Tuesday 22 November 2016
[Sir Roger Gale in the Chair]
South-west Growth Charter
I beg to move,
That this House has considered the South West Charter for Growth.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Roger—[Interruption.] That is a ringing endorsement. I am delighted to have secured this opportunity to bring to Westminster the campaign for the south-west to be seen as a centre for growth. The business community in the south-west is serious about introducing a framework for growth and economic prosperity in our important and much-loved region, which is what we are here to debate today.
We do not come to the Government with a begging bowl; we come to say that this is what the south-west business community plans to do for our region. The charter is not the brainchild of local authorities, politicians or quangos; it is the voice of business expressing its positive commitment to our region and saying to Whitehall, “This is what we will do. Now, Government, please do the part that only Governments can really do, namely infrastructure. Give us the tools to do the job.”
First, how do we define the south-west for the purpose of this debate? The Government usually describe the south-west as the seven counties from Land’s End to Gloucester, including Bristol and Stonehenge—a wide and disparate area. Not so today: the south-west for the purpose of this debate, the summit and the charter is primarily Cornwall, of course including the Isles of Scilly—I would not want to leave them out—Devon and most of Somerset, excluding the unitary authorities to the north. In other words, we are discussing the territory of the two local enterprise partnership regions of Cornwall and Isles of Scilly and the Heart of the South West.
The charter we are presenting the Government today builds on a growth summit held at the University of Exeter on Friday 21 October 2016. The summit was the initiative of one of the largest private-sector employers in our region, Pennon Group—the owner of South West Water, Bournemouth Water and Viridor—in partnership with the Western Morning News, a great champion of our region. The summit brought together the main economic interests of the south-west, alongside many of the region’s Members of Parliament. I am delighted that so many of my colleagues from Cornwall, Devon and Somerset, and from both sides of the House, are here today. The Opposition Members for our region are a tad depleted these days, but what Labour lacks in quantity the right hon. Member for Exeter (Mr Bradshaw) more than makes up for in quality. I am delighted to see him here today.
I probably won’t. I have never agreed with a single word the right hon. Gentleman has said.
The south-west growth charter calls for a new partnership between the south-west and central Government to achieve the goals agreed at the summit, which was attended by more than 200 people, more than 40 businesses, the CBI, the region’s two local enterprise partnerships, academic institutions and 14 local authorities from across the region. The summit was addressed by the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, who made an excellent speech that I know the Minister will replicate today. The Minister is a champion for progress, growth and prosperity. Indeed, he oozes them from every pore.
Despite our many successes and the beauty of our region, the south-west has not known the investment and prosperity of other parts of the United Kingdom in recent times—it falls below even the European Union average. What is more, the region has not always made itself heard with a clear, unified voice at Westminster, but we are open for business. We are looking for growth, and we want to build on the success of the northern powerhouse and the midlands engine. Today, we are setting out a positive vision for the south-west region.
The summit and the wider “Back the South West” campaign have shown a clear, unified business voice outlining a vision for the economic future of Cornwall, Devon and Somerset. The campaign has captured imaginations across our region and is a positive initiative from business, with strong support from local media. I always find that quoting local newspapers is a good way of getting in the local newspapers, and the front page of the Western Morning News on 3 October 2016 said:
“Clean beaches, sparkling seas and fresh air. The South West has it all. But while the natural beauty of the region is incomparable, its economy too often lags behind…given the tools, the South West can really fly”.
That is what this debate is all about.
A key part of the “Back the South West” campaign has been about creating a south-west narrative and speaking passionately at national level about why the south-west region is a wonderful place to live, work and do business. We are all immensely proud of our region, but we face challenges, particularly in light of the forthcoming Brexit. The local enterprise partnerships in our region are already showing how well they can work together to address those challenges and take opportunities.
Infrastructure investment needs and connectivity improvements were the overriding themes of the summit. To paraphrase a politician from years ago, we want to talk about three key things today: infrastructure, infrastructure, infrastructure. I remember going to India a few years ago with some Indian businesspeople, and they talked about the creativity of their people and all the resources and energy in that fabulous country. After the monsoons, they showed me roads that had been swept away and told me, “This is what holds us back in India. It is the infrastructure that we simply can’t manage to put in place.” I could say exactly the same thing about our region. All the creativity, the energy and the skills are there, but we need the infrastructure to get the job done.
We are all aware of the historical challenges in the south-west in relation to traditional infrastructure. For most of us, the key issue is the vital rail links to London and the rest of the country.
I am delighted that my hon. Friend has secured this debate. We can do much more on the second rail link between Waterloo and Exeter to increase the number of trains and to add more loops so that we can get many more trains through to Exeter and further down into the west country. I would like a junction connecting the rail link to the trams at Seaton.
My hon. Friend is a powerful advocate for his region, and I know he speaks to the Government. I am sure he knows that, by sheer coincidence, the Peninsula Rail Task Force’s 20-year plan will be launched at 11 o’clock this morning. The plan will spell out the improvement we seek to our rail infrastructure, and it will include the measures he mentions to equip our region for the 21st century.
Road and air transport are critical too, but it is not only about traditional infrastructure; it is also about wider connectivity. Big strides have been taken as part of the Government’s push to increase digital connectivity, but more needs to be done. As Bill Martin, the editor of the Western Morning News, has said, the south-west is known as
“the region where every telephone conversation ends with the word ‘hello’.”
Digital connectivity is more important than ever in this 21st-century world, so making a success of the digitally enabled economy is critical, particularly for our region where peripherality is our challenge and connectivity is the solution. Now that people can do anything from anywhere and now that we have excellent universities in our region, connecting ourselves will continue to make us the most attractive and wonderful place to live, work and raise a family.
I thank my hon. Friend enormously for securing this important debate. Encompassing everything, does he agree that the south-west has been very much neglected and left out? The Government ignore us at their peril, because we could be a powerhouse not just for ourselves but for the country.
There is no question in my mind but that we have not seen the investment that we might have wanted from Governments of all colours over many years, particularly over the past 30 years. Now that we have come together to speak with a single powerful voice, I believe we will see that change. The Government are listening to us.
On connectivity, the south-west can benefit from connectivity with the rest of the United Kingdom, including Northern Ireland, and Northern Ireland can also gain from connectivity with the south-west. There are potential advantages for both, including in the agri-food industries, fishing and tourism. Those are three things that we could do together. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that that is how we should do it?
We are delighted to work with anyone, and we are always delighted to welcome tourists from Northern Ireland who come to enjoy our wonderful south-west.
The Government need to recognise that European funding has contributed greatly to digital infrastructure in the past, and that a home-grown solution must be provided for the future. We need 5G. Tourism has been a key part of the local economy for many years, but it has also meant a lot of low-paid jobs. We in the south-west have core strengths. We are home to world-class universities including Exeter, Plymouth and Falmouth, and to highly skilled workers. Our response has been for businesses, local leaders and academic institutions to create successful business clusters and networks, such as marine around Plymouth, environment around Exeter, and aerospace and defence around Newquay. The clusters have played a key part in the hundreds of thousands of growing businesses across the aerospace, marine, technology and creative industries, helping the region attract and retain talent. However, we need to do more, and we need the infrastructure to support that growth.
We in the south-west have proved that we are successful. Pennon Group, which has taken the lead on the excellent charter, is born of the south-west and headquartered there, and operates across the whole region, in Cornwall, Devon, Somerset and now Dorset. It is one of the UK’s largest listed companies. There are many other success stories, and no doubt some of my hon. Friends will mention them in a moment.
One of the Secretary of State’s key messages at the summit was about devolution. I will touch on that, and I think that one or two other Members might want to mention it as well. He made it clear that if the south-west wants an ambitious devolution deal, it must accept a directly elected Mayor. His argument was that in other countries in the G7, large regions, particularly around big cities, have a lot more power than we in Britain have traditionally given to regions. Too many decisions in Britain are still made in Westminster when they should be made at local level, but local power is often too fragmented. To make sensible decisions on transport, skills and infrastructure, he argued, we need much more joined-up thinking and a proper combined authority, with one elected person shouldering the accountability.
That has given our region food for thought, and discussions are ongoing, but it seems clear that if we want the devolution deal that the region needs and deserves, we must find a way to deliver a western super-Mayor, a strategic leader—[Laughter.] Do you see what I did there? I have been working on that all night. Perhaps it is time we came together to do so. It is what the business community wants. However, there will be different views, and the conversation is ongoing.
The charter that we will deliver to Downing Street later today is not about going cap in hand to the Government; it is about saying that we in the south-west can do an awful lot for ourselves, but we need infrastructure support. The charter supports the Government’s industrial strategy and sets out how the Government can work with the south-west to increase investment and opportunities for people of all ages.
In the charter, the business community outlines its commitments to the region: to collaborate for growth; to invest in a self-sustaining south-west; to invest in innovation, industry and infrastructure; to invest in productive people and retain talent within our region; to invest in our environment and share the benefits of growth. What do we want the Government to do? We want a new Government partnership with the south-west, a firm focus on south-west growth in the Government’s industrial strategy and a funding road map so that the south-west can move from funding reliance to more innovative funding solutions.
We want investment in digital connectivity: ultrafast south-west, a new partnership with the private sector to deliver ultrafast south-west 5G mobile, fibre and wireless broadband to 90% of the population by 2030. We want investment in energy connectivity—switching on to opportunity—to address transmission and distribution restrictions on regional growth, to be completed by 2025, and a renewed focus by Ofgem, National Grid and Western Power Distribution. Crucially, we want investment in transport connectivity to get business moving. We want Government to back the Peninsula Rail Task Force’s long-term plan for rail improvements, which will be outlined in the report published later today, and to re-affirm commitments to road improvement projects in the pipeline, including the A303, the A30, the A38 and, as my hon. Friend the Member for North Devon (Peter Heaton-Jones) would undoubtedly agree, the A358.
As Chris Loughlin, chief executive of Pennon, said at the south-west growth summit:
“We should be able to get our voice heard. We are, after all, a political battleground. Elections are won and lost on how the south-west votes.”
On that, we all agree.
The south-west charter will be delivered to Downing Street later today. The timing could not be better: it is the day before the autumn statement. The south-west has made a profound contribution to this country throughout our history, and we have some very successful businesses in the region. It is a charter for growth; more than that, it is a charter for aspiration and hope for all in the south-west, but particularly the younger generation. Tomorrow, we will look to the Chancellor to re-commit to the south-west. Leaving the EU creates uncertainty, but also opportunity. The south-west is ready to deliver in the new partnership with the Government, provided that we receive the right commitments. That is the challenge for the Minister in this debate. Hinkley Point C, the third runway at Heathrow and High Speed 2 will all have a positive impact on the south-west, but we need more, and we need more infrastructure commitments specifically for the south-west.
It is not just about the autumn statement tomorrow; we are not going away. We will look to future budgets and the UK’s industrial strategy to position the south-west where it should be: not on the fringes, but at the centre of growth. Our two local enterprise partnerships are working hard together already, with valuable input from the business community, led by Pennon, to ensure that our proposals are developed. We need to add Government to that partnership.
To quote the Western Morning News for the third time—
It is a sure-fire thing. The Western Morning News said in its editorial last week:
“The government listens to those who speak loudly and logically and can make a good case. Too often, parts of the West Country have seemed to be pulling in different directions. Faced with petty rivalries, it has been easy for Ministers to dismiss the needs of our region and divert funds and support elsewhere.”
Not today. Here, the south-west is speaking with a united voice, led by the region’s business community and with far wider support from MPs and many in local government. There is clear momentum behind the campaign. I am delighted to throw my weight behind it, as are my colleagues from across Cornwall, Devon and Somerset, from both sides of this House. Together, we will raise south-west growth up the Government’s agenda and secure our region’s place in the new industrial strategy.
Several hon. Members rose—
Order Looking around the room at the number of Members who wish to speak, I reckon that given 10 minutes for each of the Front-Bench speakers and a couple of minutes for Mr Streeter to wind up the debate, we probably have about four minutes a head. I do not normally do this, but I will on this occasion, because this debate has clearly and rightly attracted a lot of interest from south-west Members of Parliament: I will give the list and batting order. Mr Bradshaw will speak for the Opposition next. After that, we have Oliver Colvile, Johnny Mercer, James Heappey, Kevin Foster, Sir Hugo Swire, Peter Heaton-Jones, Anne-Marie Morris and Rebecca Pow. I will not impose a time limit; I will impose a self-denying ordinance, on the understanding that those at the end may drop off the list if other colleagues are too greedy.
I will try to adhere to that advice, Sir Roger, but as I am the sole Opposition MP in the region that we are discussing, it will be a challenge. I congratulate the hon. Member for South West Devon (Mr Streeter) on securing this debate, which as he said is timely because the autumn statement is tomorrow, and because once again, overnight, the south-west railway has been cut off by flooding.
I do not think that anyone can criticise the document that we are debating. It is an excellent document, and no one could find fault with it. However, the regular loss of our connectivity, which has happened yet again in the last 24 hours, is a more accurate reflection of the current reality on the ground than the vision that the charter rightly sets out for the future of the south-west. As the hon. Member for Taunton Deane (Rebecca Pow) said in an intervention, the reality is that we in the south-west feel neglected. When we look at all the investment going into London with Crossrail, the north of England with high-speed rail and all the other massive, multi-billion-pound infrastructure investments, we in the south-west feel like the poor relations. The electrification of the railway line to Bristol and south Wales has now been delayed, and even that will not come down to our part of the region, which needs it just as much.
We all remember the grandiose promises made before the last election. We could not move in the south-west, particularly after the Cornish rail collapse, for visiting Prime Ministers, Chancellors and Ministers promising £20 billion of investment in infrastructure in this Parliament. I remember the then Prime Minister saying that he would do whatever it took to put our infrastructure in a good condition, but we have seen very little of that investment so far. Some might even argue that those promises and all those visits helped to sweep an almost full house of Conservative MPs to power in our region, with Exeter the only surviving constituency with Opposition representation. My Conservative colleagues have a big responsibility. If I may give them a little gentle advice, at some stage they will have to play hardball with the Government and demand that the promises made to them before the election are actually fulfilled.
Rail infrastructure is not the only problem. The hon. Member for South West Devon has already mentioned broadband; our broadband roll-out in Devon and Somerset is badly behind schedule and the way it has been handled has been an absolute shambles. Broadband is vital in rural areas, particularly for our small and medium-sized enterprises. There is also an awful lot of uncertainty, as the hon. Gentleman said, about Brexit—particularly in Cornwall, given Cornwall’s reliance on huge economic support from the European Union. Sectors in our region such as farming and fisheries, which are disproportionately involved and engaged in importing and exporting within the single market, face big uncertainties. Our higher education sector is very dependent on the free movement of students and academics and on all the investment that our membership of the European Union brings. All that uncertainty, combined with historic under-investment in infrastructure, raises real concerns in our region.
To add insult to injury, we have learned that our local enterprise partnership in Devon and Somerset—Heart of the South West, which the hon. Member for South West Devon mentioned—has been told that it can expect only a tiny fraction of the money that it had originally hoped to receive in the next round of development support grants. That led to an unprecedented letter, which we all signed last week, to ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government to think again—I cannot remember another time when every single MP in Devon and Somerset signed such a letter. As the hon. Gentleman said, it seems to be something to do with the fact that we do not have an elected Mayor model; we also have a shortage of big businesses to match-fund the Government money. That is stating the bleeding obvious, because our region’s strength is our small and medium-sized enterprises. We have some excellent big companies, but we do not have the large number of big companies that a northern powerhouse, or whatever, has.
I very much hope that the Chancellor’s autumn statement tomorrow will reflect some of the serious concerns expressed in this debate. I also hope that the Communities Secretary will look very carefully at our letter, because there is a lot of anger about how we in the south-west have been treated, and that anger will only get worse if our next growth funding deal is even worse than we expected or is a lot worse than the previous two. I congratulate the hon. Member for South West Devon again on securing the debate; it is well overdue, and I hope the Government are listening. Our region must get the investment that it needs. Sadly, that has been symbolised again in the last 24 hours by its being cut off by flooding.
Thank you for calling me to speak in this timely debate on the south-west regional growth fund, Sir Roger. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for South West Devon (Mr Streeter) on securing it.
I have been Member of Parliament for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport for the last six and a half years. Uniquely for a Conservative constituency, it is an inner-city seat without a piece of countryside—all we have is the Ponderosa pony sanctuary and a rather muddy field. Although it has a low-wage and low-skills economy, it has a global reputation for marine science engineering research, a huge science base, two dynamic and expanding universities with more than 30,000 students and a very fine art college. I am grateful to the Government for the investment that Ministers have put into Plymouth, including the city deal in South Yard, which has also been turned into an enterprise zone. That city deal initiative will turn underused land in the dockyard into a marine industrial production campus, which will ensure that we can help the Government to deliver their industrial strategy and realise our full economic potential.
Although Plymouth’s economic future looks bright, it needs real help to develop its skills base and to improve its transport infrastructure connections. Earlier this autumn, the Ministry of Defence announced that the Royal Marines would be moved from Arbroath, Taunton and Chivenor. In 2020, Plymouth will host the commemorations for Mayflower 400, to celebrate the Mayflower ship leaving to found the American colonies—we might seek to invite the President to pay a visit to Plymouth, to see for himself how wonderful it is. Mayflower 400 will provide a unique opportunity for us to run a spectacular trade fair, just months after the UK withdraws from the European Union, but Plymouth and the surrounding area will need significantly improved train and road infrastructure to deliver that. The Government are reviewing the viability of reopening Plymouth City airport, which is in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Moor View (Johnny Mercer). Later today, we will launch the Peninsula Rail Task Force report on the future of a sustainable railway line from the west country to London and the west midlands. There is also a proposal to convert the A303 and the A358 to dual carriageways.
The two local enterprise partnerships that affect Plymouth have submitted growth deal applications to continue the development of the South Yard city deal, which will create 1,500 new jobs, and the redevelopment of the railway station in my constituency. The latter is vital, because it will ensure that when American tourists visit the place that the founding fathers left from in 1620, they arrive in a dynamic city. By providing the necessary funds for the development of the railway station, the Government will help our local tourist industry; ensure that the increasing number of Royal Marines and Royal Navy sailors based in the Plymouth travel-to-work area arrive in a modern, up-to-date facility; remain good to their word by investing in modern infrastructure; support previous investments; and demonstrate that the people of Plymouth were right to elect a Conservative Government who deliver for the country and the south-west, which is playing its part in economic growth.
Thank you for calling me to speak in this debate, Sir Roger. I would pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for South West Devon (Mr Streeter) for securing it, but time is short.
This debate is of supreme importance. I am afraid that I am going to use Plymouth as an example for the wider south-west. We all talk about investment in the south-west, but I want to put a bit of meat on the bones with some data and statistics. I know that statistics are frightening for some, but they are important.
Plymouth, like the rest of the south-west, is not talked about enough in this place, and the effects of that are clear to see. It was once an industrial powerhouse, centred on the dockyard, where tens of thousands of workers, welders, fabricators, shipbuilders and union shop stewards contributed more to the nation’s security and heritage than Plymouth is ever credited with. The military commitment, although diminished in numbers, as my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Oliver Colvile) indicated, continues to this day—but Plymouth has always been much more than a military city. The harbour was used by merchant sailors for trade routes to London and all over the world, and transatlantic liners used to depart from Millbay.
There is a feeling in the streets and communities of Plymouth today that should be expressed in this place, which is that as the nature of the modern economy has changed and the nation’s focus on defence, rightly or wrongly, has declined, Plymouth has been forgotten—discarded after use. I therefore welcome the south-west growth charter, which lights a path back to a vision of better things. Hon. Members will all speak on different parts of it; in my short time, I will highlight infrastructure and Government spend in the south-west.
There is no doubt that infrastructure is the catalyst for growth. Regions in transition need a fair deal from the Government in all sectors. Every city’s representatives can come to Westminster and have a moan at the Government, but I want to put some evidence on record. I know that London is different, but the transport spend in Plymouth is £219 per head, compared with £1,869 in London. The public health spend is £47 per head, compared with a national average of £63. Despite being the most deprived area in the south-west, Plymouth is also the most underfunded. Why is so much less being spent on Plymothians? It is just not acceptable.
I am going to be slightly controversial, because I have my own views on why all that has happened. I know that all my colleagues agree that one of our main jobs in this place is to make the Government work for our constituents at the personal and local level. I have my own views on how well that has been done in the past. Locally, I never cease to be surprised by the elected officials in Plymouth; the manner in which they carry on contrasts sharply with the professionalism of the council staff, who work so hard for Plymouth.
