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Mayors: Economic Growth

Volume 630: debated on Monday 30 October 2017

I have met or corresponded with every metro Mayor in England during the last month. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is the midlands engine champion, and he chairs an inter-ministerial group to drive forward its growth.

Does the Minister agree that one of the vital roles to be played by elected Mayors, such as Andy Street in the west midlands, is to focus on skills—particularly in areas such as the Black country, where we have a lot of young people without basic skills—to make sure that young people can take the opportunities and the jobs that are out there and drive economic growth?

As my hon. Friend is aware, Andy Street is already playing a vital role in tackling the skills gap. My hon. Friend will also be aware that we are devolving the adult education skills budget from 2019 to support all our metro Mayors as they drive forward skills in their area.

The Government’s devolution to city region Mayors has been a real success in the west midlands. Last month, Andy Street announced £2.1 million for the region’s creative and technology industries. Does my hon. Friend agree that devolution can bring only prosperity, jobs and a bright future to the people of my constituency and across Walsall?

I agree with my hon. Friend that Andy Street is a prime example of how the leadership and accountability of metro Mayors drive forward our country’s economy. Only this month, he approved a bike-sharing scheme in the west midlands. Move over, Boris bikes; it is time for Street cycles.

Does the Minister support the innovative work of Andy Street to boost the number of houses in the west midlands—absolutely key to economic growth—by intensifying the use of urban areas to take pressure off our green belt, particularly around Solihull?

The Mayor of the west midlands, Andy Street, is determined to build the houses we need. We are supporting development across our country through the £2.3 billion housing infrastructure fund, and the outcome of the bidding process will be available shortly.

The CBI, the Federation of Small Businesses, the TUC and many of the Minister’s colleagues in local government believe that there is a very strong economic case for a devolved settlement for One Yorkshire. When the Minister whiles away the wee hours working through his ministerial box, does he ever think that he might be on the wrong side of this argument?

The Government have been absolutely clear, not least in the letter from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State on 15 September, that we will not undermine or unpick the South Yorkshire devolution deal, which, after all, was legislated for by this House of Commons. However, I acknowledge that the hon. Gentleman and I have held recent discussions, which have been extremely helpful. We have also been clear that completion of the South Yorkshire deal does not preclude any other devolution discussions across Yorkshire.

I am pleased that responsibility for the health and work programme has been devolved in Greater Manchester to the metropolitan Mayor, Andy Burnham, but may I ask the Minister whether the funding that has been made available—£52 million, including European structural fund money—will be continued beyond the period of the SF funding, with the Government making good that money? Will responsibility for the programme continue to be devolved to the Manchester Mayor?

The Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham—[Interruption.] We have to give Labour Members something to cheer about, don’t we? He is doing an exceptional job in driving forward Manchester and its economy. The hon. Lady will be aware that a recent guarantee was put in place for all European funding. What happens after that guarantee is ultimately a matter for this House.

Far from being devolution to the street, this is more like a devolution cul-de-sac. Is it not the truth—[Interruption.] The Secretary of State can learn something from this. Is it not the truth that devolution has stalled? That is bad news for those with devolved settlements, but it is worse news for the 32 million people in England who do not have any devolution settlement whatever. When can we expect to see the framework for devolution in England?

Some 33% of England now has an elected Mayor, and it is the Conservative party that is returning power back from London to our regions. Unlike the Labour party, which just wants to nationalise and centralise everything, I can say, like Citizen Smith, “Power to the people!”

It is clear from what the Minister says that Andy Street is doing a grand job in the west midlands, but what about areas that do not have elected Mayors? Will the Minister assure me that they will be considered when the Government look at further devolution projects? We urgently need one in northern Lincolnshire.

The Government’s manifesto committed to provide clarity about what devolution means for different administrations across England by setting out a clear devolution framework. As we set out the next steps on our industrial strategy, this is exactly what we intend to do, as well as clarifying things like town deals for places such as Grimsby.

Bristol is the only city outside London to make a net contribution to GDP, but we need money to invest in infrastructure if we are to make the most of that economic contribution. We now have a bid in for £250 million from the housing infrastructure fund. May I urge the Minister and the Secretary of State, who is very familiar with Bristol and the needs of the city, to look at that seriously, because the only way we can unlock the investment is to have that money?

The Mayor of the West of England, Tim Bowles, has worked closely with the Government in bringing forward his housing infrastructure fund bid. As I said in answer to an earlier question, decisions about that fund will be made shortly.