I beg to move,
That this House has considered promoting economic growth in the East of England.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies. The purpose of this debate is to highlight the enormous economic potential of the east of England and to put forward proposals for promoting growth, which can benefit people right across the region. In the past, East Anglians have perhaps been slow to come forward. We have hidden our light under a bushel, and thus the region has not secured the investment in infrastructure that is needed to transform what is already a highly successful economic region into a global leader. It is important that we now cast aside such shyness.
As we look beyond Brexit, the UK must strive to be the leader in a variety of fields. The east of England can help secure this goal, whether it is in the clean energy, agri-food, life sciences or information and communications technology sectors. The catalyst for this debate was the formation last December of the east of England all-party parliamentary group, which the hon. Member for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner) and I co-chair, and which last month launched its Budget submission, “Building together the foundations of more productivity, prosperity and inclusivity in the East of England”. Much of what I will say is based on the proposals set out in that publication.
What is the east of England? In some respects, it is an area without boundaries. It includes the counties of Suffolk and Norfolk as well as Cambridgeshire and what used to be Huntingdonshire, and it extends to parts of Essex and Hertfordshire, though owing to the post-war growth of London, it does not reach as far south as it used to. From the Minister’s perspective, I fear it does not include Watford—its inclusion would enable the region to claim a premiership football team, as the Town and the Canaries currently flounder.
The region is relatively flat—it is often described as the bread bowl of England—and made up of attractive villages and countryside, interspersed with popular market towns and larger towns and cities such as Cambridge, Norwich, Ipswich, Colchester, Peterborough and, on its southern boundaries, Chelmsford.
My hon. Friend is a fine bastion of our region and I congratulate him on securing this debate. The east of England is beautiful, but if we want to encourage tourism, people have to be able to get there. Does he agree that one of the fundamental challenges is our rail network in the eastern region?
My hon. Friend is spot on: infrastructure and communications, whether road, railway or digital, are hugely important to the region’s future. I shall briefly touch on that, and I am quite sure my colleagues will do likewise.
The east of England APPG held its inaugural meeting on 13 December 2017, when we were addressed by Lord Heseltine, who emphasised the need to think strategically and to consider how best to manage and spread economic growth across the whole region for the benefit of all people. The Budget submission has been supported and endorsed not just by MPs, but by business, local government and local enterprise partnerships. Signatories include British Sugar, Stansted Airport, AstraZeneca, Anglian Water, James Palmer, who is the Mayor of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, the Haven Gateway Partnership, the New Anglia local enterprise partnership, the Hertfordshire local enterprise partnership and the East of England Local Government Association.
In arriving at our recommendations, we held evidence sessions and considered a range of innovative ideas as to how to promote and sustain economic growth, including proposals from Lord Adonis; Councillor David Finch, who is the leader of Essex County Council; and Mayor James Palmer, who is working up plans for much-needed infrastructure improvements through land value capture. The recommendations that we are putting forward should be regarded not as a wish list, but instead as a new way of working and getting things done—business and Government, both national and local, working together to secure investment that ensures the whole of the east of England realises its full potential.
It is important to highlight the enormous economic potential in the east of England. We are one of the fastest-growing regions, in terms of both population and economy. With a population of 6.1 million, the region is growing rapidly at a pace that is second only to London. In 2016, the east of England was one of just three UK regions to contribute more in tax than it received in public moneys. Despite this, public expenditure in the region was £8,155 per capita in 2017, which is less than the UK average of £9,159.
We are a frontrunner in attracting business. In 2017, the east of England saw the largest increase in business numbers of all UK regions. We are at the forefront of global excellence in innovation. The region is a centre for nationally and internationally recognised expertise in sectors such as life sciences, ICT, agri-tech and low-carbon energy supply. The corridor from Cambridge to Milton Keynes and Oxford has the potential to be the UK’s Silicon Valley. We are a jobs powerhouse—total employment is expected to rise by 7% over the next 15 years—and we complement and enhance the position of London as a world city.
Significant investment is already taking place in the east of England. By 2020, all trains in the area served by Greater Anglia will be brand-new, not second-hand hand-me-downs from other regions. Some £1.5 billion is being spent on removing what is probably the worst road bottleneck in the whole country: the A14 between Huntingdon and Cambridge. A further £300 million is being spent on schemes along the A47 from Peterborough to Lowestoft. The Norwich northern distributor road is open, and vital new bridges are being built in Great Yarmouth and Lowestoft—the latter is in my constituency.
There is a need to join up the dots and to think strategically, so that the whole region can benefit from those investments. There are also challenges that are best met at regional level, such as climate change and water resource management. We are not only a very dry region but a low-lying one, with a coast where the battle with rising sea levels has been raging for millennia. The recommendations in the APPG report provide the foundations to promote growth in three areas: transport, infrastructure and industrial strategy. I shall briefly go through them.