One might say that as elected officials, elections are our appraisals from our bosses—the people. For many years now, at every election, local or national, the largest party has not been Labour or the Conservatives, or even the Lib Dems; it has always been the “don’t cares”—those who do not vote. The time for blaming those people for not voting has passed. It is time that we turned that argument on its head and recognised that we have to give people something to vote for, not chastise them for their lack of interest in us. Plymouth is an ambitious city, with gifted, ingenious people who can adapt to change like those in any other city, but Governments of all colours have simply not delivered for too many in our city, as evidenced in our elections.
That has to change, so what do we do? We have a unique opportunity in this Parliament: almost the entire region is represented by the Government party. The biggest, most determining factor in economic growth for a region far from economic engines such as London is transport links to enable big companies to get in and out of our region, thereby providing the skilled jobs and professional development that our ambitious and talented people deserve. We cannot, as a cohort, continue to support the Government unequivocally without genuine “spade in the ground” investment in our transport infrastructure. It is unacceptable for a region so large, diverse and productive as ours to be expected to survive on the rail link we currently have, irrespective of the Government’s plans elsewhere. I strongly congratulate the peninsula Rail Task Force on its report into rectifying the situation. I urge the Prime Minister and her team to read it very carefully indeed before committing to further investment elsewhere in the country.
Politics is a team game, and it works both ways—not only from us to the Government but from the Government to us. I support the Prime Minister in everything she does, as do my colleagues, but our commitment to making the Government work for people in the south-west must trump everything else. I firmly believe that this Conservative Government have done more for our region of late than has ever been done before, but we must let it be known that if the line is crossed we will hold firm and hold together as a cohort to put our region first; otherwise, we will continue the degradation of politics that we are all so keen to avoid.
It is not all bad by any stretch. The jobs lag from a dockyard that employed 35,000 workers in its heyday, but employs 3,500 today, has been filled by enterprising, determined Plymothians who have created a buzzing local economy that just needs a bit more help from central Government. Similarly, when it comes to central Government there can be no doubt that the single biggest factor in improving the life chances of our constituents is a job, and under this Government unemployment has halved since 2010. But we must not take our foot off the gas. The south-west growth agenda is key to our prosperity.
I, too, congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for South West Devon (Mr Streeter) on securing this important debate.
There are six networks that drive productivity, not only in our region but nationally, and they are the air, road, rail, broadband, mobile and energy networks. I am afraid that in the south-west there is under-investment in them all. Bristol airport, which serves the region, has been growing at a great pace in recent years, but we need to ensure that it is better connected southwards so that is can serve the region that it is intended to serve.
Road improvements are coming along nicely, but the work on the A303 and the A358 needs to happen with some urgency. We must also be aware that, as we do that work, we risk making Somerset the rock in the stream, around which the M4 and M5 to our north and west, and the A303 and A358 to our south, move quickly while Somerset remains disconnected.
I encourage the Minister to support the work of my hon. Friends the Members for Bath (Ben Howlett) and for North East Somerset (Mr Rees-Mogg), who are campaigning for better access to north-east Somerset from the M4 to improve connectivity in the north-east of the region, and the ongoing work to support Hinkley Point by improving junction 23 of the M5 to allow better connectivity not only to Hinkley Point but into Mendip. We must ensure that, as we improve the main roads in our region, we do not simply make Somerset the unconnected rock in the stream around which everything moves quickly.
Yesterday, our region was once again cut off. The railway line between Bristol and Taunton was under water, causing huge disruption, not only for Members of Parliament returning to the House after the weekend but for the region as a whole, which feels awfully remote when water is on the tracks and nobody can get to us. It was Dawlish before; yesterday, it was the line through Somerset.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol North West (Charlotte Leslie) is leading a debate in Westminster Hall this afternoon on the electrification of the great western railway to Bristol Temple Meads, so I shall not go into that now, other than to say that it is of course not just the electrification of those last eight miles between Bath Spa and Bristol Temple Meads that affects our region so much. Electrification is required in the Thames valley to release the rolling stock that is supposed to come from the Thames valley to serve the Bristol and Bath commuter network, which will in turn release the rolling stock that is supposed to go down to Devon and Cornwall to serve the Plymouth and Exeter networks. The delay to electrification has a real effect, not only in the west country but in the Thames valley. It is needed to increase capacity for commuters in our region. Most of all, it is a shame that the electrification of the great western railway, which we as a region thought was in the bag, now finds itself in competition with the excellent work of the Peninsula Rail Task Force.
On broadband and mobile, I absolutely agree with the growth charter that says that we must go for 90% connectivity by fibre for premises and that we should go for 5G. Let us not forget, though, that right now more than 10% of Devon and Somerset do not have access to a superfast connection at all, and much of the region has connection speeds that are down around 2 Mbps or less. Our mobile phone connectivity is improving, but there are still far too many notspots, so there is work to be done before we embark on the more ambitious targets for the future.
We are a decentralised region with no obvious economic focal point, so it follows that there is no obvious focus for energy generation. I think that, as a region, we are the nation’s leader in the deployment of renewables, but we require real investment in our distribution and transmission systems to support that sort of energy system. The Minister should take note that there is also an opportunity for renewable energy, clean tech and new nuclear to be part of the industrial strategy for the south-west.
The south-west has a great deal to offer, with great universities, including the University of Bristol, the University of the West of England, the University of Bath and Bath Spa University, and great expertise, ambition and potential. We just need to be better connected by air, road, rail, fibre, mobile and electricity wire.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Roger, and to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for South West Devon (Mr Streeter) on securing the debate. It is a perfect day for this debate—a day when we again see pictures of hanging tracks in the south-west, demonstrating how important links have been cut off. It is a delicious irony that members of the Peninsula Rail Task Force, which has been referred to a lot, had to drive to Reading last night in order to get here to present a report on rail resilience. Why did they have to drive to Reading? Because of a lack of rail resilience. On top of that, my hon. Friend the Member for St Ives (Derek Thomas) and I had charming experiences yesterday: I had an 11-hour journey from Torquay to the House, and his journey was significantly longer.
We could make the debate all about rather negative descriptions of the well-known issues with our transport network, but we could also be positive about the opportunities available and what is already going on. On Thursday last week, the Western Morning News published an opinion piece on how the south-west should unite to build on a charter for investment and infrastructure. On the very same page there were details of the work being done by four local colleges that have come together to expand their opportunities and help to support tech businesses. The article, written by the principal of South Devon College, Stephen Criddle, gives details of the world-class high-tech and digital innovation centre being created for the photonics industry, which has a long history in Torbay.
Before I address what I think the Government should be doing, it is important to look at what we can do ourselves. We clearly need to ensure we have the skills for businesses, because there is little point in creating jobs and opportunities if we do not have people with the skills—particularly in science, technology, engineering and maths—to take them up. There are also well-known shortages of skills and professionals in our health and social care industries. We need to look at what can be done at local authority level. I welcome the fact that my local council has put £50 million into a growth fund. I must say it makes the £15 million that is potentially going to be assigned to the local enterprise partnership look rather small when Torbay Council on its own is planning a fund of around £50 million.
It is welcome that that money is being used and—without giving away some of the details that perhaps would not be appropriate to share publicly—it has been encouraging to speak with the Torbay Development Agency and the council about the ways in which some of that public investment might be used to unlock schemes that we have been waiting some time for, not least in our town centres in both Torquay and Paignton.
Transport infrastructure makes a huge difference. We have had the welcome investment of the Kingskerswell bypass, which serves my constituency and goes through the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Newton Abbot (Anne Marie Morris), after the small matter of a 61-year wait since it was first proposed. That delay also brings home why it is so important that we get on with some of these projects. We have issues such as Stonehenge that are almost as long-standing. The debates around Dawlish, which began in the 1930s and were delayed by world war two, are still going. Also, once decisions are made, we need to crack on and deliver what we can.
Also, it is important not only to look at the tracks but to have trains running over them. While we are debating rail resilience, at the same time I have CrossCountry Trains trying to axe most of their services to my constituency. We need the tracks and the services running over them.
I am conscious both of the time and that other colleagues wish to speak. I hope to see more investment in broadband speeds, but the key message that I would join others in giving is that we now have a united voice in the south-west, including, to be fair, the support of our sole Opposition representative, the right hon. Member for Exeter (Mr Bradshaw). We do not have some of the petty rivalries that we saw in the past. That is why it is important for the Government to back the plans that are coming forth from the region, which will deliver not only for the south-west but for the country as a whole.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for South West Devon (Mr Streeter) on securing this timely debate. It is the latest in a series of debates on the south-west and it is fantastic to hear so many colleagues speaking with one voice about our area.
I welcome the south-west growth charter, which originated, as we have heard, at the south west growth summit at Exeter University. I was able to attend part of that summit and I congratulate Pennon, the CBI and the Western Morning News on putting it together. Too often, we have not spoken as one voice in the south-west; the time to do so is now.
It is no secret that the south-west has lost out in terms of infrastructure investment in comparison with other areas. I just say gently to the right hon. Member for Exeter (Mr Bradshaw), who talked about successive periods of under-funding, that he was a member of a Labour Government that did nothing for the south-west for 13 years. Nevertheless, it is true to say that during those years, and before, we have suffered from under-investment. One example is that during the past 20 years transport spending in the south-west has averaged £35 a head compared with a national average of £98 a head, which has left the region £2 billion behind other areas. That has been a wasted opportunity, considering the vast economic potential of the area.
To take my own constituency of East Devon as an example, just a week or so ago I was at Exeter science park to look at the new £97 million Met Office supercomputer, which will make Exeter and the surrounding area a world-class place to do science. There is also the brand new and growing community of Cranbrook, just near Exeter airport, which offers another fantastic opportunity for local growth. As for Exeter airport itself, I very much hope that the Chancellor will say something about air passenger duty, which discriminates against Flybe, which operates out of the airport.
The south-west has huge connectivity, not least to Northern Ireland. When I was Minister of State for Northern Ireland, I used to fly regularly from Exeter to Belfast. I must say that the south-west welcomes tourists, of course, not least—I am pleased to say that I was in some way involved with this—the First Minister of Northern Ireland, who has holidayed in Cornwall in the past few years and who enjoyed herself there very much indeed.
I welcome Government plans to dual and upgrade the A30 and the A303. This is a much-needed and overdue upgrade that should have been carried out decades ago. I regret that there is still a question over some of the funding for this project; that question needs to be urgently resolved. Personally, I am disappointed that full dualling of this stretch of the road has been ruled out. I believe that a half-baked compromise will give the impression, once again, that the south-west is forgotten when it comes to infrastructure investment.
I give wholehearted support to the work of the Peninsula Rail Task Force. We have heard about the timely announcement today; it is also an appropriate announcement, in a sense, given the problems we are experiencing today as a result of all trains from Exeter to Taunton being either delayed or cancelled. That underscores, yet again, the need for greater resilience, faster journey times, more capacity and connectivity. These are absolutely the right priorities.
I also agree with the right hon. Member for Exeter that too often over the years when we have heard about investment in the “south-west”, people are talking about Bristol. However, some of us in the Chamber mean Exeter, Plymouth, Penzance and so forth, and we would like to see some of the money that is going to the north of England to unlock the northern powerhouse and to provide HS2 being used instead for small projects in our area. For instance, I support Devon County Council’s bid to the new stations fund for a new station at Marsh Barton, in the right hon. Gentleman’s constituency, which will make it much easier for constituents in East Devon and so forth to travel into and around Exeter and the surrounding area.
On broadband, we have had some leaked announcements, or some possible announcements, coming out of the autumn statement that we will have more money for connectivity and broadband. Again, we cannot argue for that too much in the south-west; it is absolutely a priority. Curiously, it is the more urban parts of East Devon, such as the Exeter suburb of Newcourt, that often have the worst internet speeds in the area, so improving connectivity and broadband is absolutely key.
As for the growth deal funding, considering the historic underfunding and the future potential of the south-west, it is disappointing—to say the least—that the provisional growth deal award is set to be so low. The Heart of the South West local enterprise partnership put together a £109 million growth deal that contained 26 projects, including investment in superfast broadband. The provisional allocation of £15 million to £20 million is nowhere near sufficient and the Government need to go away and look at this issue.
As the right hon. Member for Exeter reminded me, it was the south-west Members of Parliament who delivered a victory for the Conservative party in 2015. So, we are owed for the victory that led to the formation of a Conservative Government. We had a manifesto for the south-west and at the next election in 2020 we should feel proud to be held to account for the commitments that each and every one of us stood on. At the moment, we have made a start, but we are by no means there. Nevertheless, this debate today represents a good move in the right direction.
I, too, congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for South West Devon (Mr Streeter) on securing this very important debate. He made a clear statement and the phrase that sprang out for me was that we do not come here today with a “begging bowl”. Indeed we do not, but, as other Members have said, it would be remiss of us if we did not point out that for many years, and under Governments of all colours, the south-west has not received its fair share of investment. We need to put that right.
The reason is that, as this charter for growth shows very clearly indeed, the south-west is a vibrant and dynamic place to do business. The south-west has a very bright economic future and that was very much the feeling at the south west growth summit on 21 October in Exeter. That is also very much the feeling in my part of the south-west—North Devon.
This issue is all about setting out how the Government can work with the region to increase investment, productivity and economic opportunities. I must stress that it is about working together; this is a partnership. In the south-west, including in North Devon, there are brilliant and resourceful businesses, public authorities and third sector organisations bursting with ideas, which make the south-west a magnet for investment. However, to release all of that potential and to make things happen, we need investment in our infrastructure, as colleagues have said only too clearly.
For me, the key is one word and that is “connectivity”. My hon. Friend the Member for South West Devon and other colleagues have mentioned the roads that need to be vastly improved: the A303; the A30; and the A358. Also, I am sure that my hon. Friend also meant to mention the A361, which is the North Devon link road and the vital link between the M5 and North Devon. The former Prime Minister, David Cameron, once accused me of “banging on” about that road, which was a charge I was absolutely proud to plead guilty to. We must have investment in the North Devon link road.
Another issue is the resilience of our rail network. All the various newspapers have been mentioned—I am sure that the story is also in the North Devon Journal this morning—and they have pointed out that the rail links to the south-west are pretty much cut off this morning. That is something up with which we must not put.
On broadband, we hear that there is talk of investment in “hyper-speed” broadband. I have to say that in some parts of North Devon we have “no-speed” broadband at the moment. So let us at least get the car on the road before we push down the accelerator pedal.
Industrial strategy is also important. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made some very welcome remarks about industrial strategy yesterday and I hope we will hear some more about it in the autumn statement tomorrow.
It is reckoned by those who put together the south-west growth strategy that properly investing in our region’s connectivity could give gross valued-added economic benefits of £41.6 billion and create 22,000 jobs, and there could be extra economic benefits in things such as tourism and financial services of another £21 billion on top of that. It should not be a matter of whether we like the growth idea but of when we make the necessary moves to ensure that the south-west can grow in the way the document foresees. Yes, we want our fair share of Government investment, and the charter for growth shows that we are more than ready, willing and able to use that investment potentially to create a regional economy like no other. We are like a coiled spring, ready to unleash all that economic energy. I say, “Give us that chance. Northern powerhouse, you ain’t seen nothing yet”.
Today we ask the Government for support. We ask for support for the south-west charter for growth. We speak with one voice—businesses, politicians, the community. As my hon. Friend the Member for North Devon (Peter Heaton-Jones) said, we have huge, untapped potential. The figures need to be written in stone. The potential is there, yet we are the second-lowest funded region in the country. We could do so much better.
One of the challenges is that our economy is not well understood. People look at the south-west and think of us as a sleepy farming community or sleepy fishing community. That is completely wrong. Farming and fishing are very important. We feed the country; we have £2.7 billion turnover from our farming. As for tourism, we are the second most visited area after London, with 19% of those who come to this country coming to the south-west. So we have own powerhouse, thank you very much, but our potential must not be forgotten. Our marine sector represents a fifth of the UK’s marine sector. That is not small beer. We are a nuclear industry leader and we have the UK’s first nuclear industrial cluster. We have the brains. We have the power, and we want to be able to unleash it. In aerospace and advanced engineering we have 14 of the 15 top companies, plus 900 smaller supply chain companies. Some of the larger ones—for example, Centrax Industries and Centek Group—and some smaller ones, including Teignbridge Propellers, are in my constituency.
We are the south-west engine. We want a partnership with Government to build an industrial strategy to deliver productivity, not just for the south-west but for UK plc. We will collaborate. We will invest together. This is not just putting out a begging bowl to the Government. We will invest, train and retain. There is an increasing number of young people in our community and many young people come through our first-class education system and universities, so it simply is not true that the south-west is full of those who have retired. But we need the Government’s commitment to the south-west. We need, as my colleagues have argued, money going into road and rail. We need support for the Peninsula Rail Task Force report that will be released later today, and we must not forget the airports and the ports. They are very important.
The digital connectivity issue can never be under-estimated, and although I am sure I could spend the rest of my four minutes talking about it, the points have already been clearly made. Without mobile, without broadband, we simply cannot unleash the potential. The point about energy connectivity is right. We lead in renewables but we do not have a joined-up system, and that is preventing inward investment.
The south-west engine has the third-highest number of businesses in the UK behind London and the south-east, so we should not be underestimated. We have the most untapped potential but for that investment from the Government, and we, as local businesses, are prepared to play our part. We have huge investment potential. I echo my hon. Friend the Member for North Devon: dream on northern powerhouse, the engine is here in the south-west.
I feel like I ought to go like a train, Sir Roger, in the time limit, but not like the trains that were running out of the south-west yesterday, which were not going at all. I sometimes feel like I am the Boadicea of the north of the south-west region, and that my hon. Friend the Member for South West Devon (Mr Streeter), who so gallantly brought this debate to the House, is like the Alan Sugar of the south of the region, but in between, we have a myriad of talent. We are a talented force and we are joining forces and working together for our region.
We should not be underestimated. As my right hon. Friend the Member for East Devon (Sir Hugo Swire) said, the south-west Conservative MPs won the election—to get political about it. There are 51 of us and we should not be underestimated. We came into this House on a manifesto promise to increase productivity in the south-west, and we are determined to do that but we cannot do it without the right framework behind us. We already have so much going in the south-west; we are achieving a lot. We have a lot of top-quality businesses and companies, but we could do more with the right framework, so I urge the Minister to listen and not to take us for granted.
One must always have a plan and a strategy, and we do. We have the south-west growth charter, and we also have our local enterprise partnerships working. We have a really solid framework from which to work. We are not working individually—although we all have our individual bids—but as a team, particularly on infrastructure and our particular asks.
In the time I have I will focus on just a couple of areas: skills and infrastructure. As I said, we already have some top-quality companies in my constituency. I must mention the Claims Consortium Group, with its Investors in People gold standard, the Ministry of Cake, Peter Brett Associates, Albert Goodman, Francis Clark, and Viridor, which is under the Pennon banner. There are so many of them, all doing great work, but they could all do more. So often, we find it difficult to attract the right talent and keep it in our region, and that is something we need to concentrate on. I applaud the Government’s apprenticeship scheme—I think it will work well—but we need to work more. I have the first nuclear apprenticeship degree in my constituency, being run through Bridgwater and Taunton College, and, as has been said, we need to build on the nuclear strength we have in the south-west.
We need to build on health, aerospace, textiles and marine —the things we are really good at and strong in already—but it is important that we work with the region as part of the Government’s industrial strategy. We must ensure that we do not miss out on any designations that are being handed out under the strategy outlined in the Green Paper. We need to be part of the bidding process but we need to win, and we must not be hampered if we do not happen to have signed a devolution deal yet. We are already doing good work and we must not be hampered, or even penalised.
I will just mention AgustaWestland, as many people who live in my constituency work there. I had a very good meeting with the company. It employs 17,500 people across the south-west. It particularly urges innovation and investment in science and technology, with which I think we would all agree.
My hon. Friend is right. The company stressed to me that it is not just about wanting engineers to build helicopters but about attracting young people into the area to be those engineers. The industry is inspirational and is going somewhere. We need the seed-corn money from business, and grants for medium and small companies so that they can start to do research in that field. We can do that in the south-west; we can build on it and we can all take advantage of it.
I just want to throw in that we need a university. We are warm-hearted in Somerset, but we are a cold spot where academia is concerned. I would like to speak to the Minister about how we ease the numbers game so that we can apply to be a university.
