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Ayrshire Growth Deal

Volume 619: debated on Thursday 19 January 2017

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the House do now adjourn.—(Guy Opperman.)

This evening’s debate could not be more important to the good people of Ayrshire. As everyone at home and everyone in the Chamber can see, it is also very important to the MPs from across Scotland who have turned out to show their support for the Ayrshire growth deal. The Ayrshire growth deal is of huge importance to re-energising of the economy of the whole county of Ayrshire. The whole of Ayrshire, including the part I represent, has quite breathtaking natural beauty in parts. However, no one would deny that it also has its challenges.

The Ayrshire growth deal, should it secure the necessary support from the UK Government, would represent a step-change in economic growth and the economic prospects of Ayrshire. The Scottish Government are already supportive, but UK Government support, and the value it can bring cannot and must not be underestimated. Indeed, the entire Ayrshire growth deal depends on support from the UK Government.

Targeting the costed £359.8 million of investment would support a number of exciting projects, and generate and stimulate real, lasting and inclusive economic growth. The Scottish Government are enthusiastic and I understand—correctly, I hope—that the UK Government are receptive to it as well. I am keen tonight for the Minister to articulate his Government’s support for this bold, ambitious, innovative and transformative vision for the whole of Ayrshire. The feedback from the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy has been most encouraging and I understand that the Secretary of State for Scotland has also expressed his support for this initiative. I am therefore both lobbying and urging the Minister today to do all he can to ensure that on the day of the spring Budget, 8 March, the Ayrshire growth deal is firmly on the UK Government’s agenda. There is no doubt that on the Scottish National party Benches and across the whole county of Ayrshire there is a collective will to maximise the considerable and significant economic potential of this particularly picturesque part of Scotland.

We all know that in the past such growth deals have focused on cities. However, I sense that there is some interest in seeing how such an initiative would work on a diverse county such as Ayrshire, with its mix of urbanisation, towns, rural elements and two islands. Ayrshire is a diverse county with so much to offer. There is no doubt that stimulated growth would be repaid, as it would do much to re-energise, galvanise and revitalise the considerable untapped potential of the Ayrshire economy.

I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this very important debate for our area. She rightly says that to date the Government have focused on city deals. City deals certainly have a place and we welcome the investment they have brought to Scotland. However, in terms of connectivity and distance between cities, there is no doubt that another approach needs to be undertaken to regenerate areas like Ayrshire, which have suffered from de-industrialisation.

I was looking today at the latest unemployment figures: 1,960 in my constituency of Kilmarnock and Loudoun, the 76th highest claimant rate by constituency; 1,745 in Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock; 1,635 in Central Ayrshire; and 2,185 in North Ayrshire and Arran, the 29th highest claimant rate by constituency. It is therefore really important that a new way is found to re-industrialise our area.

The figures my hon. Friend quotes paint their own picture of the challenges faced by the entire county of Ayrshire. I am sure the Minister was listening keenly and will take them on board.

For Ayrshire to truly reach its potential, it is essential to reduce inequalities across communities and give everyone a stake in Ayrshire’s growth. Therefore, inclusive growth is, and must be, an integral part of the Ayrshire growth deal business case. A successful economy must ensure that all the talents of our people are harnessed, which will help Ayrshire to be truly competitive and resilient to emerging technologies and challenges. We must work to ensure that Ayrshire folk are better connected to the economy, and have better and greater opportunities to prosper. I believe, and all MPs on the SNP Benches believe, that the Ayrshire growth deal provides a compelling route towards achieving that. We have so many resources and successes in Ayrshire to build upon, with our aerospace and space industry, life sciences and manufacturing.

As well as the beauty that my hon. Friend has mentioned, we also have incredible potential. Even in my small part of Ayrshire, we have life sciences at one end and at the other an airport that not only was Scotland’s first passenger airport but has the potential to be the UK’s first spaceport, with its long runway, its clear weather and an air traffic control centre and aerospace cluster. We have the pieces of marble in the grass; we just need help to put them on top of each other.

My hon. Friend has well articulated the importance of the spaceport to Ayrshire and the opportunities it would bring to build on that to spread and attract growth to Ayrshire.

In addition, we can enhance Ayrshire’s beautiful coast and capitalise on the considerable opportunities that Ayrshire’s harbours and ports provide. Indeed, proposed projects are well placed to feed into the delivery of national tourism strategies, such as marine tourism. This is an area in which there is great potential for growth in Ayrshire, but the infrastructure to make it possible is essential, alongside opportunities for the provision of land for the development of new housing.