With regard to transport, we recommend that the
“Government should support England’s Economic Heartland and Transport East—the region’s two sub-national transport bodies—to become statutory bodies.”
By doing so, we will be better able to prioritise, fund and then deliver road, rail and air transport improvements.
“councils should have greater discretionary powers to encourage housing delivery…Further action is recommended to free-up finances to build affordable homes at scale”
through a variety of measures, including
“relaxing Housing Revenue Account borrowing…Ministers should explore innovative funding options that could help deliver infrastructure to enable new housing, either by direct council investment or by leveraging in other funding…Government should facilitate greater cooperation between developers, infrastructure providers, and local planning authority providers to improve housing delivery.”
The importance of digital connectivity cannot be overestimated. The need for a full fibre network to all homes and businesses across the whole region is incredibly important. It is an absolute must, if the region is to compete globally post Brexit. If necessary, greater powers should be granted to Ofcom to ensure that commercial operators do not just concentrate on the larger urban areas.
With regard to our regional industrial strategy, we should be focusing on our flagship industries: life sciences, agri-tech, ICT and clean energy. If necessary, Ofcom should be granted greater powers to ensure that commercial operators do not concentrate just on the larger urban areas. Our regional industrial strategy should tackle the productivity gap, which is a particular problem for the region. The local enterprise partnerships are key to developing and enacting an effective industrial strategy for the region, because local private and public sector leaders best understand the region’s opportunities and challenges and are best placed to co-ordinate the promotion of the various sectors to ensure consistency. The education strategy should focus on helping local people to develop transferrable and adaptable skills.
I have sought to provide a framework, albeit in an outline form, for promoting and spreading growth across the east of England. There is a great deal of flesh to put on the bones, and I anticipate that colleagues will do that by highlighting the opportunities and constraints in their areas. Now is only the beginning of this campaign. There are many proposals in the APPG’s report, and they deserve careful thought and implementation. I ask the Minister to signpost the roadway that we need to go down to ensure that the east of England is a global leader and that we enhance productivity and increase prosperity for all those who live and work there.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies. I congratulate the hon. Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous) on securing the debate. We co-chair the all-party group, and he has excellently described the work it has done since it was inaugurated just over a year ago. It is truly cross-party. Although the issue of what defines the east is sometimes a matter for debate, I strongly believe that, given that sub-national transport bodies are emerging in other parts of the country, as well as in our own region, it is in our very best interests to work together in the east. That is particularly important, given its geographical proximity to London. Although the east is, by many measures, an affluent area, if the wealth generated by people commuting to London is taken out, the figures suddenly reflect what we actually see on the ground in much of the region: in many places, for many people, life is a daily struggle. I will use the old six-county definition of the east, which many of us still hold dear.
The east is indeed a net contributor to the UK economy and the Treasury, and its industries are world-leading. In my constituency of Cambridge, we have life sciences and tech—I do not need to rehearse the arguments. However, the region is not without its challenges, which were outlined very effectively in the Budget submission. There is a need for more housing, given that so many are priced out of it. Just last week, it was shown that my city of Cambridge is one of the most expensive places for young people in the ratio between income and rent, and buying is almost out of the question for most people. The need for improved transport and infrastructure is well known. We also have a future skills deficit, which risks causing employment growth to slow and eventually to reverse—and, indeed, possibly worse than that.
Those issues are very well explained in the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough independent economic review, which the Business Secretary and the Mayor of the combined authority launched in London yesterday. It was produced by a high-powered commission chaired by Dame Kate Barker, and its high-powered and knowledgeable commissioners include Lord Willetts and renowned telecoms entrepreneur David Cleevely from Cambridge. I hope Ministers will look closely at its work.
The review points out that, without the right tools to tackle these issues, employment growth in Cambridge could level off in the next couple of years, and there is the risk that it will go into reverse after 2031. Most people would find it surprising to learn that there is a danger that big businesses in the area may have to move away. The review’s conclusions are clear: future prosperity is not guaranteed, and if action on transport, housing, infrastructure and skills is not taken soon, there will be adverse effects not just for Cambridge or for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, but for the wider region and the whole of the UK economy.
The review rightly highlights the need to spread wealth more fairly and protect all that makes areas such as Cambridge so special for people. That is a very important point. It is about not just the traditional measure of growth—just more—but doing things better, being more productive and improving the quality of life for everyone. Our skilled workforce has been the driving factor in Cambridgeshire’s success in recent years, but given that our future relationship with the EU is uncertain, a failure to make the right investment in skills and infrastructure could cause internationally focused businesses to look elsewhere.
