Skip to main content

Regional Growth

Volume 599: debated on Tuesday 15 September 2015

The Government remain totally committed to the rebalancing of our economy through unleashing the economic potential of our cities and regions. We have invested in infrastructure, connectivity, and science and innovation across the country, not least in the northern powerhouse and most recently with the £235 million that the Sir Henry Royce Institute focused on research into advanced materials. We have agreed 28 city deals, 39 growth deals and a total investment of £7.7 billion, including the transformation of the Greater Manchester devolution agreement. It is working: the north-east and the north-west are now cited as the fastest-growing regions in the country. We are going further and are now discussing a further 38 radical devolution proposals to empower local regions.

On regional growth, the Government have committed £7 billion of the £12 billion regional growth fund, including £488 million to my own South East local enterprise partnership, which is creating more jobs, homes and growth. However, when does the Minister expect the remaining £5 billion to be allocated? Does he expect the overall pot to grow?

My hon. Friend is right and I take this opportunity to congratulate him on his leadership locally in helping to secure that £7 billion and the £488 million that has gone into the Thames Gateway in north Kent. Decisions on the remainder of the RGF will be made in the spending review, but I will point out that we restated in the spending review guidance our commitment to the full £12 billion and to a radical package of devolution across the country.

Regional growth in Thirsk and Malton depends largely on access to superfast broadband. We are delighted that 95% of premises will receive superfast broadband by 2017, but the final 5% percent is without doubt the biggest challenge. Many businesses cannot wait until 2020 to get access to superfast broadband. Will the Minister confirm that he will look at ways to open up the market to create more competition for the final 5%, thereby increasing the pace of roll-out?

My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. It is great news that, as a result of our £800 million programme, 95% of the country will have superfast broadband by 2017. However, the final 5% or 10% in the most rural areas require special attention, which is why my hon. Friend the Minister for the Digital Economy is actively looking at a package of measures to help the most marginal rural constituencies. We have launched an £8 million pilot programme looking at vouchers, mobile broadband and a range of innovative schemes, including social investment finance models.

The Minister might recall that a few weeks ago I mentioned to him the incredible economic growth in Cambridgeshire which risked being hampered because of infrastructure constraints. We are ready to present an innovative private funding model to him, so can I secure some time in his diary to share the proposals with him?

I would be delighted to give my hon. Friend a date. She makes an important point, and I welcome the ambition set out in the “Case for Cambridge” manifesto. Having sat myself on the board of the Greater Cambridge partnership, I well know that Cambridge is now a global technology cluster. Only last week, I went to visit AstraZeneca’s £500 million global research and development hub site. It is a city that needs global infrastructure, and we welcome the ambition set out in the manifesto.

Regional growth in Yorkshire and the north-east is dependent on good transport links, so the cancellation of electrification between Leeds and Manchester and Leeds and Newcastle was a bitter blow to our economy. May I urge the Minister to urge the Chancellor to review the decision in the autumn statement and to look at the skills capacity in the transport sector, which is pushing up costs and prices in the electrification area?

First, the programme has not been cancelled; it is paused. It is a massive programme. [Laughter.] Opposition Members do not know much about running major projects. It is absolutely necessary that we get it right. The howls of derision opposite reveal their embarrassment at our success. You would think we would get more thanks for what we have done: a £7 billion regional growth fund; city deals across the country; 11,000 small and medium-sized businesses helped; and 130,000 jobs created, not least in the north.

The Minister will know that the suspension of the business rates revaluation in 2013 has had different effects in different parts of the country. Will he commit to investigating how businesses in my constituency, like so many in the north, were disadvantaged by the decision and find a way to redress this north-south divide?

I would be delighted to feed the hon. Lady’s comments into the Government’s review of business rates, which is already in hand. We recognise that particularly in many small towns business rates have a crippling effect on the high street. That is why we have launched a major review, which is ongoing and live at the moment.

In response to my hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mary Creagh), the Minister did not talk about the midland main line, but gave a list of other things he was doing. The cancellation of the midland main line electrification is a significant blow to south Yorkshire, north Derbyshire and the east midlands. What representations has the Department made on the impact on businesses and regional growth of not electrifying the midland main line? Will he respond to the question and tell us what is actually happening?

I dealt with that point. The midland main line is an important strategic rail route, and we are pausing to make sure we get it right. We will take no lectures from the Labour party on economic competence, when its own shadow Chancellor, according to his biography, is committed to the overthrow of capitalism.

I am aware that the Life Sciences Minister is creating a specialist life sciences enterprise zone to support sites across the UK hit by the global pharmaceutical corporate restructuring. Will he commit to providing every possible support to Covance, a pharmaceutical company in Alnwick, in my constituency, where more than 140 scientists’ jobs are at risk?

My hon. Friend has raised this matter with me already, and the Office for Life Sciences stands ready and is taking a close interest. We have already made contact with the local authority and will offer every support we can to its bid to make sure the site remains viable and that we protect local jobs.