I am particularly excited about the coastal regeneration of Ardrossan. Investment of about £22 million will deliver a transformation of the port as a regional transport interchange, serving south-west Scotland. Ardrossan is Scotland’s largest and busiest ferry terminal and is well placed to play a key role in delivering wider benefits to communities and businesses across Ayrshire. The prize is a port that will serve and promote a range of opportunities—cruising, leisure, marine tourism, waterfront residential—as well as improving lifeline services to the Isle of Arran, which I believe will continue to be served by the port of Ardrossan.

My hon. Friend the Member for Central Ayrshire (Dr Whitford) mentioned the exciting project for the establishment of a spaceport at Prestwick airport. Estimates from the Spaceport UK report of 2014 show that a spaceport has the potential cumulatively to realise a baseline of £320 million of additional economic activity.

The vision is also for Ayrshire to be recognised as a centre of excellence for digital skills. This can be done by developing—indeed transforming—the use of digital technology in schools, weaving technology through the teaching and learning process. Ayrshire’s Connected Classroom initiative is a recognition that digital is a key enabler of science, technology, engineering and mathematics —the so-called STEM subjects—and aims to ensure that our young people are well prepared for our increasingly digital world. Such a digitally savvy generation will support the exciting potential of Ayrshire’s space industry and aerospace innovation district.

The digital connectivity initiative is a fantastic scheme giving every kid in Ayrshire from the age of three to 18 the highest level of digital connectivity. It is a welcome ambition and will help to close the skills and productivity gaps, as those young people move into the workforce, and the aim of a 40% higher entry level into the digital workforce is laudable. Just yesterday, I was reading an EU Commission report saying that the UK has 5,000 such skills vacancies but that this figure is predicted to rise to 161,000. So such an initiative could open up opportunities across the entire UK.

Indeed, it could. The importance of upskilling our population cannot be underestimated when we are talking about inclusive economic growth.

North Ayrshire schools have the third-highest rates of positive outcomes for school leavers in Scotland. By continuing to ensure that our transitions from school are robust and continue to develop, Ayrshire is well placed to meet changing economic challenges, and this will enable our communities to become more prosperous, ambitious and vibrant. The UK’s medicine industry is one of the leading manufacturing sectors, with exports worth more than £22 billion. The medicines manufacturing innovation centre is a national innovation centre for the life sciences and pharmaceutical industries, and north Ayrshire is shortlisted to host it. Infrastructure funding secured through the Ayrshire growth deal would go a long way to seeing it constructed in Ayrshire’s i3 investment park in Irvine before too long. Ayrshire has so much to offer. All Members, including the Minister, are invited to sample some of its delights, both in the gastronomic sense and in the context of business potential.

I am lucky enough to have some fantastic drinks companies in my constituency, including the company that produces Hendrick’s gin, and Caledonian Bottlers and Ayr Brewing Company, as well as wonderful food suppliers such as We Hae Meat, Barwheys Dairy, Chocolati and Roundsquare Roastery, which roasts coffee beans. In fact, there are too many to mention. Does my hon. Friend agree that the growth deal would give a welcome and much-needed boost to Ayrshire, which would include the food and drink sector?

Indeed. One of Ayrshire’s real selling points, and one of the reasons why so many tourists go there—apart from the fantastic scenery and the lovely people—is the provision of gastronomic delights, some of which my hon. Friend has just mentioned. However, I would not want the Minister to think that it was just about the alcohol. We have so much more to offer—although the alcohol does go down well too.

The event at which the gastronomic delights that the Minister, and indeed all Members, are invited to sample will take place on 8 February. It will be hosted by all four Ayrshire Members, and what it will show—if, indeed, it needs to be shown to those who have not yet been lucky enough to visit the county—is that Ayrshire is one of the most productive agricultural regions in the United Kingdom, which is well known for its outstanding and award-winning food and drink produce. It is home not just to a range of dairy, beef and seafood suppliers, but to world-renowned farmhouse cheese makers, ice cream producers, bakers, brewers, smokehouses, chocolatiers, and, of course, all the businesses that my hon. Friend mentioned.

Yes, indeed.

Perhaps it is because of the presence of all the businesses that might supply the gastronomic feast that we could put in front of you in Ayrshire, Madam Deputy Speaker, that the town of Dalry, in my constituency, houses a very well-respected Michelin-starred restaurant, which I recommend to you.

Ultimately, the Ayrshire growth deal is about people. It is about removing barriers to employment, upskilling our workforce to address the issue of low pay, and promoting apprenticeships.

I am sure my hon. Friend agrees that we have an additional strength. The three separate campuses belonging to Ayrshire College work closely with our local employers in the aerospace and food and drink sectors to ensure that the young people training in those sectors—along with other young people from the senior sections of our schools—have access to the same equipment and materials that they would use professionally. It is a great relationship: the college is delivering the skills that local industry needs.