I have inevitably emphasised Cambridge so far, but those lessons hold good for much of the rest of the region. I believe that cities will be the driver within the region, but their relationship with the rural—or, perhaps more accurately, semi-rural—areas and market towns is vital. Skills and labour will be essential in our future relationship with the EU, not least because the agricultural sector relies so heavily on seasonal workers.
Transport is a huge issue, of course. The BBC’s Andrew Sinclair recently pointed out that it can take as long to travel the 110 miles from Norwich to London as the 220 miles from London to Liverpool. We desperately need to unlock transport infrastructure across our region to improve our productivity.
There are things we can do. For instance, I am told that digital signalling on our rail network would cost about £1 billion, but the benefits to quality of life and increased productivity would pay that sum back many times over. It does not require building new lines and upsetting people all over the place; it is about using the existing capacity better. It is the same message again: we should improve productivity, not just of people but of assets. If we can improve our links from places such as Cambridge though Stansted to London, we will create vital connections to the wider world.
Although our councils are struggling horribly with underfunding at the moment—it is frankly a disgrace that Cambridgeshire County Council has been reduced to forcing staff to take unpaid leave at Christmas—our ask is slightly unique, in that it is not always for more funds. We want the means to raise our own revenue. I used my first speech in the House three and a half years ago to speak not about glamorous issues but about the slightly arcane subject of tax increment financing. That and land value capture, which the Mayor of the combined authority has argued for, could unlock the investment needed. It would not cost the Treasury. We are prepared to take on the risk. The benefit sharing scheme got so close to being approved by the Treasury, but it was killed. We just need the authority and the tools to get on with the job—to borrow a phrase—of opening up access to jobs, skills and housing.
The east is a region with enormous potential, but we are reaching the point at which business as usual is not enough. Future prosperity has to be earned, but it also has to be shared fairly. Many in the east are up for the challenge, but we need the Government to work with us.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous) on securing this debate, on his chairmanship, with the hon. Member for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner), of the east of England all-party parliamentary group, and on helping to put the east more firmly on the Government’s map.
My hon. Friend was absolutely right that the region has not always advocated our case for investment to the Government, and we have not always outlined the reasons why additional investment in the east would unlock a region that already helps to bring economic benefit to the country as a whole. The east is a net contributor to the UK economy. As the hon. Member for Cambridge said, additional support for our infrastructure, connectivity and digital economy will deliver benefits for the whole region, and will help to improve the growth and economic productivity, which will raise tax revenue for the whole country. That is a compelling argument for why the Treasury should support infrastructure projects in our region.
Before I touch on agriculture, food and drink, infrastructure—particularly the A12 and rail, which I am sure my right hon. Friend the Member for Witham (Priti Patel) will talk about later—and the importance of looking after the public sector at a time when we are seeing private sector growth in the east, it is important to reflect on the fact that unemployment in our region has come down over the past 10 years. Youth unemployment is at lows that we have not seen for more than 20 years—particularly in my part of Suffolk—and we are seeing more vocational training and apprenticeships. Those are all good things. We can also note that average wages across the east of England, particularly in Suffolk, are above the UK mean and median, which means that we live in a relatively affluent part of the country. There are still pockets of deprivation, as we are all aware, such as those in Lowestoft and Ipswich, which need particular attention.
Agriculture, food and drink is one of the drivers of the economies of Norfolk and Suffolk, and of parts of Cambridgeshire and north Essex. There are many national names in our counties that contribute to the UK economy. They are names that we can be proud of, such as Gressingham Duck, Aspall Cyder and Adnams brewery, to name but a few. However, our agricultural sector needs additional support from the Government for the development of land-based college training so that young people have opportunities in agriculture, food and drink. One area that I ask the Minister to look at is vocational training. Throughout the region, there has been a tremendous expansion in vocational training in agriculture, food and drink, particularly in light manufacturing, and we can be very proud of that. It is the driver of our economy, particularly in Norfolk and Suffolk, but we need more support for our land-based training colleges, such as Easton and Otley College, which can provide the next generation of agricultural and land-based apprentices, farm workers and people working in the food and drink industry that is so important to our region.
We recognise that the east of England—Suffolk in particular—has benefited from considerable Government support for infrastructure. We have support for the third crossing in Lowestoft that my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney has campaigned for so tirelessly, and, to alleviate traffic congestion in Ipswich, we have the promise of a bridge, for which the previous Member for Ipswich campaigned very hard.
