May I say that as a young Back Bencher I went to Pristina to help with the democracy-building programme in Kosovo? It is good to have the Speaker of that Parliament here.
Two years ago, we set out the plan to build a northern powerhouse by connecting up the cities and counties of the north of England so that the whole is greater than the parts. Since then we have committed billions in new transport investment, devolved powers to cities and promoted science and culture. The result is that investment projects in the north are up by more than 100%. But we have just started on this bold journey, and it is only by working together that we will transform the economic geography of this country.
I am grateful for that answer. Severe flooding over Christmas caused huge problems for the city of Leeds, which is a major player in the northern powerhouse. I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for meeting me to discuss flood defences. Does he agree that the neighbourhood planning and infrastructure Bill will help deliver the commitment to invest £100 billion in such infrastructure and secure the economic prosperity of the north?
I agree with my hon. Friend, and congratulate him and other west Yorkshire MPs who spoke out powerfully on the need for further investment in flood defences in west Yorkshire and in Leeds. We have provided that, with around £350 million extra in flood defence investment over the coming years to protect the businesses and communities he represents. Our neighbourhood planning Bill will ensure that we have a national infrastructure commission on a statutory footing to look at the big national challenges that we face, whether transport investment, broadband or indeed flood defence.
My hon. Friend raises an important issue. In recent years there has been a focus on economic development in the big cities of the north, but we now want to support the counties and county towns of the north of England. In the area that she represents so well we have the new growth deal for the Preston, South Ribble and Lancashire city deal area. We are looking to devolve more economic powers to counties so that they too can see the benefits of securing economic growth. My door is always open to good, sensible proposals for investment in the counties of the north of England.
The Chancellor speaks about investment in transport and in flood defences, both of which are crucial in my city of Leeds. Yet last month the Government cancelled the Leeds trolleybus scheme, and in 2011 flood defences were cancelled in Leeds, which contributed to the flooding we saw in December. Earlier this year the Government announced some money for flood defences, but it was just a fraction of what was cancelled five years ago, so I am surprised by the complacency of the hon. Member for Pudsey (Stuart Andrew), and ask the Government to invest properly in flood defences in our city.
The hon. Lady is being a little churlish. We committed £6 billion to investment in transport in Humberside and Yorkshire, the area that her constituency is in. Specifically on flood defences, she raised on the Floor of the House very specific schemes that she wanted me to fund. I funded those in the Budget. As she well knows, the future phases do not yet have plans or a price tag, but I have said that in principle we are committed to those as well. If she works with us we will deliver those schemes, which of course were never delivered under a Labour Government.
The Chancellor mentioned transport investment, yet his Government have presided over a situation in which there is 24 times more transport investment in London than in the north. However, on this occasion, although it pains me to do so, I want to ask the Chancellor to agree with me that people in the north need our country to remain at the heart of Europe so that our cities will keep growing.
First, it is quite right that we invest in major transport infrastructure in our capital city, which we have done with Crossrail and Crossrail 2, but that has not been to the exclusion of investment elsewhere in our country. In the hon. Lady’s part of the north-west there has been massive investment in electrification of the railways—I note that under the Labour Government only 10 miles of the country’s entire railways were electrified. High Speed 2 will help with fast train journeys to Merseyside as well as to Manchester. Now, with the new Merseyside Mayor agreed, we can go on pouring more money into the infrastructure of Merseyside so that we support private businesses in that area in growing and creating private sector jobs.
This week is Humber business week. Despite the forthcoming opening of the A160 into Immingham docks, business leaders tell me that they feel somewhat disconnected from the northern powerhouse project. Will the Chancellor outline what future schemes might benefit them?
I remember that my hon. Friend championed that road when he first came into Parliament, and he sees the practical benefits for his constituency now that that work is almost complete. He also joined other east Yorkshire and Humber MPs in campaigning for lower bridge tolls. Those are examples of how we are delivering for his part of the country, but I am as passionate as he is about ensuring that east Yorkshire and Hull are connected to the northern powerhouse. We have made it very clear to all the core cities of the north that Hull and the surrounding area should be included. In the Budget, we announced specific support for the city of culture, which is near the area he represents.
Recent figures showed a 9.6% drop in the value of new construction project starts recorded in the so-called northern powerhouse to the end of 2015. Interestingly, despite the Chancellor’s rhetoric on investment, much of the public capital invested thus far has been delivered by the EU. Does he therefore disagree with the Minister with responsibility for the northern powerhouse, the Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, the hon. Member for Stockton South (James Wharton), who said recently that Brexit will not affect Greater Manchester’s vision and access to funding?
As the hon. Lady well knows, I certainly believe that Britain is stronger in the European Union, and that it helps the northern powerhouse, but I make this observation: investment projects in the north of England are up over 100% in the last two years, which is in striking contrast to other areas. To give a sense of scale, investment projects in London are up 7% in the last two years. That is welcome, but in the northern powerhouse, they are up 127%. We are rebalancing the economic geography of this country. I am sure she will welcome the fact that the north of England now has the highest employment rate in the country’s history, and that we have seen the fastest falls in unemployment in the north of England.