Absolutely. That is an excellent point. I think that the other colleges in the United Kingdom should note the links between Ayrshire College and local employers. That delivery to young people of the skills that employers say they need and that are in short supply is second to none. The college has won many accolades—far too many for me to mention to the Minister today—for its work in this sphere, and in several others as well.

Ayrshire College recently opened a £53 million new campus in Kilmarnock. It is a fantastic facility, and it is all about getting people ready to go into the workplace. It has been built on the site of the former Johnnie Walker bottling plant; that iconic industry has been lost to the town. As part of the growth deal, the HALO project is expected to achieve the final regeneration of the entire site. It is predicted that the project will generate nearly 1,000 jobs, and it is shovel-ready. That is another fantastic aspect of the Ayrshire growth deal: some projects come out of the ground very quickly, and we see real results within a very short time.

I thank my hon. Friend for making that point. As the Minister will be well aware, economic growth creates more economic growth: it creates its own dynamic. If we secure this investment, Ayrshire will grow from a flower into a tree. [Interruption.] That was very poetic; I may represent some of the parts of the country that Robert Burns was familiar with, but I do not have his skill in that regard.

We want to remove the barriers to employment, to upskill our workforce to address the issue of low pay, to promote apprenticeships, linking them with schools and investing in our schools and local colleges, and to support local companies with the greatest ambitions for growth. We also want to attract new inward investment, to deliver on key infrastructure projects such as the Dalry bypass—which is very close to starting—to improve connectivity, to improve public transport, and to improve digital connectivity by investing in the roll-out of superfast broadband.

I am very pleased that we have secured this debate on the Ayrshire growth deal in the Chamber of the House of Commons. I am delighted that, as far as I have been able to establish, this is the first time Ayrshire has been centre-stage in the House of Commons. I am proud that my colleagues have, with me, set out the ambitious plans for Ayrshire—our bold vision which requires what is, in the scheme of things, quite a modest £359.8 million of investment, which will of course be in partnership with the Scottish Government and local authorities. I am delighted that the UK Government are engaged in this debate and I hope that, with this investment forthcoming, Ayrshire can enjoy inclusive growth and her greatest asset—her people—can reach their true potential.

If I may be permitted to have another bash at the poetry, I will add that, relative to what it is now, as much as it is now, the Ayrshire growth deal could awaken what may be called the economic sleeping giant of Ayrshire. Wonderful as this part of the country is, it could be—and I hope, with the UK Government’s help, it will be—so much more.

The Ayrshire growth deal seeks to create a virtuous circle of growth: growth in business leading to growth in employment, and growth in individual household prosperity—and, as a benefit from that, growth in health outcomes. I urge the Minister to support it, and I urge the Chancellor of the Exchequer to offer support to Ayrshire’s growth deal when he delivers his deliberations in his spring statement on 8 March. I urge him to work with us—the four Ayrshire MPs—the three Ayrshire local authorities, and the Scottish Government.

This vision is a partnership of the best in the private and public sectors and represents key stakeholders in Ayrshire. It represents the local knowledge of Ayrshire College, the University of the West of Scotland, and the Ayrshire chamber of commerce, which has been fused with the national expertise of Scottish Enterprise, Skills Development Scotland, the Scottish Futures Trust and the Scottish Council for Development and Industry. We are all working together for the good of Ayrshire and her people. I ask that the UK Government in their spring statement join in with and support that work and invest in the county and the people of Ayrshire.

I congratulate the hon. Member for North Ayrshire and Arran (Patricia Gibson) on securing this debate. She spoke so well for her constituency and area that I felt like I was sitting through a 20-minute commercial from the Ayrshire tourist board, if there is such a thing, for the picturesque and beautiful area she has the honour to represent. I certainly found the gastronomic delights very interesting.

I am aware that the hon. Lady raised this matter in Treasury oral questions earlier this week and has recently written to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland on the matter. She has clearly been working hard for her constituents in raising this matter at every possible opportunity, and I congratulate her on that. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland has asked me to answer this debate today.

As the hon. Lady and the House will know, the UK Government are committed to ensuring that all parts of the country have the tools to grow their local economies. As such, I am pleased that we now have the city deal that has been referred to, which is either in progress or in pre-negotiation for each and every one of Scotland’s seven cities. That is important. It was mentioned earlier, but I want to reiterate it. No other part of the United Kingdom has achieved that. Every one of Scotland’s seven cities now either has a city deal in progress or has one in pre-negotiation. That is an indication of the UK Government’s commitment to ensuring that all parts of the country have the tools to grow their local economies.