We have also had additional investment, with the A11 being dualled, but the A12 is the “motorway”—although it is not actually a motorway—for entry to Essex, Norfolk and Suffolk. The Government have already indicated support for improvements to the A12 approaching Ipswich, but if there is a case for additional support and investment, it is the other stretch of the A12—between Ipswich and Lowestoft—which unlocks the energy gateway and energy coasts and needs considerable improvement. It is still a single-track road, which reduces the ability of new businesses to develop on the eastern coast of Suffolk. Investment in the A12 would both benefit tourism—another great driver of our economy—and help to unlock the energy coast, with the potential of Sizewell C, renewable energies and the many windfarms. I know all MPs here will strongly support that investment.
Finally, I will touch on investment in the sustainability of the public sector. If we want a thriving private sector in productivity and economic development, we need to look after our public sector. We have to recognise that in the east of England, we have challenges in retention and recruitment. Although there are national retention and recruitment challenges in some parts of the public sector, such as in the healthcare workforce, in the east of England we face particular challenges, with a shortage of GPs. Many GPs are approaching retirement age, which I believe is also true in parts of north Essex, and we need to recognise that challenge. We must also recognise that we have a shortage of nurses in some areas, and that to continue looking after the private sector, we need to invest in the public sector and support the east of England with financial incentives that will attract public sector workers.
That is also true of education in parts of our region; there are difficulties attracting teachers to some of our schools. If we want to maintain the engine room of our thriving and growing east of England economy, we have to recognise that the package that will attract families will also support teachers and other public sector professionals who relocate to the east of England, as well as looking after the many dedicated professionals who already work very hard there.
I hope the Minister has heard my plea about supporting vocational training and apprenticeships for the agricultural and land-based economy. If he is free, perhaps he could come and visit Easton and Otley College to see for himself some of the good work that goes on there.
It is an honour to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous) for securing this important debate. It is a pleasure to stand here and discuss how we can promote economic growth across the east of England. Clearly that is one of my priorities as the Member for Clacton—a place my hon. Friend probably only inadvertently left off his list of great towns of the east.
Nationally, our economy is growing. At last, we are beginning to say goodbye to austerity and are getting the country back on track. However, while national economic growth is without doubt welcome, some communities are being left behind. One such community is my constituency of Clacton. As we begin to discuss the future of our economy, we must ensure that no community is left behind. I was encouraged to hear the Prime Minister argue the same in her conference speech last week.
I am here today to offer my thoughts on how we can be more inclusive as the economy grows. By way of further context, in 2013 my local authority, Tendring District Council, published an excellent economic development strategy. But in its pages was the somewhat troubling assertion:
“While there are some excellent businesses and highly resourceful residents locally, the district’s economy is not performing as well as it could—employment, job numbers and business formation have…been static or shrinking in recent years.”
In a former life as the cabinet member for regeneration and inward investment at Tendring District Council, I saw at first hand how eager our council officers were to correct that situation. I also saw how support for businesses can pay tremendous dividends in terms of economic growth. As I have said in previous speeches on the economy, in that role I prided myself on being able to make cash grants of up to £150,000 available to businesses in, and coming to, Tendring, so that they could grow, flourish and create inward investment. Many businesses did flourish thanks to that funding from the SME growth fund, which I introduced—businesses such as Nantmor Blinds, based in Clacton-on-Sea, which received a grant to assist with the purchase of an auto louvre machine. It also enabled it to hire new staff. In its own words, Nantmor Blinds said it was
“blown away by Tendring District Council’s hard work and determination.”
To date, the SME growth fund in Tendring has supported businesses, created 20 full-time jobs and leveraged over £200,000 of private investment into the district. I am delighted to say that, thanks to that success, the scheme is being widened and extended to 2020.
Clearly, in my area local government support is truly there for businesses. I have no doubt that that is the case across the east of England. We must ensure that that continues and expands to national support. Nevertheless, and despite our enthusiasm, something continues to prevent businesses from really committing themselves, and the prosperity they bring, to Tendring. That obstacle, which has been mentioned before and will be mentioned again and again, is the quality of our local infrastructure. In my view, a country’s economy will only ever be as good as its roads, rails and ports, and we are no exception in that regard. I have often argued in this place—some might say far too often—that there is a need to improve the connection to overlooked areas such as the Clacton constituency. As a regular commuter myself, I know that it takes far too long for my constituents to travel to the capital and vice versa. I have said it before and I will say it again: the 69-mile journey often takes the best part of one hour and 40 minutes—that is nonsense. Without more investment in our local transport infrastructure, I believe that we will limit the incentive for people and businesses to move to our area. That would mean that my district would continue to be excluded from the strong national economic growth, which is an unacceptable outcome.
Moreover, as I have said before, if we are to do our bit to tackle the housing crisis, we must improve our transport infrastructure before any major new housing developments break ground. We are leading the way with our garden community developments. We simply cannot build more dwellings without first making it easy to occupy, live in and work from them. Investing more in transport would do that.