I will sum up on the infrastructure note. We all agree that we have lots of ideas but the Minister needs to bring it on. We want to see the spades in the ground. I want to see the A358 come to fruition before the next election. We have to have junction 25 upgraded, we have to have the A303, and we have to have the road to Barnstaple done. They all work together. I ask the Minister to put some money back into growth deal 3. It was almost in the bag, but the bag seems to have been opened and the money has been let out. Please can we have that, devolution or no devolution?
We can do it in the south-west. Give us the tools and we will deliver, but do not destroy our beautiful environments at the same time. We are a spectacularly stunning region. We can make the economy work but we can also make it work in a glorious environment.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Roger. I, too, congratulate the hon. Member for South West Devon (Mr Streeter) on securing this debate. Owing to lack of time, I will not be able to reflect on all hon. Members’ contributions, which were extremely powerful in sending a message—I am sure the Minister received it—about the importance of the south-west and industry in the south-west. I want to reassure the hon. Gentleman that I do not see the south-west as a sleepy area. I am an MP for the north-east, which some may think is as far away from the south-west as one can get geographically, but in the north-east we are very fond of and admire the south-west. We share a history of mining and agriculture, as well as railways and great engineers, as other Members have mentioned.
The south-west has huge success stories, from the scientists of the Eden project to the engineers of the SC Group and AgustaWestland and the wine producers of the Campbell Valley. We would see such projects thrive if the Government sought fully to unleash the capabilities of all the regions of our United Kingdom. The charter for growth is a key step in achieving that. It is an opportunity for the Government to deliver on their promises, as has been pointed out by hon. Members, particularly by my right hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr Bradshaw).
We could say that, before the election, the Conservative party issued letters of promise for investment in the south-west to be redeemed after the election, but they have yet to be redeemed, as is clear from the contributions so far. I look forward to the Minister setting out how he will make right on the promises so freely given before the election.
One of the welcome differences with the current Prime Minister was an apparent willingness to invest more in infrastructure based on borrowing, which had been a long-time Labour policy. Does my hon. Friend agree that tomorrow will be a test of whether she was serious about that?
I thank my right hon. Friend for that intervention. It is absolutely clear that the economic failure of the previous Government to recognise the importance of counter-cyclical state investment has been rejected—in words at least—by the current Government. We will see tomorrow whether that rejection is made solid.
The previous Government’s abolition of the regional development agencies, which supported growth outside London, exacerbated the problem. Growth in the regions of the UK, particularly the south-west, faced economic hardship from austerity, particularly in the way in which it drained demand and reduced income for those in the public and private sectors. The Government have an opportunity to address those failings. I understand the sense of disappointment expressed by many MPs about the current indications that the local LEP will be materially disadvantaged in terms of regional funding because it does not have an elected mayor model. Now is the time for the Government to show they recognise that regions can achieve greatly without necessarily having a big man, a mayor, to meet the Government’s requirements.
The need for the charter is urgent. The south-west received €1.5 billion from the European structural funds throughout the 2014 to 2020 funding cycle and that stimulates development in the region. In fact, the south-west received the second highest amount of money from the European Union, second only to nearby Wales. Business in the area must be concerned about the Government’s toxic combination of indecision, doubt and confusion about Brexit. A commitment to a growth charter would be the first step in providing some answers for companies in the south-west.
Investment in physical infrastructure is one of the very important points in the charter. I must say I admire and respect the south-western Members of Parliament for making it to Parliament today, given the extraordinary lengths that some had to go to to make the journey from the south-west. For proper investment, we need long-term patient funding rather than the current short-term free market approach. For example, as has been mentioned, the A303, A30 and A358 corridor between Taunton, Honiton and Amesbury is key to reducing journey times to markets, promoting the inward investment that will help make the south-west’s economy more self-sustaining, as well as strengthening the already vibrant tourism in the area.
As hon. Members have said, rail links are equally important. The 20-year plan will bring jobs and growth to the region, as well as faster connections to the London airports. Businesses in the south-west should have better access to Bristol, London and the midlands, as well as to Heathrow and Gatwick. Rail links are key not just to link the south-west to other English economic hubs, but to support British industry and manufacturing. This investment should be brought forward and considered a priority. How will the Minister ensure that the Infrastructure Commission is independent and fully funded to make the much needed investment in our regional infrastructure?
However, physical infrastructure is not the whole story. As Member after Member has pointed out, in the face of the fourth industrial revolution, digital connectivity is just as important, so the plan for an ultra-fast south-west is welcome. The Labour Government left office with fully costed plans for universal broadband by 2012. As has been said today, we still have many businesses and individuals who cannot even get access to broadband speeds of 2 megabits, never mind the ultra-high speed mentioned in the announcements made today; and the universal service obligation is still four years away.
The European Union investment that was so welcome in Cornwall will not be available post-Brexit, and yet Ofcom researchers showed that in rural areas 48% of premises are unable to receive speeds above 10 megabits. I look forward to the Minister saying specifically how his Government will invest in rural broadband.
The shadow Minister is obviously aware of the speech delivered by the then Prime Minister and Chancellor in January last year setting out the long-term economic plan for our region. Her speech today has reflected that Conservative vision for our region. Should we assume she supports it?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. I support regional economies that are strong and sustainable, where investment is in people, skills and infrastructure. I support economies that deliver high-quality jobs that enable his constituents to make plans for their own futures, rather than being at the whim of short-term, zero-hour, low-skill, low-value jobs. That is the vision for the future economy of the south-west, and indeed for the country, that I wholeheartedly support.
I look forward to the Minister setting out exactly what his industrial strategy is. The Prime Minister has created a Department with industrial strategy in its title—I have yet to hear what the strategy is. The Prime Minister’s speech yesterday did not set out how the Government will, for example crowd in investment from the private sector in innovation, new opportunities and skills. As a Member of Parliament for the north-east, I too regret the skills brain drain from our regions to the capital because of its stronger economy.
I particularly look forward to the Minister setting out how the Government’s industrial strategy is not simply an ever-growing reduction in corporation tax but one that takes our whole country with it to invest in increased industry, shifting the centre of gravity away from London to support our great regions, such as the south-west. The south-west growth charter is to be welcomed. I look forward to the Minister demonstrating that he will support its implementation.
Order. Before I call the Minister, due to the incredible self-discipline exercised by colleagues, we have a reasonable amount of time. I congratulate you all on achieving that. We have called 13 Members in one form or another in addition to the Front-Bench spokespeople. I regard that as exceptional. Without wishing to incite insurrection, that does mean that the Minister will therefore probably be able to take interventions and still allow time for Mr Streeter to respond at the end of the debate.
Thank you, Sir Roger, for that incendiary opening remark. It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship and it is an absolute delight to take part in such a generally wise, good-natured, warm and constructive debate. It is a particular delight for me to look round Westminster Hall and see the serried ranks of Conservative MPs from the south-west, and even the conservative Member from the Opposition, the excellent right hon. Member for Exeter (Mr Bradshaw), who in so many ways shares so many of our inclinations.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for South West Devon (Mr Streeter) for calling this debate on a very important area and set of issues. We have already heard reference to Boadicea and Sir Alan Sugar from my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton Deane (Rebecca Pow), but I like to think of my hon. Friend the Member for South West Devon as a kind of Abraham—a patriarch of the south-west, bringing his wisdom to bear and providing moral and spiritual, as well as parliamentary, leadership.
We have heard some excellent contributions. Not everyone is still in their place for reasons we perfectly understand. I have heard strong support for the area, the skills and the genius of the south-west; concern about infrastructure and connectivity; recognition of the Government’s achievements to date; and a desire for Government to step forward and do more. I will not run through all of the excellent contributions we have heard, Sir Roger. It is testimony to your brilliant chairmanship that the imposition of a self-denying ordinance, an interesting contradiction in terms, has had the excellent effect of enlisting so many outstanding and brief contributions.
Let me just point to one or two wider considerations in response to the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central (Chi Onwurah) and pick out some aspects of the industrial strategy, before turning to where we are with the south-west. It is fair to say that there is not a Member of this House who does not believe in the importance of economic growth. If there are any, let us invite them to consider the alternative, which is not only painful but regressive. Economic growth is a very important part of our lives and is likely to always remain so. It is also important to attend to the kind of growth that that implies, which is not always the same. We have seen boom and bust over the last few years nationally and that is not attractive. What we are looking for, and what I know colleagues across the south-west are looking for, is a sustainable basis for long-term economic development—and rightly so. That must be development that enhances the genius of the people involved to create higher productivity and greater real wealth.
If we look at the industrial strategy, the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central suggested that somehow it is some great failure. The Government have talked about industrial strategy almost continuously since they were appointed and are undertaking a very careful, considered process of framing a consultation document to be launched in the next few weeks, which will invite every section of our society, not just businesses and corporations, to contribute and reflect on what could be the source of that long-term economic growth.
On my point about AgustaWestland and other businesses, will the Minister ensure that we are investing enough money in business-oriented innovation and science, so that we can build a solid future, not a one-off industrial strategy, for our young people in particular?
It would, I think, be injudicious of me to anticipate announcements to be made over the next few days and, in some cases, already trailed. There has certainly been widespread speculation in the press about great support for research and innovation, including the development and technology side of the equation. We have already seen that. The structure of the Government being focused on trying to concert better relationships between sources of research, be they industrial or commercial, and the development and commercialisation of those technologies, makes that very clear. We will see a lot more of that over the next few weeks.
The Minister talks about the Government bringing forward a consultation document. We do not need a consultation document. That is what Governments say when they are going to do absolutely nothing and kick something into the long grass. Clear and specific promises were made by the Conservative party in the run-up to the last general election, with money behind them, which all the Conservative MPs speaking in the debate today have referenced. When will those promises be delivered? Where is the plan to deliver them?
I detect a slight faux indignation on the other side, and I am sorry about that. The industrial strategy of this country is a serious, long-term matter. It needs to be agreed in a bipartisan spirit. It needs to include the whole country, including the devolved Administrations and nations. It is not something to be decided and cut off. That, if I may say, is an expression of Blairite, Napoleonic Government. We are looking for a consensus and a stable basis for future development, which can be shared by all and can survive a change of Government—it is essentially long term in character.
An industrial strategy has been attempted at various points in our past in this country, not always with great success. In the 1940s and 1950s, we had models of industrialisation based on the armed forces and people in Whitehall yanking levers that steered the ship of state. We had the corporatism of the 1970s. I suspect that we are looking to something somewhat different. If hon. Members doubt the necessity, let me remind them of two things. First, those who say they do not have an industrial strategy almost invariably have one without knowing it. Secondly, no company or charitable organisation would dream of attempting to take money from investors or donors and use it over a period of time without having a strategy for how to do so. Nor should the Government.
As my hon. Friend understands, I am not the Minister for Culture, Media and Support. He also knows that when I was Chair of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee, I took an active interest in that issue, and we commissioned a very reputable report from a group of academics and industry experts, which found, among other things, that BT Openreach was under-investing in its network by hundreds of millions of pounds a year. It was accretive to investors and was not down to its cost of capital. I do not want to speculate on the reasons for that, but its effect has been massively to penalise people—particularly those in rural areas. I am sure my hon. Friend supports today’s announcement of a new fund to support other players in fibre through balance sheet-matched funding, which will enable fibre roll-out, particularly in rural and suburban areas, to proceed much faster than hitherto. That is a very welcome development.
The Minister is being very generous in giving way, and I am grateful. The long-term economic plan, to which I referred during the shadow Minister’s speech, was delivered 18 months or so ago. In its analysis of the region’s infrastructure and our sectoral opportunities, it is not a thousand miles away from an industrial strategy. Will the Minister commit to making that long-term economic plan, which was delivered by the previous Prime Minister and Chancellor, the foundation for his industrial strategy for our region? Our region widely welcomed it at the ballot box.
The idea is not to slow the process of investment—as has been recognised today, there has been considerable investment across the south-west, in the form of city deals, enterprise zones, expansions and local growth funding—but to incorporate it within a more nuanced national consensus about what the future will look like, out of which we should get a shared view of how the south-west and other parts of the economy can grow.
I draw my hon. Friend’s attention to the Prime Minister’s early words: she pointed out that there are no privileged areas of the country. Some might have had deals in the past, on the basis of areas coming together, but that model can be embraced by everyone. One of the interesting things about this debate is that the unity of Members of Parliament is so evident, but it is not absolutely evident that that unity is shared all the way down the tree of local government. It might be worth reflecting on whether that might have an impact on the region’s long-term development.
My hon. Friend the Minister is doing a magnificent job at a time when it is impossible to get from Exeter, the capital city of Devon, to London because we have no trains. Can he communicate our frustration to the Government? If that were the case on the lines from Leeds to London, from Bradford to London, or from Manchester to London, there would be merry hell. We will not continue to put up with this sort of neglect for much longer.
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s point. I need not say it myself, because he did so much more eloquently than I could. I recognise the issue that he and my hon. Friend the Member for Torbay (Kevin Foster) referred to, which was mentioned in the Peninsula Rail Task Force report, and on which campaign work has been done. I congratulate them on that.
I am conscious of the passage of time, notwithstanding your incendiary words, Sir Roger, so let me proceed. The key themes of the industrial strategy will be those that have been flagged up in this debate. There will be an emphasis on sectors, the commercialisation of research and development, and innovation, and there will be a particular focus on infrastructure, skills and abilities, and the embedded institutions in particular regions. Those issues have been brought out very well today.
As the hon. Member for South West Devon said, this is a relatively tightly defined debate in terms of place, but an industrial strategy has to reflect the fact that places are very different from one another. Defining what the south-west is and where it ends can be a challenge for the Government, even if it is not a challenge for those who live there. It is an extraordinarily diverse, beautiful region, which has extraordinary assets to be cherished and developed. It is home to world-class universities, very skilled people and hundreds of thousands of growing businesses, many of which are in advanced, high-tech areas. The development at Hinkley Point C, which has already been mentioned, will give the region a major boost. The counterpart to that is the need to invest in smaller pieces of infrastructure.
An awful lot of people’s happiness, certainly in rural areas —I speak as a Member of Parliament for Herefordshire, which can only gaze at the quality of the south-west’s infrastructure and its access to higher education—depends on small-scale road and rail infrastructure, as well as large-scale connectivity. I certainly hope, as I know colleagues do, that that aspect of infrastructure development will be reflected in the plans to come.
Before the Minister finishes, he said that the industrial strategy will take some time and that it will take allowance of skills and sectors. Will he give a concrete indication of how long the consultation will last and when the industrial strategy will be published? During that time, will he give a running commentary on what is in the industrial strategy so business can make appropriate plans?
It is difficult if remarks one has already made have not been heard. I have already said that the industrial strategy will be launched in the form of a consultation paper in the next few weeks. It is not a thing in and of itself. The Government anticipate that there will then be contributions and a further refinement. At some point, it will be published, and it will then be a reference document from which regions and businesses can take comfort and refer to when making their own plans.
That is the structure of the industrial strategy. It is fair to say, in that context, that the south-west has made its voice heard in a way that few other regions have succeeded in doing. It has done wonderfully well in flagging up the advantages of that part of the world. It is a pleasure for me to work with the two LEPs that have been mentioned. I salute the work of the south west growth summit and the charter. We can only hope that that work will continue to be transferred into local energy and further Government investment.
The Minister, who knows I am a huge admirer of his, referred to the serried ranks of Conservative Members of Parliament from the south-west, and indeed he is right. The right hon. Member for Exeter (Mr Bradshaw) is also right that commitments were given in the run-up to the previous election, particularly about infrastructure. If the Minister thinks that if we fail to deliver on those commitments there will still be serried ranks of Conservative MPs from the south-west after 2020, I am afraid he is sadly mistaken. In 2020, we will be judged on the infrastructure and connectivity we deliver for our region. We have heard some very warm and supportive words from the Government, and it is great that we will have an industrial strategy, but we want action. There is a time for making promises and commitments, and there is a time for delivery. The time for delivery is now.
This positive charter was put together by the business leadership in our region. It is very positive about what they will do in our region, but it asks the Government to make specific commitments about delivery over the next five years. It talks about digital, energy and transport connectivity. My wife, who is coming up to London today, looked at the Great Western Railway website and said, “I cannot catch a train from Plymouth to London.” Colleagues were stranded yesterday afternoon and evening when trying to get from their constituencies to vote in an important debate in the House of Commons. People cannot get from Plymouth to London today by rail. It is not good enough. The time for promises is over. The time for delivery is now.
We want a new partnership between the private sector and the Government for the south-west. It is not rocket science. We know how to do infrastructure and connectivity. We want the Government to give us the resources and the commitment. We have the passion; give us the commitment.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered the South West Charter for Growth.
Accident and Emergency Services: Merseyside and Cheshire
I beg to move,
That this House has considered accident and emergency services in Merseyside and Cheshire.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Roger, and a pleasure to see the Minister in his place. We spent many a happy hour on the Public Accounts Committee in years gone by, and I have great respect for him. I am sure he will give due consideration to what I say.
The debate title is a slight misnomer, however, because it was intended to entice other colleagues from the Cheshire and Merseyside region. Sadly, they have not taken the bait, perhaps because of the limited time available, so I will talk largely and almost exclusively about my own patch.
Southport is a large seaside town on the Lancashire coast, with one of the most elderly populations in the UK. I have to point that out, because for some reason I am often confused with the Member for Stockport and I am referred to as such. Southport, however, is nothing like Stockport. Southport is a seaside town and has one district general hospital on a split site with Ormskirk. The accident and emergency provision, though, is split by age between the two sites, which is a bone of contention in Southport.
For the purpose of the sustainability and transformation review, Southport was grouped with other hospitals ringing Liverpool, including those in Aintree, St Helens, Whiston and Warrington. Southport has recently had a poor Care Quality Commission report on its A&E department and an equally poor review of its surgery. It has responded positively with further investment of £600,000 into the A&E department, so that now, according to the stats—I checked this with the chief executive only this week—it has one of the best-performing A&E departments in the north-west.
That might have been the end of the story, because the CQC report dates from some time back and because of the improvements, but for suppressed drafts of the Cheshire and Lancashire sustainability and transformation review that have been leaked. The leak showed a number of things, including a possible downgrading of Southport A&E and of other A&E departments in the area—the hon. Member for Macclesfield (David Rutley) is now in the Chamber, and his is one of the areas affected, as we have discussed—as part of a cost-saving exercise.
That is not the first time that the suggestion has been made apropos of Southport, but the Minister knows from his own experience in Ludlow how politically explosive such suggestions can be and have been. He will also appreciate that those suggestions are sometimes entirely simplistic and often linked to another further bright suggestion that people come up with, which is to close down wards. The consultants charged with balancing the books, and often deferred to by the national health service, might come up with the brilliant suggestion that the best thing to be done with a loss-making hospital is to get it to do less—to stop admitting people to A&E, and finding space for them in wards, and therefore to close down A&E and shut down a few wards.
The Cheshire and Merseyside sustainability and transformation plan proposals were reneged on somewhat in the final draft, so they fell short of actually advocating downgrades. However, that is not to say that that is not in mind as an ultimate objective.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing the debate. Like him, I am concerned about the proposals set out in the STP and, with regards to east Cheshire, the document actually sets out that options being considered include downgrading from an A&E to an urgent care centre in Macclesfield. There needs to be greater transparency about the options and a frank conversation with people. There is already a Macclesfield petition signed by 8,000 people opposing any downgrading of A&E services in our area.
There is also a petition in Southport, and I am sure there will be petitions wherever in the country this sort of thing happens. As the hon. Gentleman suggests, the ownership of the sustainability and transformation reviews is wholly unclear. No one quite knows who writes the plans, or how they are agreed, and few democratically elected bodies or people, or patients, have any kind of input. In fact, the Liverpool local authorities wrote in some indignation to the authors of the report to ask, “How can we be involved? It alleges in your report that we are involved, but we do not appear to be.” Furthermore, no one quite knows why the hospitals have been grouped as they are.
Southport hospital is in a particularly unfortunate position, because it has changed its chair recently and suspended its chief executive over a period of a year, so it is unclear to me how Southport and Ormskirk’s views could have been represented in any review. Roadshows were organised by the clinical commissioning groups to talk about the financial plight of the local NHS and things that need to be done, and I have attended some of them, but they spend all their time talking about things such as savings on prescriptions and none on the big league stuff that is agreed and discussed in NHS boardrooms. There is absolutely no transparency, and I am sure hon. Members share in my cynicism. We await the real cost-saving proposals—or, in some cases, the empire-building proposals that are often disguised by blather about clinical efficiency and safety, which come almost after the event.
