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House of Commons Hansard
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Stirling and Clackmannanshire City Region Deal
18 February 2019
Volume 654

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Rebecca Harris.)

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I am delighted to have secured this Adjournment debate on the Stirling and Clackmannanshire city region deal. I am proud, too, that this Conservative and Unionist Government have made it possible for every single one of Scotland’s cities to have a city deal, adding up to billions of pounds of public investment unlocking many billions more in private investment. It is a Government record that all Scottish Conservatives can and should be proud of, and one that will bear fruit for Scotland’s economy and Scotland’s people well into the future. City deals drive investment in infrastructure. A city deal sends a strong signal from the Government that they have confidence in the future of the city and the region and that they are prepared to commit public funds to make that future a reality. City deals are designed with the intention of transforming the local economy and creating a landscape in which individuals, communities and businesses are enabled to explore their full potential.

The genesis of the Stirling city deal was the realisation that Stirling’s economy had several structural weaknesses that needed to be addressed. First, while Stirling is the best place in Scotland for people to set up and start a business, and the best place in Scotland for a large established business to continue its journey—

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I thank my hon. Friend for giving way. He is of course speaking about the Stirling and Clackmannanshire city region deal, and Clackmannanshire shares the accolade of being one of the best places to start a business in Scotland.

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I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his well-intentioned correction.

While Stirling is also a great place for large established businesses to continue their journey, we have a real issue locally when it comes to small businesses scaling up to become successful larger businesses. The lack of scale-up businesses is due in part to a shortage of the right kind of business space and a shortage of the skills most needed by employers to grow their businesses. The situation is not helped by a shortage of housing of all types in Stirling, and the need for microbusinesses to be given the practical business support they need to help them on their commercial journey. Secondly, Stirling’s economy is held back by wealth inequality. We have some of Scotland’s wealthiest and poorest postcodes, and we need a more inclusive approach to economic development.

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I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on the good work that he does. He is a very assiduous Member for Stirling, and this is an example of just how hard he works. Well done! My constituency will gain from the Belfast city region deal, and I am grateful for that, but does he agree that local councillors are looking at lists and could perhaps think of better projects to fund? Does he agree that more weight should be given to the development departments in local councils? I certainly do.

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I agree with the hon. Gentleman. City deals are nothing if not a partnership between all levels of government, and their success will depend on the ability of all those levels of government to work together successfully.

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I am grateful to my hon. Friend for securing this excellent debate. I hope he will allow me to make one further correction to his speech. As well as city deals, there are also general growth deals. Moray might not be a city, but we are well on the way to securing the Moray growth deal, which will unlock great untapped potential in our local economy.

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I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his intervention, but the debate, of course, is about the Stirling and Clackmannanshire city region deal.

Many of the good, well-paid jobs in Stirling are located outside the local area, while many of the jobs created within Stirling are filled by commuters. Access to the local job market is too limited for many people in some of Stirling’s most deprived areas, particularly in rural Stirling, due to skills shortages, the lack of high-value pathway jobs and entry-level positions, and basic transport infrastructure shortcomings.

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I thank my hon. Friend for bringing this important debate to the Chamber. City deals are a fantastic way for the UK and Scottish Governments to work together, which all our constituents want. He mentions rural initiatives, and the Tay cities deal included broadband funding in Angus. The Scottish Government’s roll-out has been slow, and we have seen extra investment from the UK Government, so city deals can bring such important initiatives.

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Again, I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention. I know Angus really well, and I concur with what she says about the importance of broadband in revitalising Scotland’s rural economy, and I will come on to that later—should I be able to.

The deal needs to tackle the issues that I have tried to describe and deliver inclusive economic growth and opportunities right across the district. We need to build a confident future in which businesses can grow, people can access good employment, young families can own their own homes, and young people can have a bright future, without having to leave the area.

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I thank my hon. Friend for giving way and congratulate him on securing this debate. Does he agree that city deals also provide a fantastic opportunity for local employment and for local small businesses and contractors to get involved in bids for carrying out city deal work, both in the original design-and-build phase and in continuing employment on projects?