That is why I will continue to push my “70 in 60” campaign at every opportunity. It aims for the people of Clacton to be able to cover the nearly 70 miles to London in less than 60 minutes, which is not an unrealistic proposition when we look at similar rail services in the area. For example, commuters to Ipswich cover the journey in about 70 minutes, and let us not forget that people can travel the 52 miles from London to Colchester in 58 minutes, only to crawl the final 18 miles to Clacton in about half an hour—on a good day. That clearly has a lot to do with the quality of infrastructure between Colchester and Clacton, compared with the main line to Ipswich, so we should change that.
When we commit cash to infrastructure in such a way, businesses get excited and want to invest, thereby laying the foundations for future economic growth, and I have been shown that clearly by my past experience and conversations I have had as the Member of Parliament for Clacton. If we are to promote economic growth in the east of England, we must adopt the “infrastructure first” mantra everywhere and ensure that our region has the best transport links going.
I therefore welcome the formation of Transport East, a forum that now meets regularly. It will be the vehicle for the delivery of a collective vision for transport and wider infrastructure for all communities in the east of England. Its formation is certainly a positive step. It will lead to the creation of a truly joined-up transport network that does not exclude any of our communities from infrastructure improvements, which are a precursor of economic growth. The forum will also help us to secure vital investment in future infrastructure. I encourage the Government to engage with Transport East in whatever way they can.
To turn to the roads, I ask the Government to look favourably on the application for RIS2—second road investment strategy—funding for the new A120, which will reduce pressure on existing roads used by residents of the Clacton constituency. Improving that road, which runs across the east of England from Stansted airport to Harwich, would also help move goods more quickly and deliver a boost to the local economy. Furthermore, upgrading that strategically important road is an essential precursor to further unlocking Essex’s economic potential, along with the wider east of England region.
That brings me back to the point of the debate. The east of England is a unique region, with strong economic growth prospects, thanks to places such as Cambridge, Peterborough, Ipswich, Stansted airport, Luton airport, Harwich and Felixstowe, Colchester, Waveney, Southend-on-Sea and, of course, the sunshine coast of the Clacton constituency—I get them all in. However, if we do not have first-rate infrastructure, and cannot successfully and efficiently link those economic sub-units together, we will not get the best out of the east of England. We will therefore not maximise our economic potential, and certain communities will continue to be left behind.
To conclude, I return to the economic development strategy to which I referred earlier. Despite the troubling conclusions drawn about Tendring in 2013, it was also argued that the area has the potential for growth which could create thousands of jobs. Good will and hard work from our council has allowed us to start unlocking that potential, and I am proud of our record so far. Real and sustained investment in our infrastructure, however, would allow us to deliver such results quicker. I have no doubt that, in the same way, there will be no shortage of good will and hard work throughout the east of England. To match that, we must now ensure that good infrastructure is in place across the region. That is how we will promote economic growth for all communities in the east of England.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies, and to join the debate. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous) and all colleagues who have spoken on being strong advocates for the east of England. In so many areas, we have common ground. I agree 100% with many of the comments and points that have been made today.
We have heard that the economy of the east of England is vibrant and dynamic. It is an engine of economic growth that contributes enormously to the Exchequer. It delivers on housing and jobs, and we have pioneering industries and manufacturing bases, and quality research and innovation throughout the region, with global connections through ports and airports. We have a world-class array of institutions ranging from Cambridge University to Essex University and many other educational establishments, as well as our traditional industries, in particular agriculture, which we have heard about.
Cumulative economic growth figures for 2010 to 2016 show that, in terms of gross value added, the east of England region hit 13%, behind only London at 22% and the west midlands at 15%. In 2016, our region’s total GVA was £147 billion. The regional population of more than 6 million is also growing fast, at 8.9% for the decade to 2024—the fastest rate after London’s.
In the county that I represent as the Member of Parliament for Witham in Essex, we have first-class airports at Stansted and Southend, and the London Gateway, Tilbury and Harwich ports, which all offer world-class global trading connections. They are keen to expand and grow, not only as we leave the European Union, but to diversify what they do to boost global trade and to secure future growth and job creation.
Since 2010, the number of enterprises in Essex has risen by 25%, from 52,000 to 64,000. The county now contributes around £40 billion in GVA to the UK economy. Essex is highly aspirational and ambitious, and that is shown by the jobs being created. We have heard plenty about infrastructure today, and I want to touch on how vital it is not only to economic development, but to economic prosperity and growth in the region—that cannot be taken for granted. We have heard about public expenditure in the region, which is £1,000 per capita less than the UK average, and our infrastructure has suffered severe historic underfunding. That has to change. My hon. Friend the Member for Clacton (Giles Watling) touched on the issue of the A120. I agree with him 100%—we need that road investment to come fast.