I speak with some cynicism, because I am a veteran of such carryings-on. I regret all the back-stage manoeuvres and, in particular, that no one has been around to champion my local hospital in the review. There is a good case for keeping our A&E—elderly people throughout the country are the major clients of A&E, for obvious reasons.
The debate is clearly about Merseyside, but the issues for accident and emergency are the same everywhere in the United Kingdom, including in Northern Ireland. Does the hon. Gentleman share my concern about A&E being on the frontline of the NHS, so that is where the spend clearly needs to be? Does he also share my concern about Government policies to close some pharmacies, with their role, which will push many minor ailments to A&E, creating even more problems?
Precisely. I am going on to some brief analysis of the problems of A&E, but it is certainly the line in the sand that we must defend.
Elderly people are obviously the major clients for A&E, and Southport by any analysis has an enormous number—a very high percentage—of people who will require A&E. Moreover, as the ambulance service says, and as the hospital will confirm, when people arrive at A&E these days they are iller than ever before. The reason for that is that access to GPs and to social care is worsening—social care has suffered extensive cuts, and has done so in my area, and is struggling.
To make matters worse, one reason for A&E throughput being a little slow is that, more than ever, people going to A&E are not being turned around and sent home, but need to be admitted, so beds are needed for them, although previous reports recommended ward closures in Southport hospital. Furthermore, discharging people from existing wards is a slower process, because social services are, frankly, struggling. The system is getting logjammed, with ambulances at one end and people not being discharged at the other.
To add to the problem is a matter that the hon. Member for West Lancashire (Rosie Cooper) will wish to bring up: the CCGs have taken the community care contract off Southport hospital, where I thought it was well placed, and given it to two organisations new to the field. How that is supposed to help integration, I do not know.
There is a serious problem in West Lancashire and the Southport conurbation. The local population has been excluded from all these decision-making processes. There is a serious need for the NHS bosses to explain what they mean by “downgrading”, as their perception of A&E can vary quite significantly from my community’s understanding. Simply sharing information without any explanation leads to anxiety and serious distress about the future of health services. I come back to the point that the hon. Gentleman has just been making: in the face of the fact that it will destabilise the hospital, the CCG—that is the local GPs—has just awarded the contract for urgent and community services to Virgin Care, which has no real track record. We do not have a real assessment of what is going on, and my constituents are being put at risk.
I thank the hon. Lady for that clarification and amplification. There really is a problem with integration, and I do not know how that will be better solved by bringing more organisations—particularly untried organisations—into the fray.
We are all exasperated by watching people make a hash of things and create rather than solve problems. CCGs are neither accountable nor always reasonable, and frankly sometimes have their own agendas. They are often tough on hospitals but less so on GPs. They are of course GP-led organisations, which is a weakness in how they are structured. I have a letter from the biggest surgery in my patch complaining about abuse received by receptionists. Hon. Members will be able to guess what that abuse is about. It is not excusable, but the rationale for that abuse is that people are having real difficulty making appointments in a timely and effective way, and as a result they are going to A&E, sometimes in desperation. Surveys that I have done over time have shown GP access to be as much of an issue in my constituency as A&E waiting times. As the hon. Lady just said, NHS bosses collectively are either deliberately or accidentally causing the destabilisation and unbalancing of provision in the area, and no one can stop them.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for being so generous. Does he share my concern that the STP for Cheshire and Merseyside talks of
“leaving the work at STP to focus on creating a framework to support development of”
accountable care organisations? ACOs are generally associated with insurance-based systems such as those that exist in the US. Does he share my concern that that fragmentation is to do with breaking up the national health service?
CCGs are nominally accountable to the Secretary of State or NHS England. Will the Minister address who actually guarantees that CCGs will provide really good service? The incompetent CCG in Liverpool that presided over the unholy mess at Liverpool Community Health NHS Trust has been allowed to preside over future services and new contracts in Liverpool. It is the same incompetent organisation. How is that okay?
The hon. Lady reinforces the point that I was going to make next. No one in the NHS locally is in a position to bang heads together and say, “Hang on, what do the public actually want or expect here?” The CCGs speak to NHS England and the Secretary of State. They are the decision makers. It seems to me that one of the coalition Government’s biggest mistakes was abolishing the regional strategic arms of the NHS—the bodies accountable for integrating and making things work together and making services across an area work effectively. Instead, we have groups of special interests—the big providers on one side and wholly unaccountable CCGs on the other—and, frankly, a recipe for chaos.
On accountability, does the hon. Gentleman share my concern—I would welcome a response from the Minister on this point—that the Health and Social Care Act 2012 took away the Secretary of State’s duty to provide and secure a national health service in England? That is one of that Act’s key flaws.
There was actually an attempt to make clear in that legislation where responsibility lay. I am very familiar with that debate and do not want to re-engage with it at the moment.
There is an absence of a genuine force for integration at a local level. We all know that there are institutions in any local environment that will be shored up at all costs, regardless of the clinical benefits to the population. Like the banks, a big private finance initiative such as the Royal Liverpool hospital will never be allowed to fail, because when PFIs fail, they revert to the Government’s books. Such services therefore tend to attract neighbouring services, whether or not it is a good idea for those neighbouring services to be attracted and regardless of the practicalities or the patients.
To come to some sort of conclusion, without a 24/7 A&E in Southport and all that follows from that—a great deal follows from that in terms of what other services may then go—people will suffer longer and more anxious journeys. I shudder to think what would happen if there were an incident at a big event in Southport, such as the flower show, the air show or the musical fireworks, and we did not have a 24/7 A&E. For better or worse, Southport is on the periphery of Merseyside and the hospital is also used by large parts of Lancashire. Southport straddles the boundary between Sefton and West Lancashire. The local hospital trust has to interact with two CCGs that face different ways. As it stands, the hospital is massively convenient for patients but inconvenient for those who like symmetry in the NHS. Precisely because of that, we are in constant danger of being overlooked and not championed, which is why Sefton Council recently passed a motion drawing attention to its concerns, particularly about the A&E.
Hon. Members will have gathered that I do not have entire confidence in the transformation process. None of us will say that we are not aware of the need to work more smartly and in a more integrated fashion to make the health pound work a lot harder, but the record will show that this is not the first time that I and the hon. Member for West Lancashire have brought the affairs of this hospital and this health service patch to the House’s attention. I fought off a previous attempt to get rid of our A&E when that was mooted by consultants on the usual ground that if the NHS ceases to do anything, it will cease to cost anything. The public have campaigned vigorously for an urgent care centre in Southport, and a succession of Ministers have been lobbied in this place about that plan, only for it to be scuppered by behind-the-scenes NHS politics. I have no reason to feel any confidence at all in this process—not when I see the hospital trust itself make a complete hash of whistleblowing charges against senior management and protract the process through its own simple incompetence.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that STPs are in danger of becoming a managerial exercise in contingency and risk planning, where the NHS speaks to itself? Several years ago, in the Health Committee, I put to Bruce Keogh the charge that where we were going, there would be 30-plus trauma centres in this country and every A&E would be downgraded. With STPs, the NHS is talking to itself, not the communities it serves, and it will come up with that very same plan. I can see that happening in front of me right now.
Order. I have to make the point that these half-hour debates are specifically the property of the Member in charge. Mr Pugh is entitled to give way to whomever he chooses, but interventions should be interventions, not speeches, and every moment that is taken curtails the opportunity for the Minister to respond.
Thank you, Sir Roger. We are on the home straight now. The trust that we are talking about has been under the management of a series of interims over the past year. That has not helped its affairs. Why should the people of Southport suffer? We have been poorly served—not by the doctors, the nurses and the hard-working staff, but by the NHS high command. People are angry. If they are to be repaid for their anger by having further services taken off them, that anger will simply come the Government’s way, to the Secretary of State who will make any final decisions.
I want to make a plea. Let us not have another NHS stitch-up on any patch, where MPs, councils, local people, patients and all the access issues provoked by these arrangements normally are ignored. Let us not have a fait accompli that suits special interests that is covered over at the last minute with a veneer of clinical justification. Let us have local decision making that is not a sham or a pretence, but is genuine local decision making. Lord Lansley had a frequent saying in many a debate on health—I am not a great fan of his, but the saying bears repetition—which was, “Nothing about me, without me.” We have had lots done to us with the health service on our patch, but it has always been without any genuine involvement of the population or their representatives. I make a plea to the Minister that he tries to correct that or to reassure me that this time it ain’t gonna happen.
It is a great pleasure, as always, to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Roger. I congratulate the hon. Member for Southport (John Pugh) on securing the debate. He referenced the fact that we served together on the Public Accounts Committee many years ago in the early days of my parliamentary career, and I have therefore long understood his forensic approach to matters affecting his constituency. He has shown that again today with his characterisation of the health needs of Southport. It is good to see a number of neighbouring MPs joining this short debate. They share a common interest in guaranteeing high-quality health services for their local residents. We in the Department of Health obviously share that interest.
I have listened carefully to the concerns the hon. Gentleman has expressed about A&E services in particular in the local area. He and other Members have touched on wider health issues, and I will try to address some of those in the few moments I have today. I am particularly aware of the concerns he concluded with about the potential of the sustainability and transformation plan proposals for the area, which include urgent care among many other things. I will touch on that in my remarks.
We all recognise the increasing pressures in the NHS, particularly as we move into winter. I am sure all Members would acknowledge the hard work and dedication of those providing high-quality services across the NHS, including in Southport, which the hon. Gentleman referred to. The NHS cannot stand still, however, and services need to change to continue to meet patient need and patient expectation. Nationally, there were some 1.95 million attendances at A&E departments in September, compared with around 1.86 million in September 2015—an increase of 4.9% in only 12 months. Some 1.77 million patients were admitted, transferred or discharged within four hours, compared with 1.73 million a year ago—an increase of 1.85%. I give the House those statistics to point out that the NHS is seeing and treating more people within its targets than ever before. In Merseyside and Cheshire, that means that more than 2,400 more patients were transferred, admitted or discharged within four hours of arrival this September as compared with last September.
Turning specifically to the Southport and Ormskirk Hospital NHS Trust, there are clearly performance matters that need to be addressed. Although its A&E performance does not meet the national 95% target, at 91.5% it is above the national average of 90.6%. As the hon. Gentleman said, its current A&E performance is relatively better than that elsewhere. However, the CQC report that he touched on, which was published last week, rated the A&E department as “inadequate” for safety and “requires improvement” for all other fields apart from caring. Although that may be based on work done some months ago, I am sure he would agree that it is unacceptable. The trust needs to improve its performance for the people of Southport.
The Minister is making an important point. The argument about the CQC inspections is to some extent related to what the CQC inspects. If it is inspecting an A&E department—I hope I made this clear in my speech—the CQC often has to bear in mind the fact that it is not an isolated unit. A&E works in conjunction with adult social care, the ambulance service and so on. Getting snapshots of a poorly performing department without taking into account the background and the other arrangements in and around A&E can give a false picture of where the problem lies.
I am not going to get into a prolonged debate about the CQC report, but it rates the entire trust as “requires improvement”. We have confidence in the overall reporting, and looking at A&E in that context reflects an accurate impression of the current status of the trust. For example, three of the trust’s seven A&E consultant posts are filled by locums or agency staff. That mix of staffing is not sustainable for any A&E department. I am aware that the trust and its commissioners are looking to address that.
Several hon. Members referred in interventions on the hon. Member for Southport to the NHS sustainability and transformation plans. I emphasise to the House that STPs are collaborative plans designed to help local organisations deliver on the “Five Year Forward View”. They are formed by CCGs, providers and local authorities working together in an area to develop a plan. Some have also involved other stakeholders who will be affected by changes in their area and can contribute to improvements. The true test will be whether a revised healthcare system really improves matters for patients.
We are still at an early stage in the process. The local NHS describes the plan for Cheshire and Merseyside as a plan for a plan at this stage. I will not therefore pass judgement today on the STP process or the content of the Cheshire and Merseyside STP. I am not in a position to do so. I do not know the local position as well as the local clinicians who have drawn up the plan; no one in Westminster or Whitehall does. Local clinicians must ensure that they involve the public and patients—and Members, as the hon. Gentleman called for in his closing remarks—and explain what they think is best for each local area. I reject the charge that the plan will not involve the local communities; it absolutely needs to involve local communities to be taken forward. It is a central tenet of the approval of the plans that there is public engagement.
I am afraid I have very little time, and the hon. Lady will have an opportunity to pick my brains directly on anything I do not address in my remarks, because we are meeting next week. I am happy to talk to her. We have had a dialogue over some of the health issues that are of most concern to her, and I thank her for her efforts in bringing those to my attention.
The STP process is not run by or for the Department of Health. It is run by the NHS for patients of the NHS. Design of health services, including front-line health services and A&E, is a matter for the local NHS. The reforms that my noble Friend Lord Lansley made when he was in post have put clinicians in charge of the care people receive and how it is delivered to serve their populations best. Local authorities are vital in helping set the direction of health and social care development locally. Guidance on STPs from NHS England has been clear about the importance of local authorities in partnership arrangements and of the NHS working with local authorities to deliver prevention and public health improvements. It is crucial that the NHS and local authorities work closely to ensure the key aims of the STP process can be delivered: better health, better patient care and improved NHS efficiency.
The STP for Cheshire and Merseyside was published a week ago, on 15 November. As I said, the NHS described it as a plan for a plan. In the area represented by the hon. Member for Southport, it builds on the “Shaping Sefton” local delivery system, which I understand had considerable public engagement. It is disappointing that the leaking of an early and incomplete draft of the STP led to speculation and some concern. I hope that the publication of the formal document will dispel some of those fears. I assure the hon. Gentleman that no changes to the services people currently receive will be made without local engagement. When and if final plans propose service change, formal consultation will follow in due course.
Motion lapsed (Standing Order No. 10(6)).
Self Care Week
[Mr Charles Walker in the Chair]
I beg to move,
That this House has considered Self Care Week 2016.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Walker. I am delighted to have secured this debate, timed to take place just after Self Care Week. As co-chair of the all-party parliamentary group on primary care and public health, I have taken an interest in self-care for some years. Self-care is essential for healthy living, and self-care certainly does not mean no care. Self-care is also essential for the future sustainability of the NHS.
There are two reasons why the Department of Health established Self Care Week in 2009, which is a national awareness week to support people to better look after their physical health and mental wellbeing. The Minister was not in office when the NHS was grappling with reforms and reorganisation in 2010, but at that time the Self Care Forum, a charity that aims to further the reach of self-care and embed it in everyday life, was asked to take over the organisation of Self Care Week. Since then, it has gone from strength to strength, with growing numbers of local and regional health organisations running events and activities across the country to support and educate people in their health.
The theme for the 2016 Self Care Week was improving people’s health literacy. According to the Royal College of General Practitioners, 60% of working-age adults find health information too complex to understand. That worrying statistic shows that there is an urgent need to empower people in their health and improve health literacy across the population. When people play a more collaborative role in managing their health and care, they are less likely to use emergency hospital services and more likely to stick to their treatment plans and to take medicines correctly. Those who are more involved are less anxious, more satisfied, less likely to complain and tend to enjoy better outcomes and a better quality of life than those who are less involved. It is awful jargon, but it is true, that person-centred care is good for healthcare professionals, too. As patient engagement increases, staff performance and morale sees a corresponding increase.
Earlier this year, the all-party group on primary care and public health carried out an inquiry into the NHS’s five-year forward view. We looked specifically at behaviour change information and signposting and concluded that poor health literacy was harming the nation’s health and contributing to the pressures on the national health service. In other words, the NHS is failing to harness the potential of patients to improve and maintain their own health.
To address that, we recommended that comprehensive health education should be included in the national curriculum to improve the health literacy of children, who are future health service users. That health education should go beyond the usual sex, relationships and drug education programmes and include, for example, information on the national health service, its history and structure and the right way to access services.
It is important that the elderly do not think that self-care ends when they move into a care home. They must be able to maintain their independence and live life to the full. A main component of that is ensuring that they are able to buy personal goods. I was therefore disappointed when I was contacted by a constituent who was concerned about the treatment of his mother-in-law in relation to the personal expenses allowance that people in nursing homes get. That allowance has not been raised at all, which means that, due to inflation, people have less money to spend. In an email to me, he said:
“Recently, as you will be aware, her annual pension and pension credit increased by 2.9% in line with inflation. However, the PEA remained at £24.90 per week. So in effect her increase in Pension and Pension Credit from Central Government was passed straight through to the Local Government and she has received zero increase. No doubt her personal items such as underwear, clothes, shoes sweets etc. will increase in cost this year leaving her actually worse off for the increase.”
It seems I have dropped this on the Minister—that was not my intention, but it is an opportune time to bring the case to his attention—but will he explain now or later why the personal expenses allowance was not raised in line with inflation or even further?
Health education needs to continue throughout life, particularly at key stages such as when people start university, have their first child or retire. That would help people to understand which parts of the NHS they should use based on their health needs and whether they need to access health services or could self-treat safely at home.
It may be an opportune time to mention this. I am one of the three Rotherham MPs and we have a scheme called social prescribing, which is contracted and paid for by the Rotherham clinical commissioning group. I understand that the team from the Rotherham social prescribing service, who I spoke to at a community function last Friday night, have spent some time with the Secretary of State, who has seen exactly what they do. They are helping people with long-term health conditions to use a wide variety of services and take part in activities provided by voluntary organisations and community groups; 1,600 different community groups are playing a part.
People do not always need medicines. Medicines play a part in people’s life where the health service does not engage, and we would not expect it to do so, but the scheme is about preventing people from going into the healthcare system. I know a lot is changing now in the plans being laid down at local level, which are advancing in Rotherham as well, but something like social prescribing is a good way of involving other people—not just the health service—in helping to ensure that people avoid, if at all possible, going into the health service.
Last week, the Proprietary Association of Great Britain—the trade association that represents the consumer health industry—published new research that found that 92% of people agree that it is important to take responsibility for their own health to ease the burden on the national health service. Despite that, 46% still visit their GP or accident and emergency with self-treatable conditions. Its research also found that 47% of people would not visit a pharmacist first for advice on a self-treatable condition, with 18% claiming that that is because they do not think pharmacists are as qualified as doctors or A&Es.
It is clear that more needs to be done to educate people about the expertise of pharmacists—at this stage, I should say that I chair the all-party pharmacy group. My experience of the fitness of pharmacists to look after people without the need to bother doctors was not in this country. Many years ago, I was on holiday with my three young children in Spain. One of them fell ill and I asked the hotel staff how we could contact a doctor. They said, “Just go up the road to the pharmacist.” I went up to the pharmacist and it was extraordinary: we came away with the right medicines, which cured the condition pretty quickly and the holiday carried on.
I try to keep healthy myself, but that was the first time I had seen the expertise that pharmacists have and how they could help us. Pharmacists are expert health professionals who have a front-line role to play in giving people information and empowering them to take responsibility for their own health. I am sure the Minister agrees with that, as we have talked about pharmacies and the current situation with the pharmacy budget. He will be pleased to know that I will not bring that up today, but we have talked a lot about it. Better signposting to the pharmacy is necessary when we consider that 57 million people go to their GP and 3.7 million people go to A&E for ailments that only a few generations ago would have been safely treated at home with advice and medicines from a pharmacy.
Cambridgeshire and Peterborough clinical commissioning group reported in March that, over the Easter period, people visited A&E with splinters, broken nails, paper cuts and hiccups. I am certain that that is not particular to Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, and that we would hear similar reports from A&E departments up and down the country. I know that about 50 people came along to my own CCG in Rotherham last year because they had toothache. I have no doubt that those people will have passed a local pharmacy where they could have bought some reasonably cheap pharmaceutical products to get rid of the toothache in the short term, and so not clog up the A&E.
People are clearly confused about when and how to use the NHS and need help in knowing where to go. I know that work is being done to improve the non-emergency helpline, NHS 111, which is important. Every day NHS 111 sends to GPs and to A&E people who could just go to a pharmacy without waiting and without an appointment to get the help that they need. We need to make sure that people receive a consistent message about self-care, whether they look at NHS Choices online, call NHS 111, visit a GP or speak to a pharmacist.
I know other hon. Members want to speak, so I will sum up by saying that more has to be done to address the escalating demand on the national health service, to combat the general confusion about where to go in the system and to improve people’s ability to look after their own and their family’s health. Excellent though it is, Self Care Week alone is not enough, as I suggested earlier. The local activities and events taking place during Self Care Week are definitely part of the solution to empowering people and addressing the demand on the national health service, but a bigger, more co-ordinated programme of work is essential if we are to move the self-care agenda along quicker.
