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Industrial Strategy: Cross-Border Working

Volume 637: debated on Wednesday 14 March 2018

8. What steps the Government are taking to ensure that the growth corridors set out in the industrial strategy facilitate cross-border working. (904281)

Members across this House recognise that economic activity is not constrained by administrative borders. A perfect demonstration of that is the closeness of the economies of north-east Wales and the north-west of England, supported by the northern powerhouse and the Mersey Dee Alliance. I was delighted to see that growth corridors were formally recognised in the industrial strategy and we will continue to develop these for the benefit of the 50% of the Welsh people who live within 25 miles of the border.

Wales has great access to my constituency thanks to the M4, but has my hon. Friend considered improving connectivity to the south of England by building the M31, for example, which would link the M3 to the M4, and possibly beyond, with the economic benefits that that would bring for everyone?

I completely agree: we recognise that connectivity—particularly cross-border connectivity—is incredibly important. The Department for Transport is gathering evidence at the moment to inform the second road investment strategy, and I hope that my hon. Friend will put a bid forward.

Bristol has been very successful in attracting financial services to its economy. Now that the tolls on the M4 toll bridge are coming down, what opportunity does Wales have to create a financial services powerhouse from Cardiff and Swansea?

As the hon. Gentleman will know, Cardiff already enjoys a centre of excellence in finance. The fact that the tolls are going on the bridge will make that opportunity even more available, and we will do everything we can to make sure that it benefits in every way it can.

May I tell my hon. Friend that I had a meeting with commercial property people on Monday? They were telling me that the electrification of the rail line to Swansea is having no effect whatever on investment. What is having an effect is the lowering of tolls on the Severn crossing.

Exactly. We should be talking up the benefits of the investment that is happening in our rail infrastructure to bring about growth for cities such as Swansea. It is disappointing to hear negative comments when we really should be pushing the opportunities that exist for the city.

There are 7 million residents in north-west England and nearly 700,000 in north Wales. Priming and connecting the two economies makes absolute sense. The issue is funding—money. Welsh Governments have already committed hundreds of millions of pounds to these improvements. What new additional funding have this Government committed to date?

As the hon. Gentleman knows, we have given more moneys to the Welsh Assembly under the new settlement, but I completely recognise that the cross-border activity in north Wales and the north-west of England is incredibly important. That is why I was pleased to meet representatives from the all-party group the other day. We are looking at some of the rail investment that is needed, particularly the Halton curve and the Wrexham-Bidston line.