On top of that is another awful conundrum. I have spent many debates in this Chamber talking about the A12, which we also heard about today, but the development scheme for that road is being delayed. Any delay costs money and jobs, while the congestion and extra business costs continue. The Government committed to widening the road between the Boreham and Marks Tey interchanges, but Colchester Borough Council caused delay by changing its housing and development proposals. That scheme needs to be actioned quickly, as does further widening up to the junctions north of Marks Tey.
We have touched on rail. The Great Eastern main line taskforce, which I chair, is all about a key infrastructure route that we absolutely need to invest in. A few years ago we proposed a package that could deliver £4.5 billion in economic benefits to the region, unlocking 50,000 new jobs. We need those urgent improvements.
We all welcome the new trains on the region’s railways, but they will clearly not be able to perform as well as they might unless we also get infrastructure investment in the track itself. Furthermore, does the right hon. Lady agree that one of the things holding back parts of our region is the extraordinary and anomalous cost of our rail tickets? Some parts of the region are some of the most expensive places anywhere in the country to get to by train per mile.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. Our constituents as rail passengers are paying some of the highest fares in the country, which also means that we are cross-subsidising other railway networks elsewhere, without reaping money that should be coming back into our own rail lines. That is exactly the purpose of the taskforce—to argue for that infrastructure investment.
Greater investment in digital and broadband has been touched on, so I will not cover that, but it is essential, in particular for connectivity in the rural economy. Instead, I shall end with some comments on fiscal measures, because the debate has come about as a pre-Budget discussion. We want to invest in key infrastructure to boost productivity and jobs, but the Government should also look at fiscal measures to support the economy not only in our region but throughout the economy. That means cutting the tax burden to unleash more job creation and to give entrepreneurs and investors more scope to invest.
More than 80% of my constituents work for SMEs. A worrying trend is politicians constantly looking to introduce tax rises to solve the country’s problems. The Government need to use the tax system to encourage and nurture the entrepreneurial spirit, instead of punishing entrepreneurs. We need to be much more dynamic about addressing that issue, as well as looking at business rate reform and support for our high streets and town centres—frankly, we are seeing their death. In a county that has two airports, we need to look at slashing air passenger duty; it is a cost that affects passengers as well as businesses. We could develop many more flight routes as we trade our way around the world post-Brexit.
Fundamentally, when we get to the Budget and the comprehensive spending review, we must review the tax burden on businesses and do everything possible to ensure that we support enterprise and growth across the east of England.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies. I congratulate the hon. Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous) on securing a debate on the important subject of our industrial strategy and economic growth in the east of England. As a Member of Parliament for a north-eastern constituency, I am intimately familiar with the challenges of regional economic growth, although a premiership football club can make a significant difference.
Exactly. As we heard, the east of England contributes nearly 10% of the UK’s gross value added and has experienced cumulative growth of 13% since 2010—slightly higher than average. It boasts enormous strengths, from world-leading science and innovation to agriculture and food production, as was highlighted by the hon. Member for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich (Dr Poulter). With the right support, the region can continue to thrive and contribute to the future prosperity of our country, yet it appears that uncertainty, particularly over Brexit, is causing economic growth in the region to stall, with both business creation and GDP growth down since 2016. That effect is seen in the news that both Robinsons, which has been in the region for 90 years, and Colman’s, which has produced mustard in Norwich for 160 years, are to leave the region, taking jobs with them.
Meeting the challenges of Brexit requires a positive industrial strategy. Unfortunately, what has been put forward so far does not cut the mustard, as Colman’s might say. Let us look at just three aspects of the Government’s industrial strategy. First, if the Government stick to their current policy of arbitrary migration targets with no concern for economic need, and if they press ahead with the Prime Minister’s plans to cut what she calls low-skilled—earning less than £50,000 a year—immigration, businesses will have huge problems recruiting and retaining staff. That is true not only of agriculture, which employs tens of thousands in the east of England, but of research in the region’s great universities and development in the Silicon Fen tech cluster around Cambridge worth £1.54 billion. The Government’s industrial strategy does not try in any meaningful way to address the huge skills gap caused by the Government’s Brexit position.
On skills, it would be easier to plan for future skills need if the Government offered any real devolution or economic decision-making powers to the region, such as the
“massive devolution of the skills agenda and funding”
that the all-party parliamentary group’s Budget submission calls for. The Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority does not have the powers or autonomy enjoyed by others in England, and there has been no visible effort from Government to consult on or put forward regional industrial strategies. I look forward to the Minister explaining how that will happen.