Our all-party parliamentary group concluded earlier this year that we need a national strategy for self-help, led by a Government Minister and a national director to ensure implementation. It should be designed to co-ordinate policies across Government Departments and throughout the NHS and public health at the national and local level. It should be designed to empower people and should lead to a self-care culture and a behaviour change, so that people know not to go to A&E or to a general practitioner with their splinters, understand what steps to take to avoid serious conditions and know how to avoid hospital emergencies by managing long-term conditions. We would all agree that that is essential, but it does not happen very often. More than 70% of national health service expenditure in this country is on people with long-term conditions. People normally have more than one, of course, which sometimes seems difficult to grasp.
It seems to me that these issues are plain to everybody. We need to tackle them and to shape the national health service around long-term conditions, and not let the national health service shape us on how we should present to it. That needs radical thinking but, the Minister will be pleased to know, not legislation. I sat on a Committee back in 2010-11 that was suspended for a while because of the turmoil over the national health service reorganisation that was happening at the time, which is the last thing we want now. However, we want people in the health service and elsewhere to recognise that things ought to change and can change, and that legislation is not needed for that to happen. We need to make sure that we see a population that is able to self-care for life.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Walker. May I start by thanking the right hon. Member for Rother Valley (Sir Kevin Barron) for bringing this timely debate, and also for his clear and detailed explanation of his position?
For my part, I supported Self Care Week last week by treating the latest winter cold I have picked up with a couple of lozenges and a few hot toddies. My hon. Friend the Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West (Margaret Ferrier) has set me a challenge to get through the debate without coughing; I have to confess I have failed already. However, I will repeat the dosage later on tonight.
We have heard that self-care is the act of looking after one’s own physical or mental health, and that that extends to treating common illnesses with over-the-counter drugs and managing long-term conditions. We know that 80% of all care in the UK is actually self-care, and most people feel comfortable managing everyday minor ailments themselves, particularly when they feel confident that they have been successfully treated before using over-the-counter medicines.
Self-care is a fundamental part of healthcare—and Self Care Week provides an opportunity for us to encourage people to engage in self-care in a wide variety of areas—but it is important for us to get the balance right between managing conditions that are self-treatable and knowing when to get professional medical help. The right hon. Member for Rother Valley stated some examples in which it was clearly inappropriate to go to accident and emergency, and it is getting that balance right that we have to promote.
Self-care need not be as lonely as the term suggests. Often, conditions that can be self-managed are done so with support, be that from health professionals, organised support groups or advice from community pharmacies; people are not out there on their own with self-care. There are many good examples of such support across my constituency, covering a range of conditions and ailments. Eczema Outreach Scotland, which is based in Linlithgow, is a support charity for families affected by eczema. While it does not provide medical advice, it helps affected families in many ways, from practical advice to emotional support. As we know, one of the most common conditions experienced is joint pain, and the central arthritis self-help group, which meets in Grangemouth, organises outings, hydrotherapy and exercise sessions to assist sufferers.
Obviously, self-care for mental health is just as important as for physical conditions. In Bathgate, there is the West Lothian bipolar self-help group, which helps people affected by that common condition to share advice and insights on getting back into work and staying fit. Another example is the West Lothian health and social care partnership, which brings together NHS Lothian and West Lothian Council. It runs the superb “Eatright West Lothian” scheme, which aims to promote good nutrition and healthy eating, which can assist with many different conditions.
It is worth noting that the Self Care Forum recommended the following top tip:
“Involve the local pharmacists and community nurses in giving the same advice and support for self care; and work with the local pharmacists to ensure that their triage of common problems is similar to that in the practice.”
That is not quite the way I would have worded it, but I agree wholeheartedly; it is very good advice. Community pharmacists can only give out certain medicines and products, although the benefits of that can be massive, as it can cut the workload of GPs and other NHS staff across the country. The Scottish Pharmacy Board stated that, in 2015-16, more than one in 10 GP consultations and one in 20 A&E attendances could have been managed by community pharmacists utilising the minor ailment service.
Some 1,200 pharmacies throughout Scotland provide a range of services on behalf of the NHS. As well as dispensing prescriptions, they offer four new NHS pharmaceutical care services which have been gradually introduced since 2006—the minor ailment service, the public health service, the acute medication service and the chronic medication service. Those new services involve pharmacists in the community more in the provision of direct, patient-centred care, with every community pharmacy in Scotland having patients registered for the minor ailments service by 31 March 2015.
The minor ailment service allows people to get advice and free treatment on issues such as, but not exclusive to, acne, headaches, athlete’s foot, head lice, backache, indigestion, cold sores, mouth ulcers, constipation, nasal congestion, cough pain, diarrhoea, period pain, earache, thrush, allergies, sore throat, threadworms, hay fever, warts and verrucae; in fact, pretty much everything that is covered with self-care. Nearly 18% of the population of Scotland are registered for the minor ailment service—a total of 913,483 people. More than 2.1 million items have been dispensed under it, accounting for some 2.2% of all items dispensed by community pharmacies in Scotland.
In Scotland, we recognise just how important community pharmacies are. The Scottish National party Scottish Government are helping to explore new ways for community pharmacies and other primary care services to aid self-care within our communities. The SNP Scottish Government are committed to supporting and developing local GP and primary care services, and have just announced a three-year, £85 million primary care fund to help to develop new ways of delivering healthcare in the community, which will involve pharmacists delivering aspects of patient care.
In conclusion, I welcome the recent words that we have heard from the UK Government that they want to copy the Scottish Government’s approach to community pharmacies and the minor ailment service. I thoroughly recommend that model to everyone, because we have found it to be very good and effective to date. I also welcome the opportunity to take part in today’s interesting and good-natured debate, which I hope will help to promote self-care further to the wider public audience.
It is an honour to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Walker. I welcome this important debate and the fact that it has been secured during Self Care Week—
Just after Self Care Week. I commend my right hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley (Sir Kevin Barron) for securing this debate and for his excellent speech, which shows his deep knowledge of and passion for all matters relating to the health of our nation, especially with regard to preventive health measures. I thank him for that.
This debate is especially important, as it is the first time we have had a dedicated debate on self-care in a very long time. We heard an excellent contribution from the hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Martyn Day). Before we hear from the Minister, I want to look at the issue of self-care and the wider picture of preventive measures through the lens of the cultural shift in the NHS away from care and repair to prevention and wellbeing promotion. I will also look at how aspects of current Government policy, such as the cuts to public health funding—I know I keep banging on about that, but it is important—is detrimental to our shared vision for an improved NHS and to achieving a healthier nation.
When NHS England’s “Five Year Forward View” was published just over two years ago, we were promised a radical upgrade in prevention and public health. That belief in reshaping the approach of the NHS and our health services away from a sickness alleviation service towards a wellbeing service that promotes healthier lifestyles choices, improved wellbeing and the prevention of ill health through behavioural change is supported across the NHS and in wider society.
That shift is paramount when we see the NHS in a state of crisis, with longer A&E waiting times and GP appointments becoming harder and harder to come by. One in four patients wait at least a week to see their GP. My husband had to wait three weeks to see the GP because it was not an emergency, but he thought it was an emergency; sometimes we do not know, and it is up to the doctor to decide what is important and what is not.
Some parts of the NHS are at crisis point. That is not a party political point at all; it is supported by health organisations such as the Nuffield Trust and the Health Foundation, which professed this time last year that the NHS was at risk of a “catastrophic collapse”. If the worrying trends in waiting times that I have described are ever to be reversed and we are to save the NHS, we need to have a wholesale rethink about the way we approach health policy. Prevention must be the key, and self-care should be a central part of that reconsidered approach.
Self-care is about empowering people and patients to maintain their own health through informed lifestyle choices, better awareness of symptoms and better awareness of when it is important to seek professional advice—for example, for possible cancer symptoms, where early diagnosis is absolutely crucial and a matter of life and death—and when an ailment can be treated by someone themselves in the appropriate manner by talking to their community pharmacist, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley described on the occasion of a family holiday. With improved confidence, people can take control of their own health or long-term conditions much better and make decisions that are far better for the NHS.
It is completely understandable that when we are unsure about the cause of symptoms or the best course of treatment or care, our first port of call is the NHS. However, being more aware of how we can treat ourselves and having preventive practices in place that reduce the prevalence of ill health will help go some way towards pulling the NHS back from the brink. The NHS is a trusted bastion, but sadly we are seeing more and more people accessing NHS services when there is no need and when a chat to one of our excellent community pharmacists would have sufficed—for example, in the cases we have heard about today of splinters, paper cuts, hiccups or broken nails. A bit of common sense is all that is needed, certainly not a trip to A&E.
In 2014, A&E departments across the country dealt with 3.7 million visits for self-treatable conditions such as those mentioned today, as well as the common cold, flu or muscle pain, combined with 52 million visits to the GP for similar conditions. It is no wonder people cannot get an appointment when some people are going to see their GP for that sort of thing. That has an estimated cost to the NHS of more than £10 billion over the past five years, which is not a small or insignificant amount of money.
Self-care is a crucial preventive measure that must be developed further to ensure that the NHS is as resilient as possible and can respond in more effective and meaningful ways to the nation’s health. With all that in mind, it is deeply worrying that the vision set out in the “Five Year Forward View” has progressed little or not at all. That is seen most clearly through the Making Every Contact Count initiative, which aims to make NHS staff members an important part of boosting awareness of healthy living, rather than only administering healthcare to the sick. It is a fantastic initiative. In theory, that strategy can go far in addressing issues around lifestyle choices such as smoking, drugs, diet and alcohol consumption by just adding a one or two-minute conversation when a healthcare professional already has someone in front of them.
It is worrying that the progress and roll-out of that scheme is patchy, despite there being lots of good practice across the country, such as the social prescribing service in Rotherham that my right hon. Friend talked about. Where such system change is flourishing and showing that it can support a reduction in pressures on NHS services such as A&E and GP practices, it should be encouraged, and the roll-out should be far more substantial.
I hope the Minister can give us some reassurance on three key asks for the Make Every Contact Count initiative: first, that we see progress made on the scheme in the new year, as promised by Professor Fenton from Public Health England during the second oral evidence session for the APPG on primary care and public health inquiry; secondly, that best practice is made more readily available to improve provision across the country through the Self Care Forum’s database of best practice; and thirdly, that he commits to ensuring CCGs prioritise implementation of the scheme in their local areas and that training is provided for staff, to equip them to provide consistent self-care messaging.
It should not go without saying that there are examples across the country that show the innovative and positive impacts of improving self-care, such as a scheme in my own neck of the woods in South Tyneside—the neighbouring borough to my own—where a borough-wide conversation has been developed that shifts away from asking, “How can I help you?” and instead asks, “How can I help you to help yourself?”
Those initiatives need funding and encouraging from Government to succeed. However, what we are currently seeing has been described as a frustrating and perverse approach to preventive measures, with cuts to public health funding of £200 million in last year’s Budget, along with an average real-terms cut of 3.9% each year to 2021, announced in last year’s autumn statement. Hopefully tomorrow we will see our new Chancellor go some way to rectifying and reversing that; we can live in hope, unless the Minister has some insight into what the Chancellor will announce. We will keep our fingers crossed.
The Minister is well aware of my opinion on those cuts, because we discuss them every time we meet, and the need to rethink the whole approach, but it is not only me saying this. Only recently, the Health Committee, chaired by the hon. Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston)—who I am sure would have been here today if not for the health debate coming up in the Chamber very soon—uncovered serious concerns about the finances and funding of the NHS and public health. In a letter to the Health Secretary in October, the Committee said:
“All the indicators suggest that demand is continuing to grow and that we need to go further on prevention”.
I could not agree more. These cuts are a false economy and are exacerbating the situation within our health services. We are seeing funding directed to our crisis-ridden A&E departments, which are having to crisis-manage failures that could have been addressed a lot sooner.
The Minister needs fully to understand that to make cuts to one part of our health service without considering the impact on other parts is leading us down the road to rack and ruin. To give him some understanding of the cuts, I suggest that he look at the Health Committee report “Public health post-2013”. The Select Committee does good work, but the Chair is not here to hear me highlight all this work. The report that I have just mentioned highlights research by the Association of Directors of Public Health, which found that local authorities are planning deep cuts to public health services due to the cuts coming from central Government to local authorities. It shows a marked rise for 2016-17 compared with 2015-16.
The Government need to have a wholesale rethink of the funding of the NHS and public health services that sees a redirection to prevention, which will go some way towards addressing many of the problems in our health service that are now being documented weekly. I hope that the Minister takes some time in his response to consider the points that I have raised in relation to public health funding and how current actions are failing the vision of the five year forward view and the health of our nation. Self-care needs properly to be funded and supported to be innovative, so that we ensure that the continuing crisis facing the NHS can be reversed. We cannot continue as we are, because our NHS is too precious to let it fail. The health of the nation needs to be protected, where possible, to enable people to lead long, happy and fulfilling lives.
First, I congratulate the right hon. Member for Rother Valley (Sir Kevin Barron) both on leading the charge on this issue and on his work in the APPG. This has been a shortish debate, but there were very good speeches from all hon. Members. In fact, I agreed with much if not all of the speech given by the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Washington and Sunderland West (Mrs Hodgson), and I will come on to that.
The right hon. Member for Rother Valley rightly talked about the impact that self-care needs to have on demand in the health service. He used a very important phrase that is spot on: in the course of his remarks, he asked why we are not doing more to try to shape the NHS around long-term conditions, given that, as he rightly said, some 70% to 80% of total NHS expenditure relates to long-term conditions, such as diabetes, chronic pain and dementia. As he also rightly said, increased longevity means that more and more people are living with more and more of those conditions. We need to deal with long-term conditions—this relates to a point made by the hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Martyn Day)—on a preventive basis, on a care plan basis, and not necessarily on an ad hoc, repair basis; I think that was the word that he used. Those points are spot on and are why we need to continue to do better in the whole area of self-care.
It is worth reflecting on why, in many ways, the moment for self-care has arrived. The Self Care Forum has been doing a lot of work in this area for a number of years, but I think that there are several reasons why self-care is particularly critical at the moment. One is demography. We are getting older. That is a good thing, but the consequence is that about 1 million more people aged over 75 will be around in 2025. We will have more long-term conditions. That is just a natural feature of ageing. Those long-term conditions are precisely where self-care gives us the biggest bang for our buck, because there is absolutely no need to continue going to see the GP all the time. People have talked about pharmacies, and I will talk about that.
Another reason is that there is a general perception in the population that people are more empowered vis-à-vis their own health and what they will accept from health professionals. We often hear of people saying, “Well, it’s not a question any more of the doctor telling me what I should do, but of having a discussion with the doctor about that.” Where that takes us to, in terms of our expectations of the health service, is a whole load of things around choice and, in particular, personalisation. Self-care also has a role to play in that. Part of it is about not just clinical outcomes, which is where we have come from historically, but out-turns that consider the general wellbeing of an individual.
The right hon. Member for Rother Valley made the point about social prescribing as a big part of that, and it absolutely is. Increasingly, it is important not just that patients with diabetes manage glucose levels and all that goes with that, but that they exercise. It might be just as appropriate for them to be referred to a football team or to talk to someone else with diabetes, in a mentor group. Frankly, social prescribing needs to be commissioned by CCGs as much as some of the clinical things that have happened in the past.
Another area that has made self-care even more prominent, and which is a component of it, is technology. We have not talked yet about technology, but there is a lot more out there. It ranges from people just being able to look at Google, see what is wrong with them and take a view—that can be dangerous and is not always to be recommended, but nevertheless it empowers people in a way that did not exist at one time—to some 900,000 applications to do with health and fitness that have been developed. I believe that iTunes alone has 47,000 health apps. People who are interested in all that stuff—and possibly more IT literate than I am—can use all those, and they do. The combination of those things has meant that the whole ethos of “Doctor knows best” is giving way to much more of a dialogue and a care plan orientation, and a big part of that care plan will be self-care.
What is the Government’s response? That is the challenge that we received from the hon. Member for Washington and Sunderland West. I suppose there are two areas. There is the whole general area of public health. I will not get into a discussion about the relative size of budgets and all the rest of it, other than to say that the Opposition’s position on where we should spend more money versus less money in the health service and anywhere else would be stronger if occasionally they agreed that in some areas it is right to spend less in order to spend more in other areas. If their position is that we must always spend more money on everything, their comments may be taken by Ministers with a bit more of a pinch of salt. I merely say that in passing.
In terms of awareness and education, the right hon. Member for Rother Valley made a good point, which I had not thought of, about health education in schools being a step up from other types of education. There does need to be more awareness, and I will mention a small thing that I became aware of recently. One of my responsibilities is dementia, and I had not realised that obesity is a major factor in someone’s likelihood of getting dementia. I know that now, and perhaps everyone else in the Chamber also knows it, but I suspect that many people do not; I do not think why obesity and dementia go together is that intuitive. That is an example of the need for awareness.
Let me talk about the sorts of things that the Government need to encourage and are encouraging. We have a campaign on stopping smoking—Stoptober. We have “Everybody Active, Every Day” and Change4Life, which involve people taking control of their diet and how they live. I talked about dementia, and there is the dementia friends initiative. There are some 1.7 million dementia friends now. Dementia has become the condition that most people die of in the UK, and dealing with that will be a real challenge in the years ahead.
That is about public health, but we have a whole stack of things to do with clinical outcomes. We have put into the NHS mandate a clear requirement for it to improve its response to long-term conditions, with a clear requirement for self-care to be part of that. That includes the need for more personal health budgets. Some 4,000 people now have a personal health budget; those budgets are analogous to personal care budgets. Our target for 2020 is between 50,000 and 100,000 people having such budgets. That is about choice and about control. Various tools are available for patient activation and to help patients understand the sorts of choices they can make day to day. NHS England has a target of 1.8 million people accessing tools, as well as being assessed on where they see themselves on the self-care spectrum and what they are doing about it.
It is worth talking briefly about the STP process. The shadow Minister made the point that we spend too much on acute healthcare in this country and not enough on primary care, on mental health and on the self-care options that we are talking about, including pharmacy, which I will talk about. The STP process is a precise attempt to make self-care happen in a structured bottom-up way. If the Opposition oppose the STP process at every turn, as opposed to acting as critical friends, which is how all MPs should act, they oppose what could be some very sensible, thought through and locally driven reforms to healthcare that may well result in higher budgets for prevention, which is a point that she made, and a tilt away from our spending so much of our budgets on secondary care and hospitals, which are very expensive.
NHS England has produced a book about self-care that was printed last week. “Realising the value” is about empowering people to make their own decisions about medicine and care and engaging in the community. There is a lot in the book, which was produced by Nesta, that is valuable and good. I guess it is an attempt to embed some of the things that we have been talking about. National Voices, the Health Foundation and voluntary organisations were involved in it.
Social prescribing is a large part of the initiative, which is about peer groups and making sure that people who have a diabetes issue are not overwhelmed by concerns about losing a limb and about glucose levels changing. It is about managing all of those types of things and ensuring people look at their own diet and at whether they are doing enough exercise or sport and are in a group of like-minded people with the same issues. If I were diagnosed with diabetes, it would be valuable to me to talk to people who had had it for a few years. That is as valuable as going to see the doctor and his telling me what I should be doing.
The right hon. Member for Rother Valley made the point that roll-out is patchy. In truth, many things are patchy. All we can do in the centre is try to encourage CCGs to consider the advantages of what they have in terms of their own business case: a reduction in the number of visits to GPs and so on.
On the role of pharmacy, the hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk rightly said that I was on record as saying that we have something to learn from where Scotland is in pharmacy. I will say it again: I think we have. We are doing our own review in England—the Murray review—of the services we want to see in pharmacies over the next few years. I have absolutely no hesitation or compunction in saying we could learn from Scotland. I do not take a “not invented here” view. A phrase I always used at work was “steal with pride”. If there are bits in the Scottish model that we can take and steal, we will.
On the direction of travel, the right hon. Member for Rother Valley chairs the APPG and he knows my view is that we need to move pharmacies away from predominantly dispensing and being paid for dispensing into a model with many more services in it. That is what we are determined to do. As we go through the process, that is what we will do. A fund of £300 million between now and 2020 has been set up. There is a lot of opportunity, and the hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk gave us some examples. We have announced two things already: the urgent medicine supply service and NHS 111. If someone is out of medicine, particularly if they have a long-term condition and have not had their prescription revalidated, NHS 111 has historically told them to go and see an out-of-hours GP or even an A&E service in order to meet a doctor to get the problem sorted. We are changing the script so that 200,000 calls a year will be directed to pharmacies, which will be empowered to make a judgment about the patient and will write the prescription and dispense the medicine. That is a big change and that is exactly where we need to go.
