3. What recent steps he has taken to rebalance the economy and create a northern powerhouse. (900322)
We have a comprehensive plan to rebalance the economy and create a northern powerhouse by bringing together the great cities and counties of the north of England, alongside plans to support other vital economies in our country, such as the south-west. Those plans involve major investment in transport infrastructure, backing science and skills, and supporting local businesses. The centrepiece of the northern powerhouse is the commitment to a major transfer of power to our great cities and counties so that local people can take more control of the decisions that affect them.
My hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers) and I were delighted in the previous Parliament that the Humber was at the centre of the northern powerhouse. Will the Chancellor confirm that the East Riding of Yorkshire and north Lincolnshire will continue to enjoy that position? I have a specific local issue in mind. Will he continue to prioritise flood defence funding for our region, because it is important for encouraging investment into the Humber?
I can confirm to my hon. Friend that the Humber, the East Riding and northern Lincolnshire are a central part of the northern powerhouse. When we originally set out the vision of the northern powerhouse last year, we talked about the belt stretching all the way from Merseyside across to the Humber. I know about his passionate commitment to improving the flood defences in the Humber. He achieved marked success last year, but has an even more ambitious project in mind. As he knows, because of his work and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers), the Environment Agency is undertaking a study of that proposal.
In my constituency, a link road was 60 years overdue. The Prime Minister and the Chancellor came, and the Prime Minister put a series of bolts into the bridge there. Does my right hon. Friend the Chancellor agree that the road is vital to the improvement of my constituency, and that such projects should be rolled out across the area to ensure more vitality in the northern powerhouse?
My hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Oliver Colvile) is a huge champion of Plymouth and the south-west. We will have time to address the south-west in questions.
The Heysham link road is a major achievement for my hon. Friend the Member for Morecambe and Lunesdale (David Morris). People have campaigned for it for 70 years. I happened to visit about a week before the general election with the Prime Minister. Because of my hon. Friend’s fight for infrastructure and jobs in his seat, he is back in the House doing his job.
22. Despite the Chancellor’s talk of a northern powerhouse, will he admit that output per hour in the north-west is still lower than the average for England, and lower than it was in 2007? Is it not true that his plan to improve the economy of the north-west has drastically failed that region? (900341)
The north-west has seen a huge increase in employment—it has had the fastest rate of employment growth in the entire United Kingdom. I would have thought the hon. Lady would welcome that.
The northern powerhouse initiative was instigated by me and the Labour and Conservative council leaders of Greater Manchester. It has been done on a cross-party basis. I would like to think that, at the beginning of this Parliament, we can work across the party divide, including in this Chamber, to bring about that major rebalancing of the British economy, which has eluded Governments for many generations.
Major employers in the north-east such as Nissan and Hitachi, which are the key drivers of the northern powerhouse, are clear that membership of the EU is vital to their investment in our region, and that they would reconsider their involvement in the UK should we leave the EU. Given that the Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, the hon. Member for Stockton South (James Wharton), the Minister responsible for the northern powerhouse—I cannot see him in the Chamber—told the “Sunday Politics” show last weekend that he would vote to come out, will the Chancellor tell the House what assessment he has made of the impact of the EU on the north-east economy and his northern powerhouse plans?
I commend the work that Nissan and other employers do in the north-east. The north-east is currently producing more cars than the whole of Italy, which is a remarkable achievement and a tribute to the workforce there. I am glad the hon. Lady mentions the Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government. He was not only returned with an increased majority, but is now playing a central role as the Minister helping to deliver the northern powerhouse in DCLG. The debates are about the future of our relationship with the European Union and the reform we need so that major Japanese car manufacturers continue to see Europe and the UK as a place to come, create jobs and invest. We will not do that if our continent prices itself out of the world economy.
I am proud that the coalition Government sought to start the rebalancing of the British economy and introduced the northern powerhouse scheme, which I support. It seems clear that we will have to have a mayor in the Leeds city region. Will the right hon. Gentleman seriously consider the possibility of having a Yorkshire-wide mayor to rejoin together that wonderful county, which could be a real powerhouse for the whole of this nation?
I am not trying to impose a model on any particular area. It is up to local metro areas to come forward with their proposals. I am clear that if we are to see a massive transfer of power from national Government to local government, there has to be a single point of accountability: someone who carries the can and drives the process forward. The authorities of Greater Manchester have agreed with me that that should be an elected mayor, but, as I say, how the authorities of West Yorkshire, and indeed the whole of Yorkshire, want to proceed is up to them. My door is open to a conversation.
20. I was grateful to the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Claire Perry), for meeting me recently to discuss the upgrading of the north Wales main line. Will the Department study the wider economic case for such an upgrade to allow north Wales to link to the proposed HS2 hub at Crewe, and, importantly, to tap into the jobs and prosperity that the northern powerhouse will bring? (900339)
I welcome my hon. Friend to this House, fighting for the interests of north Wales. He is absolutely right that north Wales is a central part of the northern powerhouse. Of course it is a single economic area, a point made in the lead question. I will take a close look at the rail upgrades he is calling for. It is good to see him championing his constituency so soon after being sent to this place.
I welcome the hon. Lady to her new position on the shadow Treasury team. Of course we have to make difficult decisions to balance our budget. If we do not get our public finances in order there will not be any powerhouse in any part of the country, and that is what we are doing. It is disappointing that the Labour party, having worked out that it did not have any economic credibility, has started the new Parliament by opposing all the savings we make. As it happens, in the in-year savings I announced we have protected the local government settlement.