The Government’s approach contrasts starkly with what Labour is doing: we are putting regional need first, with plans for a network of regional investment banks with real money behind them and decisions made locally. We will hold the first in a series of regional industrial strategy conferences in Newcastle next month, and another business conference in the north-west in January. The shadow Chancellor and the shadow Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy are touring the country holding regional economic conferences and roundtables.
Thirdly, as the Government are paying scant attention to the spread of growth within regions, the all-party parliamentary group’s submission to the Budget argued that the key issue for the east of England is
“how to manage and spread Cambridge’s growth to market towns and coastal communities in a strategic and effective manner.”
My hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner) gave a detailed account of the economic strengths his city brings to the region. It boasts as many private-sector research and development jobs as the whole of the north, which has 50 times more people. He also highlighted the key challenges of the unaffordability of housing and poor transport links, both of which deter talent and investment. Tory-led Governments have failed to address either of those issues in eight years, but Labour will build 1 million affordable homes over five years and transform our country’s transport infrastructure with our £250 billion national transformation fund. According to the comments of the right hon. Member for Witham (Priti Patel), the hon. Member for Clacton (Giles Watling) and the hon. Member for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich, that transformation is much desired.
As shadow Science Minister, I am keen to see an industrial strategy that maintains current centres of excellence such as Cambridge. Our strategy would do that, but it should not end there. Last year, research from Sheffield Hallam University found the Government’s pledges as part of their industrial strategy would have an impact on just 1% of the economy. By focusing on a small number of elite technologies and industries, the Government have failed to provide a vision for how workers in Clacton-on-Sea, Yarmouth or Lowestoft can share in the prosperity and growth generated by Cambridge. Labour is committed to building an innovation nation where prosperity, high productivity and good quality, high-skilled jobs are shared across the nation.
The east of England deserves a real industrial strategy that lays out a vision for a shared prosperity across the region: a high-wage, high-skill, high-productivity region that leads the way to a more prosperous post-Brexit future. That is what Labour offers and I hope the Minister will be bold and follow our lead.
It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies. Did you arrange the cabaret in the background?
I could not quite hear what they were saying, and it is probably better that I could not.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous) not only on calling today’s debate but on his contributions to many other debates I have taken part in. He has always contributed in a non-partisan and a very statesmanlike way, and today was absolutely no exception. I welcome the east of England APPG submission, which we have read in my Department. I hope that some of my points respond to its recommendations.
I have a bit of a strange relationship with the east of England, simply because my constituency, as mentioned by my hon. Friend, is in the east of England, but most people who live in it do not think they are in the east of England, simply because it is such a large area, as was mentioned by several hon. Members. It varies from what some people think is outer London—it is not quite, but there is a more urban type of London demographic—to areas that are geographically quite remote. My right hon. Friend the Member for Witham (Priti Patel) mentioned—eloquently, as ever—that Essex is a huge county in its own right: it varies from outer London urban to quite remote country areas. It is difficult for any policy to take into consideration such a large area, and there is no simple solution. I accept the point about transport and more modern infrastructures being critical to everything, and I will come to that. It is easy for the European Union and national Government to talk of regions—as we talk about metropolitan areas—as being fairly homogenous.
I want to reiterate the Government’s commitment to promoting growth in the east of England. Any Minister would say that, and I would certainly say that to my constituents in the east of England. But the facts speak for themselves. The region is growing fast. It has seen continued growth in jobs and is one of only three regions that is a net contributor to the UK. Those are exactly the sorts of strengths the country needs to build on in securing a prosperous economic future for the UK as a whole.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich (Dr Poulter) said, the region has not always pushed its case well, probably because of its large area and the different organisations in it. The all-party group’s report clearly reverses that, but as my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney said, it is the beginning of a process, not a one-off report—the Government certainly do not treat it as such.
Hon. Members highlighted many of the strengths of the east of England. I will not repeat the comprehensive list, but there are world-famous brands in Cambridge, which the hon. Member for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner) mentioned, as there are in Milton Keynes, Hertfordshire, the coastal region and so on. However, I agree with him that the future is not guaranteed, which is why we have an industrial strategy. The shadow Minister was really quite scathing about that strategy—I hope I have time to come on to that. Governments have industrial strategies and policies because nothing in the economy is guaranteed. She mentioned the effects of our leaving the European Union. None of us knows what they will be, but whatever happens while we are in the European Union or out of it, nothing is guaranteed. It is important that the Government realise the importance of the east of England to the economy.
The shadow Minister will disagree, but since 2010 the Government have made good progress on supporting businesses and people in the east of England. Unemployment has halved, the number of small businesses has increased by more than 100,000 and, although good points were made about apprenticeships, 350,000 people have started them in the area.