We heard from the hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk about the national minor ailments scheme. In England, we are now committed to rolling that out nationally by April 2018 so that the list of minor ailments that the hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk talked about will be treated in pharmacies in England. The pharmacist will be paid separately for the consultation and any dispensing that comes from it.
Another service-based activity in pharmacies was announced two weeks ago by Simon Stevens: the sore throat pilot. Pharmacists can do a test to determine whether someone’s sore throat is a bacterial or a viral issue. If it is bacterial, they will send someone to a doctor so that they can have antibiotics prescribed. If it is viral, they will not. As that service is rolled out nationally, it will save 800,000 GP consultations a year, but this all also relies on awareness and all that goes with that.
Diabetes self-care is a big area on which we can make progress. Diabetes is a growing problem and people will benefit greatly from individual care plans and social prescribing. We have changed the GP contract so that when GPs identify type 1 or type 2 diabetes, they put the person on a structured education course. GPs are now being paid for the numbers of people they get on to such courses. A big part of those education courses is explaining better to people how they can self-care.
I was going to talk about technology—I have probably spoken for long enough, but perhaps I will deal with some of the various points that were made. The right hon. Member for Rother Valley asked about the personal allowance in care homes, which he is right to say was not uprated. I will get back to him on the rationale for that. I suspect the reason is, as we know, that the care sector is under financial pressure. However, the money was not cut, but went to the rest of the adult social care budget. A judgment has to be made about what is adequate and where money is best spent, but I will write to him with a fuller answer to his question.
The right hon. Member for Rother Valley also talked about the need for a national strategy on self-care. I have been a Minister for about four months now. My general learning point would be that we need fewer strategies and more implementable plans, and I suspect the right hon. Gentleman would agree. We need to do things, and there are some things that are quite sensible. I have talked about some of them, but they need to happen. We need to go further and faster.
I agreed with much of what the hon. Member for Washington and Sunderland West said. She talked about a wholesale rethink, which is what we are trying to do with the STP process. The Opposition would do well to not necessarily oppose every part of that, but to act as critical friends, as all MPs must. She made good points about making every contact count. She talked a lot about common sense, which I completely agree with. I guess she will not be surprised to know that I am not going to talk to her about the autumn statement; all I will say on money is that the UK now spends more on health as a proportion of GDP than the OECD average. It is about one percentage point less than France and Germany; that is about where we are, and it is clearly critical that we look properly at every area of expenditure and maximise its value. I believe we did so with pharmacy, and we are trying to do it with the STPs, as regards the difference between secondary care and primary care.
The hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk made the point that in the thrust towards self-care—which is right—we must still be careful to say that people sometimes need to see a doctor. Sometimes there is something serious wrong. Too many people go to the doctor too often with trivial things; but on the other hand people do not always know when they have the initial symptom of something serious—it can be something that looks benign, or a lump or something. It is important to understand that GPs are there to look after such things. We need to be aware of that in the drive towards self-care. I thank the hon. Members who spoke in the debate.
The hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Martyn Day) and my hon. Friend the Member for Washington and Sunderland West (Mrs Hodgson) mentioned groups in their areas that help people with long-term conditions, and those are a resource that we should use. My hon. Friend spoke about prevention, and that is right; we need it. The need for the NHS and taxpayers’ money will never stop if we cannot turn around the health of the nation. Population health is something we must attend to.
As for the minor ailment scheme that the hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk described, we have one in my area; I hope that they will be rolled out nationally. However, I wonder how many people know that really they should go to the pharmacist. Pharmacies are open all the time—at the weekend as well—but people drive past them to the A&E. We need to look at that issue.
The Minister spoke about health education and there is no doubt in my mind about it: as a Rotherham MP I know about the problems caused by not having good sex education and, more importantly, personal relationship education in our system. We have it now, having gone through the awful child sexual exploitation experience of practically two decades in Rotherham. It seems to me that it is also important to have continuing health education, including educating people about the system and where to engage with it.
On sustainability and transformation, on Friday morning this week the Rotherham MPs will have a meeting with the lead person on the issue from South Yorkshire, Sir Andrew Cash. On 16 December we will visit a pilot scheme running in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion). There is a group of 30 patients and two or three GP surgeries who are working with other health professionals in the acute and primary sectors, and other organisations such as Voluntary Action Rotherham, which runs social prescribing. They are going to run a pilot to see how well it is possible to look after people and improve population health.
I do not want to get dragged too far on to this point, but the Minister talked about referring people with long-term conditions to football teams. I hope that is not a slight on Rotherham United, which is at the bottom of the championship at the moment, some eight points adrift, as it were. I have been a supporter for nearly 60 years and will continue to be one, but I think now and again one or two of them might have some problems that need sorting out—with the pharmacist or others.
We have had a short but good debate, in which we recognised that self-care and preventive healthcare will be crucial to the future of the nation and its people.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered Self Care Week 2016.
Heathrow Expansion: Air Quality
[Mr Philip Hollobone in the Chair]
I beg to move,
That this House has considered the effect on air quality of proposed Heathrow airport expansion.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. As you and the Minister are aware, I have spent much time in Parliament on the issues of Heathrow and Heathrow expansion because many of my constituents in Twickenham are concerned. It is therefore a great disappointment to me that the Government recently decided to support Heathrow expansion, and I reiterate that I am still firmly and utterly opposed to that decision.
I congratulate the hon. Lady, my constituency neighbour, on securing this debate. I alert the House that many MPs for constituencies in and around Heathrow airport have constituents who are worried about the implications of the proposed expansion and about air quality, which is increasingly important locally.
I thank the hon. Lady for making that important point, as this not only affects Twickenham. Four councils are currently taking the Government to court over air quality because of Heathrow. Air quality is an important concern for many people.
The people, like the hon. Lady, know that Heathrow is not deliverable on many levels, including cost, noise pollution and the upcoming legal challenges, but the insurmountable challenge, and the reason I secured this debate, is air quality. The Minister will know that air quality is a major and increasing concern, and he may recall that in January 2016 I asked the then Prime Minister about the shocking news that the annual legal limit for nitrogen dioxide had been breached in London by 8 January. A map of nitrogen dioxide levels across London and Heathrow shows high concentrations in central London and Heathrow. Nitrogen dioxide, of course, affects the lungs, particularly in people with asthma or bronchial conditions, and decreases lung function growth in children.
Perhaps of even more concern is particulate matter. I am sure the Minister is aware of the World Health Organisation’s comments on particulate matter, which affects more people than any other pollutant. Although I will be talking about the legal limits for PM2.5 and PM10, I remind him that the WHO has said that for PM2.5
“no threshold has been identified below which no damage to health is observed.”
There is no safe level but, just like for nitrogen dioxide, London breached the annual legal limit in the first few months of this year. Forty cities in the United Kingdom have already breached the annual legal limit for PM2.5, and London is in the top six. PM10 is also of serious concern. Only 11 cities in the United Kingdom breached the annual legal limit in the early part of this year, and London is in the top four.
Particulate matter contributes to fatalities from strokes, heart disease, lung cancer and acute and chronic respiratory diseases. The cost in human terms is that 9,000 deaths a year in Greater London are attributable to nitrogen dioxide or particulate matter, which are just some of the air pollutants. Four thousand deaths in 1952 gave rise to the Clean Air Act 1956. Now we have more than double that number every year, and the Government are not doing enough.
What concerns me is that, within just over a week of the Government’s being found guilty in the courts of not having an adequate plan to address air quality, they decided to approve Heathrow expansion. The expansion will involve perhaps 50% more planes. The Minister might say that it is not the aircraft but the cars that are adding to the air pollutants, but Heathrow lies near the M4 and the M25, two of the country’s most congested motorways. He will also know that, with nearly 250,000 more flights planned, there will be thousands more passengers and staff, and they will not be walking to and from Heathrow airport.
The number of cars will increase, and I do not agree or accept that electric cars will be the answer. There are 11 million diesel cars in the United Kingdom, and they will not be scrapped and replaced in time for the proposed Heathrow expansion. I do not want to hear that putting on facemasks will protect us from particulate matter, because the British Lung Foundation says that there is no evidence that that will help.
Heathrow implicitly acknowledges the risk to air quality. I am sure the Minister has a well-thumbed copy of the Airports Commission report, and page 225 states that £799 million will be spent on car parks at an expanded Heathrow. That will increase air pollutants, which are already breaching legal limits. Heathrow Airport Holdings Ltd will argue about how much it wants to spend on surface access—that is one argument—but nobody who favours Heathrow expansion denies that surface access will increase, which means more road trips and more pollutants.
I will in a while, if I have time.
Heathrow airport prides itself on being a leading cargo airport. Again, cargo and freight are not coming to and from Heathrow in an electric car or on a horse and cart. My question to the Minister is simple: if the Government support Heathrow expansion, how will they get air quality within legal targets? I have asked two Prime Ministers, two Secretaries of State for Transport and a Minister from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs how they can expand Heathrow airport without increasing air pollution. Thus far, I have been assured that it will happen, but I have not been told how. I hope that today, at the sixth time of asking, I will be told.
Howard Davies spent years and millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money on his commission’s report, and he said on page 307 of the Minister’s well-thumbed copy that
“an expanded Heathrow Airport must be contingent on acceptable performance on air quality.”
Howard Davies said that that was needed but, again, the report did not specify how it would be achieved. We need airport expansion, but it must be in a place where the legal limits for air pollution have not been breached.
I congratulate the hon. Lady on securing this debate; she is making a compelling case. The overwhelming body of legal and expert opinion on environmental and transport matters is that it is not sustainable. Does she agree that it is a welcome sign that the Mayor of London has put the resources of TfL behind the campaign, and will support all of us who are campaigning to ensure that Heathrow does not expand, because of that particular risk?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that absolutely brilliant point. I would think that the Mayor of London supporting the campaign would focus the minds of the Minister and the Cabinet, because four councils—Richmond, Wandsworth, Hillingdon and Windsor and Maidenhead—are taking the Government to court for noise and air pollution as a result of the proposed Heathrow expansion. Ministers have a chance to change their minds and deliver runway capacity in an area where air pollution is not so critical. No other place in the United Kingdom is as vulnerable as the area around Heathrow, close to Greater London.
If the Government continue to support Heathrow expansion without a plan to reduce air pollution to within safe medical and legal limits—it must be done in a critical time frame, as ClientEarth told the Government in the Supreme Court and the High Court—I will ask the Government to admit that they are wilfully and knowingly increasing the number of deaths attributable to air pollution caused by an expanded Heathrow.
It is a delight to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I am pleased to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Dr Mathias) on securing this debate. She has been a regular, repeated and determined advocate for the case that she makes today.
The Government are straightforward about our plans, as my hon. Friend made clear in her speech. The Secretary of State has announced the steps that we are taking in respect of Heathrow, which she has drawn to the House’s attention, but in doing so, the Secretary of State was absolutely clear that it will now be subject to a consultation, that it will be gauged according to that consultation and that the Government are committed to the interests of local people, just as we are committed to the interests of people who wish to travel to and from Heathrow. Of course, she is right to suggest that squaring those two objectives is a significant challenge, but it is one that the Government are willing to meet.
Does the Minister agree that airport expansion can cause pollution not only from aircraft but from traffic going to the airport? We need many more electric cars, and we need to ensure that public transport runs not on diesel but on petrol or hybrid. What are the Government doing about that particular situation?
It is apposite that my hon. Friend, with his usual insight and judgment, should raise that matter. Just this morning, I gave evidence to the Lords Science and Technology Committee, which is producing a report on exactly that subject. The Committee asked telling questions about the pace of those developments, their character and what social and environmental effects they might have.
I will in a second, after I finish this point. I was able to orate at considerable but not excessive length on all those matters. My hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish) will have a chance to see the report. In addition, because I always like to go that one step further than other Ministers, I will drop him a line summarising, given that I know his interest in these matters—[Interruption.]
Order. I am sorry to interrupt the Minister; he can continue his remarks when we resume. A Division has been called in the House. If there is one Division, the sitting will be suspended until 4.30; if there are two, we will resume at 4.40, and the Minister can continue his remarks then.
Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.
Order. The sitting is resumed. Those Members who are here for the debate on the electrification of the great western line are 15 minutes early, because we are 15 minutes behind schedule because of the Division. You are most welcome to stay; you may learn something about air quality at Heathrow. The Division rudely interrupted the Minister, whom I invite to resume his remarks.
Those who were present earlier had the excitement of hearing the beginning of my speech; those who have joined us rather later are going to have the excitement of the peroration. It is almost like having two bites of the cherry for those who have been here throughout.
Before the sitting was suspended briefly, my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton had asked me about electric vehicles. I do not want to go down that road, and I do not think you would permit me to do so, Mr Hollobone; it is sufficient for me to say that I will write to him, summarising the evidence I gave to the Lords Science and Technology Committee this morning to better inform further consideration of that important matter.
Although I absolutely applaud electric cars, there are 11 million diesel cars. The point is the timeframe. I do not believe that the Government will move to all cars being electric, with no air pollution, in the timeframe within which they want Heathrow expansion, which cannot take place with air quality levels as they are.
I would not claim for a moment, and have not done so, that we are going to have an entirely electric fleet of cars, privately owned or otherwise, in the near future. Nevertheless, the intervention of my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton is reasonable, given that that is a factor that will affect the way we drive in future, with a consequent effect on emissions.
My hon. Friend clearly has greater prophetic powers than I do. I would never want to have claimed to have second-guessed the whole of the future. Technological change is, by its nature, unpredictable, and the circumstances we currently face are highly dynamic. We know that electric vehicles are here and established. The numbers being driven are growing and the Government support that. I fully anticipate that number continuing to grow significantly. It will affect emissions accordingly, but there will be other technological changes in the near, medium and longer term, and they are likely to make cars more efficient. Frankly, I suspect that those changes are also likely to have a beneficial effect on emissions. As I say, though, far be it from me to be a prophet in those terms; I simply try to do my best to estimate what is happening now. It is difficult enough to do that, let alone to be more ambitious.
I turn, in the short time available, to my hon. Friend’s salient remarks—salient in the sense that they are relevant to the debate in a rather stricter way than the territory into which we were just straying. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport announced the decision on the north-west runway at Heathrow—as a preferred option, I hasten to add—in the following context. He said that, among other things, expanding Heathrow will better connect the UK to long-haul destinations in growing world markets, boosting trade and creating jobs. Passengers will benefit from more choice of airlines, destinations and flights, and expansion at Heathrow will be subject to a world-class package of compensation and supporting measures for local communities. My right hon. Friend also made it clear that the Government’s announcement was just the beginning of the consultative process I described earlier, which will allow my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham and others in the community and elsewhere to make their views known.
Let me be clear on the impact of the expansion. The Government’s commitment to dealing with emissions will be central to the discussion of the air-quality impact and to meeting the challenge of balancing the need to grow airports with the need to maintain the health and wellbeing of the people who live near them, and of all our people. We have made it clear that we must tackle air quality and noise and meet our obligations on carbon, both during and after construction of the expanded airport.
It would be entirely inappropriate of me to prejudge the consultation, still less its outcome, as my hon. Friend invites me to do. Nevertheless, given her absolute consistency and vehemence in defence of the cause she has identified today, I shall give her my 10-point summary of the issues. Ten points is the very least she deserves, given her consistency.
First, air quality is a significant national health issue, as my hon. Friend says, and the Government take it seriously. However, she knows that the prevailing issues of air quality associated with an urban environment—indeed, those associated with the kind of cars we drive and how that is changing—are the most significant feature of some of the public health arguments that she made earlier. We should not be preoccupied with assuming that airport expansion is the be all and end all in this, and I am sure she is not so preoccupied.
Secondly, the Government are already taking action to cut vehicle emissions. For example, the UK is delivering a programme, backed by £600 million of investment, to support the long-term transition to low-emission vehicles, to which I referred a moment ago.
Thirdly, the Department for Transport, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Treasury have already embarked on a joint project to identify further ways in which we can tackle this issue. Indeed, if the consultation goes that way, by the time a new runway opens in the next decade we intend to have made substantial progress in tackling air-quality challenges throughout the whole nation.
Fourthly, as announced in December 2015, we tested the Airports Commission’s analysis against the Government’s 2015 air quality plan. Nevertheless, my hon. Friend is right that the evidence base in this policy area is ever shifting, and we do need to recognise that there is more work to do; I happily do so today. We have to keep our assessments up to date and to take account of changing technology and what that brings.
Fifthly, Heathrow airport will have to play its part. The new runway must be underpinned by further industry-leading measures to mitigate air quality impacts.
Sixthly—I am rattling through these points because I am conscious of the time, Mr Hollobone, and this Chamber deserves as much information as possible—the Government believe that, with a suitable package of policies and mitigation measures, the Heathrow north-west runway scheme can be delivered without impacting on the UK’s compliance with air quality limit values.
Seventhly, final development consent will be granted only if the Secretary of State is satisfied that, with mitigation, the Heathrow scheme is compliant with legal requirements on air quality. I do not think that is quite what my hon. Friend asked for—as I say, I do not want to prejudge the consultation—but she must be pleased with what I have said today; she would be churlish not to be.
For the sake of clarity, I will repeat exactly what I said for the record. Final development consent will only be granted if the Secretary of State is satisfied that, with mitigation, the Heathrow scheme is compliant with legal requirements on air quality. Whether that is quite what my hon. Friend wants or not, I do not know, but I think that is quite a big commitment to make and it is certainly made in the spirit that I described earlier—that of a Government who are absolutely concerned to do the right thing by local residents and in terms of emissions generally.
I thank the Minister for giving way. Last week at Transport questions, I asked a question about an issue that concerns my local area, which is the proposed expansion of the M4, which, so far as I can see, would be needed if the third runway is given the go-ahead. Will the Minister comment on the impact on air quality of a tunnel coming up either in Brentford or Chiswick?
Yes. Among my many responsibilities, although I know that Members in this Chamber think that they are too few, are big roads, and the M4 is indeed a big road. However, it is important to point out that in any expansion that takes place at Heathrow, a range of transport connections would be considered. I know that Heathrow is considering how people would get to and from the airport. That will not just be by car. The hon. Lady will know that about 45% of people currently make their journey to and from Heathrow by private vehicle, but that number is not fixed in stone. One would hope that—indeed, I would expect it to be so as part of this package—all kinds of innovative solutions will be delivered as to how people can get to the airport efficiently.
Therefore, I do not want to prejudge that issue and I certainly would not want either to say anything that contradicted the answer that the hon. Lady received last week, because the question then was not posed to me; I think it was posed to the Secretary of State. I reassure the hon. Lady that we are broad-minded about the means by which people get to and from Heathrow and the effects that might have on local people.
Let me make my last three points, because I promised 10 points and so far I have delivered only seven. The Government have also made it clear that we must tackle noise and I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham is also concerned about this. We will also meet our obligations on carbon. On noise, Heathrow Airport Holdings Ltd has committed to a ban on scheduled night flights of six and a half hours, more predictable periods of respite for communities and new and binding noise targets.
Ninthly, the Government’s announcement was just the beginning, as I said, of the process, as the preferred scheme will now be subject for consultation through a draft airports national policy statement that will follow in the new year. Of course, that is something to look forward to after the excitement of Christmas.
Finally, it is important to point out—I know that my hon. Friend is very conscious of this and I thought she deserved an answer on it—that the Government accept the recent High Court judgment that more needs to be done to improve the nation’s air quality. That does not apply simply to airports; I am looking at a range of transport modes, as she will doubtless appreciate. I can tell her that the Government will produce a revised plan by 31 July 2017 and my team in the Department for Transport are beavering away and working with other relevant Departments to make sure that the plan meets all the necessary requirements.
I thank the Minister for giving way. Many experts, commentators and indeed Members of this House feel that the air quality projections made to date have been somewhat fanciful, including a large dose of wishful thinking. Can he reassure us that there is anything in the next year’s worth of consultation that will be more robust, and that the Government will take note of what many experts are saying?
I can give an absolute assurance that while I am the Minister of State at the Department for Transport all that we do will be studious and robust, and that includes the considerations of the kind that my hon. Friend has identified. It is important that we do the work to produce an evidential argument and also articulate that argument in a way that sends the public a very clear message—this Government are serious about transport and about wellbeing. All that we do in the Department, while I have influence over it, will be gauged by wellbeing and the effect that it has on the national interest and the common good.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered the effect on air quality of proposed Heathrow airport expansion.
