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Economic Growth: Coastal Areas

Volume 617: debated on Tuesday 29 November 2016

The Government are committed to helping coastal communities unlock barriers to economic growth. For example, we have invested more than £125 million in more than 200 projects across the United Kingdom through the coastal communities fund. That investment is forecast to deliver more than 18,000 jobs and help to attract more than £240 million of additional funds to coastal areas. Last week, in the autumn statement, I announced the allocation of £1.8 billion from the local growth fund to all regions in England.

Coastal areas face specific challenges because they do not have 360° access to trade with neighbouring areas, and the Isle of Wight faces additional challenges because we have no physical link with the mainland. Does my right hon. Friend regard the Isle of Wight as a special case that deserves extra support from the Government?

I know that every single one of my right hon. and hon. Friends will regard his or her own constituency as a special case, but I can tell my hon. Friend that the Government recognise the specific barriers to economic growth experienced by coastal areas such as the Isle of Wight. That is why we are extending the coastal communities fund by at least a further £90 million across the United Kingdom over the current Parliament. In addition, as my hon. Friend will know, through the Solent growth deal the Isle of Wight has benefited from nearly £15 million of investment to expand the skills base, support business growth and improve transport links.

Coastal areas in the north of England have been left behind for too long. We now know that the cost of Brexit to our economy will be the best part of 60 billion quid. Will the Chancellor commit himself to replacing the EU structural funding that gives coastal areas such as New Ferry, in my constituency, half a chance to make economic progress?

We have already made announcements about EU funding during the transition period, giving a Treasury guarantee to underwrite funding that is allocated to projects in the UK, so that people who bid for that funding can do so with confidence. However, as the hon. Lady suggests, after we leave the European Union we will need to review for England, and discuss with the devolved Administrations for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, how we are to replace the streams of EU funding to which many regions have become accustomed. We need to have a debate in the House to ensure that that funding is used in a way that reflects the UK’s priority in the future, not the priority of the wider European Union.

Selsey Bill, in my constituency, is a special case, but the best thing that can be done for coastal areas is to secure stronger growth throughout the economy. Mario Draghi has suggested that UK growth would be lower if, as a consequence of Brexit, the UK economy were less open to trade and investment. Does the Chancellor agree that both the UK and the EU benefit from an open economy, and that, if the European Central Bank is worried about a Brexit shock to the eurozone, he can and should be lobbying EU leaders to press for a high degree of mutual market access in the Brexit negotiations?

Absolutely, Mr Speaker. I agree with Mario Draghi that a reduction in openness would be very bad for the economy of Selsey Bill, and my right hon. Friend is right to draw attention to that. I entirely agree that the best way for the Government to protect the UK’s economy is to argue for the most open possible trading relationship with the European Union after we leave.

The coastal communities of Cumbria were deeply affected by Storm Desmond last December. The River Kent, which meets the sea at Morecambe bay, is one of Britain’s fastest-flowing and shortest rivers, and when it flooded last December, untold damage was caused to communities and the economy throughout the county. In last week’s autumn statement, the Government went back on their word from last December to fund the resilience of bridges to help prevent future flooding. Will the Chancellor apologise to the flood-hit communities of Cumbria for that betrayal, and, even at this late stage, will he change his mind?

We did announce funds for flood resilience in the autumn statement, distributed from money that had already been set aside for that purpose in the spending review. I did not mention Cumbria specifically in the autumn statement, but I will look at the case that the hon. Gentleman has raised, and will write to him.

I welcome my right hon. Friend’s announcements of the various sums, and may I suggest that the sums the Government have put aside for coastal defence are critical for places such as Whitstable, in my constituency, for generating economic as well as social confidence among the people who live there?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right and of course flood defences are categorised as economic infrastructure precisely because they are a critical enabler of business activity and are critical to protect transport, communications, infrastructure and so on, and we will continue to invest in them.

It is about time we heard from this Government about support for our coastal economies because we have just seen, in last week’s autumn statement, a catalogue of six and a half years of abject failure, whether on infrastructure, skills or support for businesses. The coastal communities of Formby and Crosby in my constituency need to hear a lot more from the Chancellor. They need support now and in the future.

If the hon. Gentleman had been listening, what he would have heard last week was a catalogue of 2.7 million new jobs created over the last six and a half years, a deficit inherited from Labour at a peacetime record high slashed by two-thirds, a million new jobs created in the UK, record employment levels and 865,000 fewer workless households, all of which will have made an important contribution to improving living standards and prospects in coastal communities throughout the UK.