In Scotland, such deals are tripartite, meaning that the arrangements involve the UK Government, the Scottish Government and the local area in which they are active. Since 2014, the UK Government have worked well in partnership with the Scottish Government to agree three ambitious city deals, which cover the Glasgow city region, the Aberdeen city region, and Inverness and the highlands. It is worth noting that local leaders in those three areas believe that, once fully implemented, the deals will unlock significant new investment in Scotland. At the 2016 Budget, the UK Government committed to opening city deal negotiations with Edinburgh and south-east Scotland and those negotiations are now in progress. At the autumn statement, the UK Government similarly committed to opening negotiations with Stirling and Clackmannanshire and the Tay cities. Our priority now is to take forward this significant body of work, in partnership with the Scottish Government and all the relevant local authorities. Following the autumn statement, I am pleased to confirm that the Scottish Government will have more than £800 million of additional capital funding through to 2020-21 to support such proposals.

There is interest in other areas for further deals. It is of course open to the Scottish Government, given their devolved responsibility for economic development and using the significant resources available to them, to take forward projects to enable growth in places such as Ayrshire—that beautiful area—if they wish to do so. It is important to emphasise that the Scottish Government do have devolved responsibility for economic development. Significant resources are available to them—those resources have been increasing—enabling them to take forward projects, such as the one to which the hon. Lady refers, and to support growth in areas such as Ayrshire.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for North Ayrshire and Arran (Patricia Gibson) on securing this debate and on speaking so passionately. The Minister will be aware that my constituency is one of the areas that is currently under discussion. Industrial areas such as mine and Ayrshire were damaged beyond recognition under the previous Conservative Government, so it is absolutely incumbent on him and his colleagues to ensure that those wrongs are righted by deals such as the one proposed for Ayrshire.

I do not accept that characterisation. It is important to note that employment in North Ayrshire and Arran is up by 1,100 over the past year and by 300 overall since 2010, so things are clearly moving in the right direction.

The Minister is correct to talk about the importance of city deals, but is it fair that communities that do not happen to be part of a big city are left to suffer without UK Government support? He was quite right to mention the Scottish Government, which are on board and doing all they can, but I said in my speech—I know he was listening—that UK Government support is essential here. Is Ayrshire to be punished simply because, through an accident of geography, it does not happen to be part of a city?

The hon. Lady clearly represents a picturesque rural area, but she will no doubt recognise that the United Kingdom Government have provided very significant support to large conurbations, to city areas, by way of the city deals, which we use as an example of the Westminster Government’s support for such areas. The proof of the pudding is in the eating, and the city deals are an example of the Government’s support. This option is open to the Scottish Government, who have devolved responsibility for economic development. There is no rationale for disregarding the fact that the Scottish Government, wishing to have that devolved responsibility, do have it and can use the very significant resources available to them.

I had hoped that this would be a consensual debate and that we would talk about working together. We are hoping to achieve another tripartite agreement involving the UK Government, the Scottish Government and local councils, but that is not the message that we are hearing, which is a bit disappointing. Many of our Ayrshire communities have been devastated by the loss of open-cast coal mining, particularly in my constituency and in that of my hon. Friend the Member for North Ayrshire and Arran (Patricia Gibson). The UK Government did not contribute anything to the restoration of those mines, so I hope that they can work with the Scottish Government to provide money for this growth deal.

The United Kingdom Government are working with the Scottish Government in myriad different ways, and I could give many examples of positive developments in those areas. For our part, in addition to working to deliver the seven city deals across Scotland, we will look at this proposal in the context of wider UK Government policy, including the industrial strategy and the national productivity investment fund.

That leads exactly to my point. In the meeting that I secured between the four of us and the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, the Secretary of State seemed particularly interested in the deal, as a non-city deal. We have three large towns but no city in Ayrshire, and there is therefore potential to learn from projects and ideas that could be shared elsewhere. Ayrshire is way up the left-hand end of the gross value added scale. All the cities that have deals are starting from a better position than Ayrshire. We have pockets of absolute rural and urban deprivation.

We want to look at all these issues, and I have said that the Ayrshire growth deal is being looked at in the context of UK Government policy, including the industrial strategy and the national productivity investment fund. The Secretary of State for Scotland went to Ayrshire just a few months ago—in June 2016, I think—and my noble Friend Lord Dunlop is due to go. The industrial strategy is due to be published shortly, after which the United Kingdom Government will want to consider carefully how it sits alongside the asks being made by the partners in Ayrshire, and by others, so that we can help to deliver the economic benefits that such proposals represent.

The hon. Member for North Ayrshire and Arran spoke eloquently about the area she has the honour to represent. We are due to publish the industrial strategy shortly, and as the United Kingdom Government we will be considering carefully how it sits alongside the asks being made by others, including in Ayrshire. Every consideration will be given to this matter so that we can help to deliver the economic benefits that such proposals represent.

Question put and agreed to.

House adjourned.