Great Western Line: Electrification
I beg to move,
That this House has considered electrification of the Great Western line.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. This is a debate that I never wanted to have to bring to the House and I am sure that many other Members felt the same. In doing so, I acknowledge that the Minister—the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys (Paul Maynard)—is relatively new to his post and that many of the problems I am highlighting will be ones that he has inherited. I also acknowledge that he has been and remains a formidable constituency MP, as well as now being a great Minister, so I hope that he will forgive many of us for expressing passionately the views and interests of our constituents. That goes to the heart of why I called for this debate, because I am sure that there are those somewhere who will say, “What is an MP for Bristol North West doing having this debate?” Neither Bristol Parkway nor Bristol Temple Meads are in my constituency, so some will say, “Well, she’s not affected by this.” However, anyone who says that an MP such as me is not affected by this issue misunderstands fundamentally the nature of transport and the nature of our railways in particular.
Our railways are not simply stretches of iron rail in the location where they are constituted; they are the circulation system, if you will, of our regions, our communities and indeed our entire nation. If something happens to one part of that circulation system, it has wide-reaching effects and impacts on the body as a whole.
I applied for this debate because of deep concern about the recent Government announcement of the deferral of electrification, which yet again appears to leave the south-west region trailing behind other parts of the country in terms of transport infrastructure investment.
I am most grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way. I am sorry to interrupt her so very early in her speech. I know that most of the speeches in the Chamber this afternoon will be about the problems and the deferral of electrification. However, would it not be gracious to say that 10 years ago there was no prospect whatever of electrification anywhere to the west of London? We should be glad that this Conservative Government have delivered electrification as far as Chippenham—in my constituency, or just outside it—and that we have quite a few things to be grateful for, albeit that we also have a few problems.
It is always a profound joy to give way to my hon. Friend. If he had waited for a small amount of time before intervening, I would have come to that point. However, since he has made that case, I can skip over some of my speech, because it is a very valid point. We do not want to let the best become the enemy of the good and I want to acknowledge where we are.
The hon. Lady also anticipates something that I will raise in my speech. Whichever Government want to make dramatic railway infrastructure improvements, they face challenges. Whether a Labour Minister or a Conservative Minister was sitting in the Minister’s chair here, I suspect that the challenges involved in delivering what they want to do could be very similar. I will come back to that point in my speech.
I am afraid that all south-west MPs might agree that, when we see the bills for HS2 soaring to £42 billon, the deferral of our meagre-by-comparison £5 billion project is particularly hard to swallow, especially since the south-west has consistently been among the bottom regions in the league tables for regional spend per capita.
The south-west is a region that boasts exciting opportunities, that is incredibly fast-growing, and that desperately needs the kind of focus on rail investment that we have seen with HS2 and Crossrail. So, forgive me, Minister, if I say for the south-west that, when it comes to seeing actual infrastructure—not promised but built—many people in the region feel that it is now our turn.
Nevertheless, returning to the point that my hon. Friend the Member for North Wiltshire (Mr Gray), raised, there have been improvements and the Government are making efforts. I must also be fair about the context of this debate. I recognise that, this deferral notwithstanding, the region will still receive, which it might not have received otherwise, 5,000 extra seats on journeys into London at peak time. Most of us have made that journey, so we know that those seats will be welcome. We have been promised new trains, which will deliver faster journeys. We are told that there will be station improvements down the line. However, I hope that the Minister will forgive me for being honest and saying that, given the recent announcement of the deferral, we will believe these things when we see them. I would also appreciate a bit more clarity in the Minister’s response about the exact tangible benefits we will get in return for what has been a hard blow in the form of the announcement of deferral.
As I said, the improvements are welcome, and I do not want to be ungracious by denying that. However, major concerns remain about what the decision says about how we do big infrastructure projects and I will be asking the Minister specific questions. If he is not able to answer them today, I would deeply appreciate a detailed written response.
I want to pick up on my hon. Friend’s earlier point about the south-west not always being at the front of the queue for such things. Bristol is, I think, the fastest-growing core city outside London, and therefore has a huge economic benefit to bring to the country. Does my hon. Friend agree that it is strange, therefore, that other areas have been given preference on the list for electrification? The deferral also includes the deferral of some of the Thames valley commuter lines and some of the lines to Oxford. Would it not now be sensible to re-examine the business case for the electrification of some of the lines radiating out from Bristol, on the basis that the economic case for Bristol’s economic zone must make it more attractive? That would go some way towards addressing the relatively low priority that Bristol and the south-west have previously been afforded.
If Hansard could kindly ascribe my hon. Friend’s comments to me I would be very grateful, because that is exactly the point I want to make. Yes, it does seem strange. It plays to a historical view that the south-west is always overlooked. I do not understand why we seem to have been axed when other places still seem to be a political priority. On the economic arguments, that does not make sense.
It is not just the south-west that has been axed from the great western line electrification. I had hoped to be able to contribute to the earlier debate about air quality around Heathrow. One thing that will damage air quality around the airport is the fact that the Windsor-Slough link will remain a diesel one—it will not be electrified, as was originally promised. People like me supported the original proposal for the third runway at Heathrow because we were promised that electrification.
I start my speech by saying that what happens in one area of the country affects another and then I go on to make an unapologetically biased—not biased, but strong—case for the south-west, but I hear exactly what the right hon. Lady says. Something happening in one region deeply affects another, but I continue to make a special case for the south-west, which has not, historically, had its merits duly considered by the Department.
Does my hon. Friend agree that one example of how the south-west does not benefit from investment is that at the moment it is impossible to get a train from Plymouth or Exeter to Bristol along the very great western network on which we rely?
I think that anyone who has travelled that route will echo, with gusto, what my hon. Friend has just said.
Moving on to macro-level concerns, I find the National Audit Office report into the functioning of Network Rail, and into the Department’s ability to project manage and to hold Network Rail to account, deeply concerning. I do not doubt the good intentions of all those involved, but we read in that report about over-optimism from Network Rail on significant elements of the electrification project and about inadequate project management. And the list goes on. The trouble is that it has become almost a matter of course over the years—I have to say, spanning various Governments—to expect any rail project to go way over budget and way over time, under Network Rail. If Britain is to stand a chance of competing globally, that simply is not good enough. I have to add that, from what I have seen, I do not think that Network Rail is a particularly good advert for those who still argue that the state should be running more of our railways. Given Network Rail’s performance, that idea fills me with absolute dread. I am not ideological on that point; I just like to see things work well.
It would be helpful if the Minister could outline what he sees as the main challenges for not just his Government but any Government delivering fit-for-purpose infrastructure projects under our current systems. I am particularly interested in knowing what levers he, as a Minister and an elected representative, has for holding Network Rail, which is, as I understand it, a state function, to account.
I have to confess to being a little confused on a matter of principle regarding the deferral of electrification. I know that the Government are saying that customers need not worry because we will get bigger and faster bi-mode trains delivering all the benefits of electrification without the need for that expensive “wire in the sky”, but if everything is so awesome without electrification, why are we still talking about it at all? If it is all so awesome, why would such improvements from bi-mode rolling stock, for a fraction of the cost, not make electrification a redundant technology? And if it is not redundant, will it not cost more in the long term to do it later rather than sooner? We need more clarity about the Government’s view of the merits of electrification.
I come now to more specific concerns. Have there been wasted works? It seems that significant investment has already been made in preparatory work for electrification that has now been deferred. Can the Minister give a figure for how much that has cost and can he provide a cast-iron guarantee that it is not now money wasted? I understand that Network Rail has suggested that the work to Bristol Temple Meads may now be completed by control period 6. Can the Minister clarify when during CP6 that might be?
Now that there has been a deferral of what was much vaunted electrification, questions are inevitably being asked about the other elements of the modernisation programme. The deferral announcement has dented confidence, and we really need that confidence to be rebuilt. Can the Minister assure us that the other core elements will be completed, such as the Filton bank capacity enhancement project, the new Hitachi hybrid intercity express trains and the two new services per hour between Bristol Temple Meads and London Paddington that those trains will enable?
I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing the debate. As a Welsh MP—the only one here, I think—I add my weight to the argument that the south-west is under-represented where infrastructure is concerned and that there is a lack of confidence. Wales is also under-represented. Will the Minister, in his concluding remarks, outline the timetable for the main line electrification and reassure us that that will not slip? Confidence has been knocked.
I thank my hon. Friend for raising that extremely good point.
I know that many other Members would like the chance to speak. My final concern, which has been raised locally, is about rolling stock. The effect of the deferral of the electrification of the Thames valley branches on the planned cascade of the Thames turbo class 165 and 166 rolling stock to the west of England is vital to the MetroWest phases 1 and 2 projects. I have been very public about what seems to me, and to many others in the region, an appalling missed opportunity on the part of local decision makers—their failure to prioritise the Henbury loop line in the MetroWest scheme. I have been clear that I do not think that such schemes are ambitious enough to meet the exponentially growing branch line demand in our region; however, they are a start. If the MetroWest scheme, as it is, were to suffer even further detriment, that would be catastrophic for our city and our region. I cannot impress that upon the Minister enough. Can he give assurances today that the rolling stock cascade—the Thames turbo class 165 and 166—will not be affected by the deferral?
I turn briefly to the Bristol East junction and to Temple Meads, issues that the hon. Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy) will probably want to raise in more detail than I will. I have been pleased to be able to work, in many ways cross-party, on rail for our city. Can we get assurances regarding the concerns about the future of the remodelling of that junction and about plans for transforming Bristol Temple Meads to accommodate new trains at platforms zero and one? I know that the hon. Lady will want to speak about that, but I would like some replies from the Minister.
This is an important debate for so many MPs and so many of their constituents. It is not, as I fear it might be seen by some, people fussing over whether we have wire in the sky. It is about the south-west being sick of being the poor relation in our nation’s transport projects while other high-speed projects go roaring on. It is about a real concern that this is somehow the thin end of a wedge that will see all the progress we have made over the past six years, of which I have been so proud, melt away. It is about all of us here, regardless of party, asking serious questions about whether the mechanisms and bodies that this or any Government have at their disposal to plan and build rail infrastructure are any longer fit for purpose. Given what we have seen of projects soaring over budget and over time and then getting paused, deferred, cancelled or any other word anyone would like to use, under an array of Governments, it is hard to believe that Network Rail is fit for purpose. If it is not, and assuming Britain wants to be a global competitor, can the Minister provide some thoughts on what on earth we are going to do about it?
Several hon. Members rose—
Order. The debate is due to finish at 5.45 pm. It is an hour-long debate. It is very difficult to chair because I have an array of parliamentary talent before me and just over 20 minutes of Back-Bench time before I have to call the Front-Bench spokespeople. Unfortunately, I am going to have to impose a time limit of three minutes. If Members intervene on each other, some of you will not get called, but if you stick to three minutes, everyone will get in, and there may be time at the end to intervene on the Front-Bench spokespeople.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone, and I congratulate the hon. Member for Bristol North West (Charlotte Leslie) on securing the debate. I will curtail my comments.
I speak for my Bristol South constituents, who also use Bedminster and Parson Street stations, when I say that the so-called deferral of this project has confused and outraged passengers in my constituency. We are confused because, despite the promises that we received and the significant disruption that we have tolerated, we have a half-finished project. We are outraged because the rail connections are such an important part of our economic development and our success. Bristol is key to the entire regional economy and that is why this is such a critical decision.
In 1835, an Act of Parliament created the Great Western Railway. In just six years, Brunel managed to build the entire thing from Paddington to Bristol—but in the last six years we have seen a complete lack of progress. Decisions have been delayed and deferred and now progress has been halted. At the Public Accounts Committee next month, we will consider the National Audit Office report and I would be grateful for comments from all Members. I suspect the hon. Member for Torbay (Kevin Foster) will also join that discussion. The report is very clear. Who is accountable now for the decision? Who is in charge of the plan to deliver benefits to passengers? Who lined up the key components of the new trains with the infrastructure and the operator? Who is managing the critical path alongside things such as the signalling works?
I have three asks of the Minister. If he does not have time to answer my questions, I would appreciate an answer in writing. First, is there still a case for electrification? What is now the Department’s analysis of the benefits for passengers in terms of journey times, frequency and capacity—dare I mention having a seat?—of bimodal trains versus electrification? We do not seem to know.
Secondly, Mr Brunel built the entire railway via an Act of Parliament, so why did the Department for Transport not at any point place an order under the Transport and Works Act 1992 for all the works? It might have taken longer to get to this point, but Network Rail would not have had to go through the myriad processes that it has had to, across the whole line.
Thirdly, what is the role of the regulator, the Office of Rail and Road? The Government have chosen to make it an arm’s-length body, but what is its responsibility in all of this? There is a political choice between enhancements and renewals or maintenance. The regulator has a clear role on renewal and maintenance, in light of its safety responsibility, but enhancement such as electrification is different. I am interested to know what the Minister thinks about that.
The core of the matter is passengers and our constituents. Whatever processes were undertaken to deliver the decision, it is true to say that as a result Bristol people feel we are being short-changed, and as we are the gateway to the region, the entire south-west region is being short-changed. Who is making these decisions on behalf of Bristol colleagues? Consider the make-up of the Government, the Cabinet and the Tory Front Bench. Apart from the Secretary of State for International Trade, the right hon. Member for North Somerset (Dr Fox), the south-west has no representation at the top table of Government. There are 51 Tory MPs in the south-west, out of 55. I congratulate them on their victory, but they have a small smattering of Ministers from their number to be able to deliver top decisions at the top table—
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol North West (Charlotte Leslie) on securing this debate, and for representing my parents-in-law so well.
It was a real blow to hear that the electrification of the great western main line would be deferred beyond Bath Spa, not least because as Members for the south-west region, we had all rather hoped that over the course of this Parliament we would be making the case for electrification to go on beyond Bristol to Weston-super-Mare, to Taunton and then on down into the far south-west. The fact that we are now here asking for it to be electrified to Bristol as originally planned is somewhat disappointing.
I have just one station in my constituency, Highbridge and Burnham, which is some way south of Bristol, although many people commute from there to Bristol and on to London. Many more of my constituents access the rail network in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare (John Penrose) at Worle, or that of my right hon. Friend the Member for North Somerset (Dr Fox) at Yatton. So my constituents have a real interest in seeing the electrification to Bristol completed and journey times improved, as well as commuter capacity.
In the brief time I have today, I have a couple of asks. First, bimodal trains are hugely impressive in the technology that they employ, but there is a sense that they have one foot in the past with diesel and one foot in the present with electrification. Given that so many of the bimodal trains operating out of Paddington towards Bristol Temple Meads will continue their journey on from Temple Meads to Weston, Taunton or Exeter, is there not a case for unmuzzling those trains—as the trains that operate on the Reading/Castle Cary/Taunton line have been unmuzzled—so that they have a bit of extra oomph to accelerate while under diesel power?
Secondly, my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol North West raised the arrival of the additional rolling stock from the Thames valley, given the deferral of the electrification there. That is a real issue. I know from conversations earlier today with the Minister that it might be that the arrival of that rolling stock is not to do with the deferral but with delays elsewhere. Either way, that rolling stock is absolutely key. The commuter belt around Bristol—I know the part to the south particularly well, but I am sure it is the same for parts to the north and east as well—is increasingly congested. Two or three-carriage trains trying to serve those routes are simply not enough. We urgently need that rolling stock to come down from the Thames valley to serve the growing rail demand in the west country.
The Minister kindly came to the launch of the Peninsula Rail Task Force report. I ask him to ensure that all the things in that report about resilience in the far south-west do not find themselves competing with the very urgent things that need to be done to improve connectivity to Bristol.
I thank the hon. Member for Bristol North West (Charlotte Leslie) for securing this debate. My constituents in Bristol West are as perplexed and as outraged as I am to learn that the much-needed and long-awaited electrification of the Great Western Railway is being postponed. The works were initiated by the last Labour Government, who rightly recognised that investing in infrastructure to support economic growth is a vital duty of government and that electrification helps to decrease air pollution, of which diesel engines are such a great cause.
Since then, the coalition and subsequent Tory Governments have paused, unpaused, and now paused the works again. As recently as June 2015, the then Secretary of State told the House:
“Electrification of the Great Western line is a top priority and I want Network Rail to concentrate its efforts on getting that right.”—[Official Report, 25 June 2015; Vol. 597, c. 1068.]
My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. The HS2 project is of course hugely, vastly more expensive than this project. It is extraordinary that the electrification is being sacrificed for other projects.
Similar uncertainty has been meted out to other regions, such as the electric spine and midland main line. In fact, in June, when the Secretary of State was confirming his support for the great western line electrification, he was at the same time pausing midland electrification and that on the trans-Pennine route. That does not appear to me to signify a coherent, thought-through plan to invest in infrastructure.
I would like the Minister to respond to the following questions. Where is the Government’s commitment to a western powerhouse? Will the west of England devolution deal end up having to cover the cost of the electrification project? What answers do the Government have for passengers who are currently stuck with journey times that feel to them routinely longer than those in the 1970s, when it was apparently possible to travel from Bristol Temple Meads to London in 90 minutes without stopping? Where is the sense in suspending the work when so much of it has already taken place? How does the Minister answer the Bristolians who have been given the idea that we are not worth bothering about? How does the Minister square the postponement with improving air quality, something which my constituents in Bristol West so badly want to see? Finally, when will the Government sort out a coherent, reliable plan for investment in infrastructure, and will that plan include proper levels of investment in local train services inside Bristol as well as to Bristol?
It is always a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. My contribution will be brief. First, I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol North West (Charlotte Leslie). It is right that we collectively challenge and scrutinise the work of Network Rail. This project comes on the back of record investment not seen since Victorian times, and it is in stark contrast to the just six miles of electrification that was delivered under the previous Labour Government. I say that not to make a political point, but to highlight what a large engineering challenge this is. I know that first-hand, because I had the pleasure of visiting the electrification training centre—a £10 million facility based in Swindon—where all the apprentices and staff working on the project will go to do their training.
It is frustrating, and we would all love to see this happen tomorrow, but there have been some successes already. The test track finished on time on 30 September, the Severn tunnel finished on time on 22 October, and all of last year’s Christmas and Easter work was finished on time. The budget for the Christmas work is increasing from £60 million last year to £84 million.
I have some asks for the Minister, building on the positive news about the Hitachi trains, which will see a 40% increase in capacity. The Network Rail teams must engage with MPs and physically show us the engineering works, the challenges and the opportunities for the future. I know the Minister is held in very high regard, but I echo the plea for more south-west MPs to be on the Front Bench. I think we are all currently auditioning for that—we would all vote for ourselves if Front Benchers were democratically chosen. I hope the Minister will join me in lobbying the Government for the much-needed £5.5 million redevelopment of Swindon station, which is vital because there has been a 50% increase in train usage in the past decade, and it is anticipated that the extra capacity that the electrification work will create will make Swindon an even more popular destination—hard to believe, given that it already is the centre of all great things. Disability access must be a given for all future works at stations—I know the Minister will do that. Finally, as we look at the long-term arrangements for the operator of these lines, a long-term franchise must be put in place so investment in the day-to-day services matches the Government’s commitment to improve our rail infrastructure.
It is a pleasure, as ever, to see you in the Chair, Mr Hollobone. I congratulate the hon. Member for Bristol North West (Charlotte Leslie) on securing this debate.
Last week, the National Audit Office issued a damning verdict on the way that this project has been handled to date. It described the project as
“a case study in how not to manage a major programme.”
The Secretary of State agreed when I put that to him at Transport questions. He said:
“I am not happy about the way in which the…programme has been managed”
and that he is
“still not satisfied with the progress that is being made.”—[Official Report, 17 November 2016; Vol. 617, c. 368.]
We need to look at what this tells us about how we handle major infrastructure projects—particularly transport infrastructure projects—in this country. They always seem to go over time and over budget, and they never seem to reach completion in the way that was originally intended. The epic mismanagement of this programme will cost the taxpayer £330 million, which is more than Bristol City Council’s annual day-to-day budget.
Bristol Parkway now has to wait 18 months longer than planned for electrification—until the end of 2018—and Bristol Temple Meads, the station that most of my constituents use, now has to wait until at least 2024 for an electrified connection to the Great Western Railway. There is no certainty it will happen, and many of my constituents have said that they have had to endure traffic jams caused by road closures for the essential work being carried out on bridges to prepare for electrification. Other roadworks are being carried out in Bristol, such as the MetroBus construction. It is already the most congested city in the country. My constituents have to endure more and they now feel it has been for nothing.