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I completely agree. There would be little point in city deals, with the investment that comes with them, if the work is not done by businesses and people who live in that area. If we did not take that approach, the whole thing would be rather pointless and unsustainable.

The deal is now at an advanced stage. We have the signed heads of agreement, which demonstrates the commitment made not only by the UK Government, but by the Scottish Government and the local council. The University of Stirling is a major partner in much of this, as is Forth Valley College. Both institutions benefit from having visionary leadership. The university is likely to be a major beneficiary of the city region deal, as much of the investment is aimed at promoting the commercialisation of the university’s research and development capabilities. The good name of the University of Stirling will only continue to increase in esteem.

The city region deal sets out several commitments that have already been made. The international environment centre will be based across the region but centred at the university, where a new research and policy centre will bring in dividends from the environment sector. It will become a catalyst for the set-up and scale-up of new environmental companies, building on the international reputation our area already has in this field. The new institute for aquaculture and global food security will also secure Stirling’s worldwide reputation as a centre of excellence for research and breakthrough solutions in the sector. Existing business interests in the sector will be supplemented by new ventures.

The national tartan centre will be a significant economic asset. I often feel I must remind colleagues about the global importance of tartan not just to Scotland’s traditional heritage sector, but as a part of today’s global fashion industry. Stirling is perfectly positioned to take up the mantle of hosting the national tartan centre as Bannockburn was a centre for manufacturing and design of tartan for much of its history. The tartan centre will become the UK-wide showcase for tartan and help to launch new design and fashion houses, building on its iconic global reputation. It will also become a hub for family history research, attracting new businesses into the growing global phenomenon and fascination people have for discovering their ancestry.

The Ministry of Defence has agreed to hand over the land at the recently vacated Forthside—a military base specialising in the maintenance of Army equipment. The site is of key importance because it sits between the river and our industrial estate and will become a grow-on space for businesses right in the heart of the city. It will combine with work that is already underway to host a third sector hub and a public sector innovation hub, creating a corridor of opportunity for public, private and third sectors to innovate and share ideas well into the future.

There will be a comprehensive regional energy masterplan, which will see new investment in schemes and projects to harness the power that can be generated from our natural resources in Stirling.

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I compliment my hon. Friend on securing this debate and on sharing his enthusiasm for the Stirling and Clackmannanshire growth deal. Will he join me in commending the hard work of the teams at the three Ayrshire councils that have come together to drive this forward?

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I absolutely commend the council teams, and I will talk about Stirling Council if I have time.

We have natural resources in Stirling and Clackmannanshire, and the masterplan is already delivering a combined heat and power project in the city centre that derives heat from our sewage treatment works to warm commercial and public sector buildings throughout Stirling. Beyond that, geothermal, wind, hydro and solar will all play a part, and the opportunity for innovation and commercialisation is unlimited. Skills and innovation go together not only in ensuring the creation of job opportunities that can be accessed by all but in specific schemes in the neighbouring area of Clackmannanshire. The skills that businesses need can be delivered in the local area, and everyone can benefit. This joined-up working between the two areas allows capital sums to be best utilised across Stirling and Clackmannanshire, recognising how interconnected the two areas are.

I now come to the meat of what I want to say. Stirling is ready to go. We have an engaged and energised private sector that is ready to invest, and we have a local authority that stands ready to deliver. All the local parties in Stirling share a commitment to delivering the city region deal. We just need to sign off on the business case. The individual projects are well thought out and planned, and I am sure the Minister will want to assure the House tonight that the UK Government are fully energised behind the Stirling and Clackmannanshire deal.

Waiting for perfection and for everything to be planned out across all areas of the deal will only delay the creation of jobs and prosperity in Stirling. There is no perfect slate of projects, and it is essential that we get things moving so that we can deliver. We need to see hi-vis jackets, hard hats and cranes on Stirling’s skyline. It is time for us to start the work.

