected to the northern powerhouse and that the necessary infrastructure investment is delivered?
I assure my hon. Friend that that will be the case. The north-east is an incredibly important part of the northern powerhouse, and that is why we are investing in road and rail links there. We are also putting investment into science there, for example at Newcastle university, and of course in his constituency he has seen steelmaking begin again after it ended under the Labour Government. People will have a clear choice at the general election.