The Great Western Railway is already one of the most overcrowded routes in the country, and almost 8 million extra passengers a year are expected by 2018-19. Most of us who have travelled on that line will think, “Where on earth are you going to put them?” because it is already difficult to get a seat—certainly at peak times. The Secretary of State assured me that new stock will be rolled out sooner rather than later, but we are waiting for that promise to be fulfilled.
As well as calling on the Government to do what they can to speed up electrification, I want to flag up next year’s feasibility study of suburban rail in the west. Local rail is an important part of what needs to be an increasingly integrated transport network. The hon. Member for Bristol North West talked about Bristol East junction. It used to be in my constituency, but I was cruelly deprived of it by the 2010 boundary changes, along with Temple Meads station, Lawrence Hill station and Stapleton Road station. I now have no stations. We are, however, campaigning for the re-opening of St Anne’s Park station, which was closed in 1970. That would massively improve connections to jobs, services and culture for my constituents living in the more peripheral parts of east Bristol. I hope the Minister takes that on board, too.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone, and to be back in this Chamber for the second time today talking about the desperately vital need for infrastructure investment in the south-west. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol North West (Charlotte Leslie) on securing this debate.
It is not all bad news coming down the track for Great Western. We will soon have the first new set of Intercity Express trains ordered in my lifetime. I think the last set was ordered back in 1976. I suspect it is tempting for the Minister and the Department for Transport, given all the issues they have had with this renewal, not to order the next set until 2056, but hopefully they will soon be on the line.
It is right that this debate has focused on the electrification programme. I represent a constituency in the far south-west that was not initially part of the electrification process, and the coastal track at Dawlish is very unlikely to be part of it in the near future, given the obvious issues of mixing high levels of voltage and sea water. My concern is about the impact of the project and, in particular, how its cost has risen dramatically.
As the Minister knows, we talked earlier about the Peninsula Rail Task Force and a £280 million project to secure the Dawlish line. That is about 10% of the cost of the electrification project, and only a fraction of the increase in cost in the past couple of years. My concern is about the choices that the Government have when they make initial decisions and about the solidity of the information. As the hon. Member for Bristol South (Karin Smyth) said, we will certainly explore that at the Public Accounts Committee. My fear is always that projects look very attractive, and the price can look just about affordable, but they can require a much larger commitment that has not been predicted. In this case, we quickly found that the engineering required to put the masts in made it almost inevitable that the costs would rise significantly.
Given what the NAO report said, it is clear that in the future we need to plan how we deliver a whole railway, not just individual aspects. Passengers do not get on a train that has been heavily delayed due to flooding and say, “Great, I’ve got better wi-fi”; they look at their whole experience on the journey. That is why it is right that we ensure our investment projects are better managed. We must deliver projects without such issues and we must make our railway more resilient. As I said in an intervention, there is no train service between parts of Devon and Cornwall and Bristol, and there is a limited service between Devon and Cornwall and London. The well-known issues with the network are screaming out for investment.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol North West (Charlotte Leslie) on securing this debate on a subject about which many of us have spoken together over the past few years.
The electrification of the main line is still projected to cut the journey time between my constituency and London, but, given the pinch point at Bristol East, there is a question about whether it will actually speed up the journey time between Bath and Bristol. That has obviously caused concern among my constituents and, I think, pretty much all of our constituents across the whole of the west of England.
I was very disappointed by the Minister’s announcement that the electrification of the line is going to be put on hold until control period 6—2019 to 2024. Following Network Rail’s frustrating report, I welcome the fact that the journey will still be introduced, and that the new Hitachi Intercity trains and the new commuter trains will be on the line by 2018. However, our constituents are justifiably concerned, given that they have to sit on the floor and the trains break down regularly between Bath and Bristol Temple Meads and onwards to other parts of the suburban rail network.
The electrification of the great western main line will now stop at Thingley Junction, which, contrary to rumour, is just before Bath Spa. We have had to endure a long period with the Box Tunnel being reduced in height, and we would like to have confirmed that the reduction in height will still enable the new trains to get through to Bath, Bristol and beyond.
The increase in capacity will clearly make a big difference and contribute a large economic benefit to our communities. However, there is genuine concern that how much the economy of the west of England contributes to the national economy is often underestimated: we have the second largest number of tech and creative companies anywhere outside Hoxton in London; we have one of the fastest growing economies anywhere in the country; and yet, off the top of my head, we receive the second lowest amount per capita of transport infrastructure spend in the country. That desperately needs to be re-evaluated.
Electrification would have a positive impact on the tourist economy, which is hugely important to my world heritage site city. Bath is a beautiful city and I want to see more tourists come to it, which would have a big knock-on effect for Somerset and Bristol, and that is another huge draw. With those trains, more people will have the confidence that they will arrive in Bath and the west of England on time.
Lastly, I want to echo some of the comments made about Network Rail. For time immemorial, we MPs have had our concerns about Network Rail being able to deliver the infrastructure projects that we require of it. I do not think that anything should be off the table, in particular given the contents of the NAO report.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol North West (Charlotte Leslie) on securing the debate. She made many of the points that I wished to make, but much more eloquently than I might ever have done. I join her in expressing disappointment at the decision to defer the four electrification projects along the great western route.
I will reiterate a couple of the points made by my hon. Friend, because that decision will have a direct impact on a number of my constituents in south Gloucestershire who travel from Yate, specifically, to Bristol Parkway and on to London. More passengers will continue to use the Bristol Parkway service as a result of the worsening congestion for many residents of south Gloucestershire.
I will also express some concerns about the knock-on effects of the plans to delay investment. I first seek reassurances from the Minister, as others have done, that the deferral of electrification of the Thames valley lines will not affect the cascading out of the Thames Turbo trains, the 165 and 166, to the west of England. They are essential to replace the trains that Great Western Railway has to return at the end of their leases. Failure to do so will result in a reduction of services and an increase in passenger overcrowding.
The chairman of our local West of England LEP called those trains
“essential to deliver the £100m MetroWest Phase 1 and 2 rail schemes”.
Phase 2 of the MetroWest scheme includes the plan to increase the frequency of services between Bristol and Yate from hourly to half-hourly, which will be hugely important to people in Yate, Coalpit Heath and surrounding areas. It has overwhelming support from people who want to see a reduction in overcrowding on the service, and would without doubt take more cars off already congested roads around Yate and Coalpit Heath. I will be grateful if the Minister clarifies that in his closing remarks.
I will also be grateful if the Minister clarifies the impact of the decision to delay on the local four-tracking project at Filton, which, too, is essential to deliver MetroWest phase 2. South Gloucestershire Council has already started some of the clearing work, so an early indication of any effect from the Minister will be extremely welcome.
Lastly, I call for reassurance that there are no plans to change the proposed four inter-city express services an hour between Bristol Temple Meads and London, two of which will pass through Bristol Parkway and connect directly with Yate services.
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol North West for securing the debate, and I will welcome the Minister’s reassurances.
We now come to the Front Benchers’ speeches. I want to call Charlotte Leslie again to sum up the debate no later than 5.43 pm, which means that the Front-Bench speakers have nine minutes each. Were the Opposition spokesman to take less than nine minutes, there will be more time for the Minister to speak and, potentially, for interventions, but we are in her hands. I call Pat Glass.
Thank you, Mr Hollobone. I will endeavour to be as quick as I can.
The recent decision by the Department for Transport to delay the electrification of the great western route is just the latest in a series of announcements of delays and pauses made by the Government on electrification of our railways. We have had one announcement after another by the Government, who still state that they are planning electrification, but while the Government have promised much, they have delivered little.
I sympathise with the Minister. Like me, he is new to the role and just happens to be holding the parcel when the music stops. However, I have a criticism about his recent announcement, because he appeared to sneak it out just hours before the November recess and on the day of the American election when, presumably, he was hoping we would all be looking the other way.
I therefore congratulate the hon. Member for Bristol North West (Charlotte Leslie) on securing this important debate. She and I served together on the Select Committee on Education when we were new Members in this House, and I understand her dedication to the city of Bristol. I also want to acknowledge all the MPs from Bristol: they are four strong women, who are here together fighting for a better future for rail in their city.
The case for the electrification of the route was set out in October 2009. The Department for Transport projected then that it would take eight years to complete and cost up to £1 billion. According to the original timetable, we should have been looking at a fully electrified line from London to Swansea by the end of next year. Since then, however, the project has had a very unhappy journey.
Two weeks ago today, we were told by the Rail Minister that the project will be paused, with no detail of when it might be unpaused or restarted, or, indeed, if it will ever be completed at all. Over the past six and a half years we have had delay after delay to the original timetable, and the cost to the taxpayer has skyrocketed as a result. As the Minister knows, the National Audit Office, in its recently published report, laid the blame squarely on the Department for Transport, stating that it did not
“plan and manage all projects…in a sufficiently joined up way.”
I have worked in government at local and national levels. At the national level, I found that the lack of planning and joined-upness makes local government look like a smoothly operating machine, and that is saying something. Even within that, the Department for Transport has its very own place.
The cost of the project was reassessed in September 2014, when the Department estimated it at £1.5 billion, up 50% on the original costings. Although the cost-benefit ratio expected by the Department for Transport in March 2015 was within the Department’s high value-for-money range, at 2.4:1, by the end of last year that had dropped to 1.6:1, which meant that it had fallen to within the medium value-for-money range. That is because the Department was forced to announce that the cost of the project had been revised yet again and was now estimated to be more than twice the original projection, at £2.1 billion. The latest announcement is in another league altogether, however, with the estimated costs to the taxpayer reaching £5.58 billion. The Government have managed this infrastructure project so badly that the cost-benefit ratio has now fallen through the floor.
The issue is not isolated to the great western route alone. Rather, the Government’s handling of the electrification of UK railways is being felt right across the country. First, we had the delays to the electrification of the trans-Pennine railway. Originally planned to be completed by the end of 2018, that is now looking distinctly unlikely—to put it politely. The electrification of the midland main line was paused in June last year. The wires will now not reach Kettering and Corby until 2019—that is today’s estimate—whereas the original plan had been for electrification to stretch far beyond Corby to Derby, Leicester and Nottingham by 2018. When the Government finally announced that both plans had been revived, it was only to say they would be four years behind schedule.
In 2013, 30% of the most crowded train services in England and Wales were Great Western services into Paddington, and the Department for Transport forecast tells us that passenger demand on that route is to grow by 81% between 2013 and 2019. Electrification is therefore essential if we are to see any improvement for passengers. It will lead to further economic benefits, in particular driven by freight trains running on electrified lines, and it is vital if we are to reduce our carbon footprint and will help to build a greener transport network, with the increase of freight on rail being central to that aim. It is therefore really disappointing to see that a significant part of the estimated £330 million that will be added to the bill for the electrification of the great western route will come about because of the revisions that are needed to the new all-electric trains that the Government ordered.
Thanks to the delays, those trains, which were set to cost the taxpayer £4.1 billion, will now need to be fitted with diesel engines so they can run on sections of the great western route that the Government have now decided will not be electrified. Adding those diesel engines will make the trains heavier, less energy efficient, more polluting and more damaging to the track. So this Government will spend £5.58 billion on upgrades to the great western route that will in fact cause a reduction in capacity, a slower service and an increase in carbon emissions and mean that rail lines will require even more regular maintenance work. That is quite an achievement.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) said that this issue impacts on the earlier debate about pollution in the Thames valley and the decision about a third Heathrow runway. Further, passengers in the north of England and Scotland will have to wait up to two years longer for improvements to their services, because the revised plans and delays to infrastructure works mean that old Great Western Railway stock will not be passed on to other areas that were depending upon getting that old stock to make such improvements.
The budgeting for this project has been shambolic, and clearly no one can confidently rely on any figures produced by the Department for Transport. The Government cannot be allowed to get away with continually claiming to be investing in infrastructure when we see Ministers once again with their tails between their legs trying to sneak out announcements about further delays to their plans.
Will the Minister tell us exactly when the Government intend to follow through on the great western line? When can we expect the pause to cease and the project to restart, if it restarts? In what shape will it be if it ever restarts? At the beginning of the debate, the hon. Member for Bristol North West talked about passengers. She is absolutely right: neither passengers nor taxpayers are getting a good deal, and quite frankly, they deserve better.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol North West (Charlotte Leslie) on securing this debate. Contrary to what we have just heard, I actually welcome the debate and the opportunity to discuss a complex project. Whether I can do it justice in nine minutes is another matter, but I will do my best. If I fail to address anyone’s points, I shall be more than happy to write to colleagues, and I thank all those who have participated in the debate.
My hon. Friend started by suggesting that the south-west was perhaps not first in the queue. My diary shows that I started today at the publication of the report of the all-party Peninsula Rail Task Force. Immediately afterwards, I had a meeting about the Exeter to Barnstaple railway line, and I have spent the rest of the day addressing this issue, which is a priority for the Government—and not just today. This is the first major rail electrification project for many, many years, and there has been an awful lot to learn. I am not someone who tries to go for cheap partisan points, but there is one that cannot be avoided in this discussion: the Labour party electrified fewer than 20 miles of track in its 13 years in office. We are having to overcome a backlog of delayed investment.
As we have heard, the NAO report on the electrification of the Great Western Railway states that £330 million has been wasted so far. Does the Minister believe that that huge waste of money endangers the final delivery of the Cardiff to Swansea section of the project?
We certainly recognise a lot of what the National Audit Office report says, and I will set out what the Department is doing in response to that. As the hon. Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy) pointed out, the Secretary of State was critical of progress on the project so far at Transport questions last week. I share those concerns; the project clearly has not gone well.
However, it is worth stressing that we are having to defer four elements. I have heard many words pass around the Chamber—“cancellation”, “pause” and all sorts of others—but “deferral” is quite a precise term. No work is being paused; if one considers the various elements that make up the scheme around Bristol, work is continually ongoing. We are raising bridges, improving line speeds and resignalling. That is all preparatory work before decisions can be taken on proceeding with further electrification. The only work that has been suspended in the greater Bristol area is the erection of the overhead line equipment. That is what has been deferred until a future control period. I cannot make precise statements about what control period 6 will contain, because that has to be part of a wider national package, but I want to make it clear that we are not stopping work on the electrification programme in the Bristol area. That work continues.
If that is the case, why do the Government continue to spend money doing something that they cannot at any point say when we will need? Is that not potentially wasting more taxpayers’ money? What is the purpose of electrification if it does not deliver benefits and we are going to spend more money at some unknown time in the future?
I have just said that we will be making announcements about what—[Interruption.] Is the hon. Lady going to listen to my reply or just mutter at me? I am happy to respond to her point if she wants to listen. We will take decisions about what control period 6 comprises and announce the whole of that control period at the appropriate time. As a member of the Public Accounts Committee, she will be more than aware that Sir Peter Hendy has already reprogrammed other projects across the country. As Rail Minister, I am not prepared to part-announce elements of control period 6 depending on what debate I happen to be in at any moment in time. That would not be a prudent way to go forward—nor, were I in her position on that Committee, would I think it a particularly prudent position for any Minister facing her queries to take.
Can the Minister reassure us that as a result of the deferral that he has just described, the cost-benefit ratio of the elements of the programme that have been paused will not be substantially changed? Can he also provide us with information about how those cost-benefit ratios compare with both the decision not to go ahead at all with the electrification of the suburban Bristol railway lines and things that are going ahead, such as High Speed 2?
There will always be ongoing recalculations of the cost-benefit ratios of any wider projects, as well as the elements within them. I do not see this as a matter of HS2 or the great western main line. There are investment backlogs that we have to catch up on in all parts of the country, and each investment has to respond to a specific rail need in that region. Here, we are trying to respond to a specific rail need by ensuring that all the passenger benefits that can be accrued by electrification can be delivered as soon as possible for the use of the new bi-mode intercity express programme trains.
I will happily write to the hon. Gentleman with that information at a later point. That is more than fine.
Hon. Members have noted the extra seats and the 15-minute journey time saving from London Paddington to Bristol Temple Meads via Bristol Parkway that the new trains will provide, and I hope that they will also note that those trains should stimulate economic growth across the region as a whole. Bristol is one of the few cities that is a net contributor to the UK Treasury, and that has to be recognised. We need to do more to work with Bristol to ensure that all those in the commuter belt around Bristol are properly able to access the city. That entirely makes sense. But we need to go back to the fundamental point that modernising this line has been an ambitious and challenging undertaking, and it has not been straightforward. Even closing the Severn tunnel for six weeks this autumn has caused immense disruption to journeys and people’s lives, but it has been worth while, because had we not closed it for those six weeks, there would have been five years of weekend work and disruption.
As a result of that challenge and the complexity of the work, with ageing assets, heritage sites and a very busy line that Network Rail has to work around, difficulties have occurred. As was mentioned, the National Audit Office report was highly critical of what had occurred. However, what is often not pointed out in these debates is the recognition the NAO has given to the changes that the Department has made since 2015. In particular, we now have a programme board for each route upgrade across the country, chaired by a senior responsible owner from the DFT, to provide effective oversight of delivery.
We are working closely with Network Rail, train operators and other partners to ensure that major construction works and the introduction of new train services occur in a pragmatic, sequenced and timely manner and that all elements of those complex processes interact sensibly with each other. There is no point in delivering a piece of rolling stock that cannot operate on a particular track because the infrastructure work has not been done. That requires work to be sequenced. Much of the criticism in the NAO’s report was of the failure to sequence early on in the process and understand the true scope of the project.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol North West was concerned that the decision represents a waste of money. I would say that it does not at all. The preparatory work will enable future decisions to be taken, which is also a point that she made. If one takes some of the work around Bristol East junction, for example, the savings made through the deferrals are specifically targeted at bringing forward the work to enable the capacity improvements that will allow full advantage to be taken of the new bi-modes. If that did not occur, there would be less benefit from having the bi-modes because there would not be the capacity at Bristol East junction. That underlines the point about sequencing work and, in a project of this complexity, the overall need to have a degree of flexibility in the system so that, as technology moves on, options change and new pieces of locomotive and rolling stock come on stream, we have the capacity in our projects to make those pragmatic decisions and seek to deliver the benefits to passengers as soon as is possible.
As I mentioned earlier, this decision underscores a wider approach to rail investment across the country as a whole. Passenger outcomes must be delivered while achieving the best value for every pound spent. On that point, the Government have been clear about the rationale for electrification. We are not against using electrification as part of a wider strategy for delivering improved services. Electrification does bring benefits. It enables, for instance, the use of electric trains, which over time reduce the cost of running the railway as well as bringing environmental benefits—but we have to make improvements in the way that makes most sense and gives most value to the taxpayer. Therefore, in some cases, where a train can run on both electric and diesel power, it is right to look at how that can be factored into any decision about how we sequence the different elements of any electrification process.
In the end, electrification is not an objective. It is a means to an end. It is an input. It is about putting wires up. It is about traction and power. It is an engineering solution to a defined problem. Yes, it is an enabler of new trains, but that new capacity is needed by passengers as soon as possible. Therefore, if we have access to these new trains, I think it right that we go down that path.
I do beg your pardon, Mr Hollobone. I was looking at the clock showing the time left for my speech. If I may, to save time, I will write to the hon. Gentleman. I will end it there and write to any further Members who asked questions to leave time for my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol North West to finish the debate. I thank hon. Members for listening.
Before I pay tribute to the Minister for answering and to Members who have come here, it is appropriate to pay tribute to Network Rail workers. While Network Rail has taken a bit of a battering for its organisational abilities at the top level, we should pay tribute to those who over the past couple of days have been working so hard to keep our railways running, as well as those at Great Western Railway on the ground who are making passengers’ lives bearable on a day-to-day basis.
We have had a wide-ranging debate. I am proud to be part of a group of powerful women speaking for Bristol, who have dominated the debate in many ways with Bristol’s interests and articulated powerfully Bristol residents’ concerns about the announcement. The case has been made that the whole region is affected by Members from as far afield as Torbay, and my hon. Friend the Member for Bath (Ben Howlett) made the case about his city well.
There is anger generally that Network Rail does not seem to be able to deliver the projects that any Government—whether Labour or Conservative—want it to deliver. I take the Minister’s point that not an awful lot of rail was electrified under the previous Labour Government. Perhaps they were wise in leaving it as a promise for the next Government because they realised how difficult that might be to do with the mechanisms they had at their disposal. I pay tribute to our Government for even trying.
I take the point that the project is complex. However, if we are to be a global competitor, we need to sort it out. We can sit and talk about the reasons, the complexities and the sequencing, but other nations in Europe manage to get it done. If we are to compete properly, we need to up our game dramatically.
Motion lapsed, and sitting adjourned without Question put (Standing Order No. 10(14)).