The hon. Member for Cambridge mentioned the CPIER report. I welcome that and look forward to seeing how it is reflected in the local industrial strategy. He also mentioned land value capture. The Treasury and I look forward to receiving further developed proposals on land value capture in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough from the Mayor in due course. We have yet to see the full effect of Mayors, but I am positive about them and pleased that we have them.
The east of England is at the forefront of industrial strategy. We have local enterprise partnerships and, as I said, mayoral combined authorities developing and implementing industrial strategies. We are at the beginning of that road, but the east of England is in good shape. The Cambridgeshire and Peterborough combined authority and the South East Midlands LEP have been identified as trailblazer areas as part of the Oxford to Cambridge arc. Those pilot areas have made good progress and are on track to publish their strategies in March next year, with the rest of the region publishing theirs in 2020.
I reject much of what the shadow Minister said—not because she has a premier league football team in her constituency. I have made rather unpleasant comments about that, which I would like to withdraw, and I apologise for any offence caused. I am sure Newcastle United will remain in the premier league at least for this season, if not beyond. If that does not happen, at least she can blame their relegation on our leaving the European Union, since she seems to blame that for everything else.
I thank the Minister for the initial generosity of his remarks about Newcastle United. Should they leave the premier league, we will be clear that the fault lies not with Brexit but with the club’s ownership. We hope his Government do something to address that.
Governments have learned the importance of giving local areas control of local growth. I have seen for myself that we have to be careful about that. I studied economics A-level and, being from Leeds, we went to Newcastle to visit the National Economic Development Council there. Those bodies, which were known as “Neddys”, showed that localisation in itself is not enough. That was not a very effective system, but at least it was an attempt to regionalise. We have developed significantly beyond that as a society, which means we do not just send civil servants from London to work in Newcastle and say that is regional.
I hope we will see the benefit of devolution, with LEPs, Mayors and everything else. [Interruption.] I am cantering because I have only five minutes—I cannot really take any more questions about that. The Cambridge and Peterborough devolution deal builds on the significant commitments made to the east through previous city deals. I am very optimistic about the greater Cambridge city deal. It is delivering, and I really think we will see a lot more from it.
My hon. Friend the Member for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich made many extremely helpful points. The Government are committed to dealing with local skills shortages, such as those in agriculture, through the establishment of skills advisory panels, which are being rolled out to all parts of eastern England and will help to ensure that training matches the needs of local businesses. That cannot be ignored, and I believe our policy will help to achieve it.
The east of England benefits from more than £700 million of local growth funding through growth deals, and the region’s business-led local enterprise partnerships determine how that funding is spent. I have seen different kinds of LEPs, but the range of products being delivered in this case—the aviation academy in Norwich, the STEM innovation campus at Stansted airport and the Watford health campus scheme in my constituency, for example—will lead to a more skilled workforce and are very important for the east.
Infrastructure was mentioned by many speakers, in particular my right hon. Friend the Member for Witham and my hon. Friend the Member for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich, who stressed the importance of the A12. That is why, in addition to the devolution city deals I mentioned, we have invested £1.5 billion to upgrade the A14 between Cambridge and Huntingdon, which is an important route, and £151 million in new river crossings. Those are just examples. The transforming cities fund will really help Cambridge and Peterborough, which have already received £74 million. I could go on, but time does not allow.
The Government are committed to working with local partners. Many Members mentioned transport, which is absolutely important. I intend to send a summary of the points they made about particular roads to the Department for Transport. I know Members have done that, but I feel it is my job—I am not in that Department, but I represent the Government—to ensure that those points hit home.
My hon. Friend the Member for Clacton (Giles Watling) spoke so well about no community being left behind. He feels that his community and others, particularly in coastal areas, have been neglected by the system. He stressed the importance of infrastructure in such areas. I will not forget the points he made about his experience on Tendring Council, and I am happy to chat with him separately about that.
We have had a wide-ranging debate in which we did not have time to consider some of the necessary detail. However, the east of England all-party group has set out a model for how such groups can focus their lobbying of the Government on specific points. I am happy to meet formally with the all-party group or with individual Members. I do not mean only those on the Conservative Benches, as I hope the hon. Member for Cambridge knows. These are important points, and I would like to see the successful implementation of many of the policies mentioned in the APPG’s report.
We have had a wide-ranging debate, and I do not have time to highlight colleagues’ excellent contributions. Someone who looks at the east of England might say, “Everything looks reasonably okay there. It’s perfectly satisfactory. Let’s rumble on.” But do we want to be just rumbling on, second best? No, we do not. To use another football analogy, we want to be in the premier league. We want to be in the top four. We want to be not just playing in Europe every year but winning World cups. That is what this work is about and what we are putting the framework down for. This is a new way of doing things. This is a start—let’s get going.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered promoting economic growth in the East of England.