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The hon. Gentleman is making a great case for his local area. Will he join me in welcoming the £5 million top-up that is coming from the Scottish Government, in addition to the city deal funding? Will he also join me in pressing the UK Government to match the Scottish Government’s funding for city deals across Scotland?

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I have no hesitation in doing so, and I was challenged on this earlier. Do I welcome the positive actions of the Scottish Government? Of course I do, and I welcome the additional investment that the Scottish Government promised for the city deal. It is targeted, and I support the Scottish Government’s utilisation of public funds in that way.

We need the MOD land at Forthside to be released. The site needs to be decontaminated and handed over as soon as possible. How soon can that be done?

The new-build tartan centre will bring additional private sector investment almost immediately. We must start on the national tartan centre soon, and I would love to see one of my right hon. Friends on the Treasury Bench coming up to Stirling with spade in hand to turn the sod and start the construction. Why not?

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I look forward to those same Ministers coming across to Clackmannanshire to help start the international environment centre in Alloa west. Does my hon. Friend agree that the £8 million capital fund set aside by the UK Government to assist Clackmannanshire, which had less regional assistance spending to develop its business cases, is unprecedented? It is a first for any city deal in Scotland and has enabled us the time and space to develop new projects that will benefit Clackmannanshire in the short term and for many years to come.

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I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for his work in securing that unprecedented amount of money for an untagged project. He and I have had long discussions about the importance of the UK Government being active in the Scottish economic scene. I will come on to say something more about that, with which I hope he will agree.

We need to make sure that all parts of Stirling, whether geographic or social, can benefit from this deal. In rural Stirling, we want to see financial and other practical support for rural business hubs. Some of these are already delivering for their communities, and the businesses that will be located there will grow and diversify the local economy—that is badly needed. We need them in other areas of Stirling, especially in the eastern villages of Cowie, Plean and Fallin.

Digital connectivity was mentioned earlier by my hon. Friend the Member for Angus (Kirstene Hair) and it is important, and our bid should be to ensure there is digital connection that these villages in rural areas can benefit from. No area should be left behind. We need to build a digitally connected district beyond the city centre. Local full fibre networks are a great way to do this, and we have commercial investment happening in Stirling though CityFibre. This fantastic investment will make Stirling truly a digital city, but in rural areas, including the eastern villages, we need this investment. I call on the Government, who have responsibility for connectivity, to make direct investment in these areas and make that a reality.

We need government, especially the Scottish Government, to get serious about rural infrastructure. Whether we are talking about getting a new bridge for Callander, which would transform the economy there, or turning the A811 Stirling to Balloch road into a trunk road, the needs are there to be seen. I would like to see these projects treated as major upgrades to the national infrastructure, because of the positive economic benefit they would bring far beyond the communities where those items of infrastructure would be constructed. These benefits would be real, impactful and immediate. It is imperative that all levels of government pull together in such areas.

Today, I ask the Minister to comment on what additional support could be given. We have the commitment for funding on the projects, but what I feel is lacking is a stronger overall commitment from the UK Government to get more heavily involved in promoting and investing in the Scottish economy; I am concerned about a lasting thought of “devolve and forget” in the UK Government. I want to hear assurances from Ministers that the UK shared prosperity fund will be used for this purpose by the UK Government in Scotland.

There are very few UK Government departmental offices in Scotland, with the only significant presence of any Department being that of the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy in Aberdeen, where an office is dedicated to promoting the oil and gas industry. The Scottish economy is more varied than that, and the case for a UK Government presence in central Scotland is compelling.

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The hon. Gentleman will of course be aware that the Department for International Development has a significant presence in East Kilbride, so will he take this opportunity to confirm, as perhaps the Minister might, the Government’s commitment to retaining DFID as an independent Department? I hope that you do not mind, Mr Speaker, but as everybody else has mentioned their city deals, I should ask: is there not a lot to learn from the Glasgow city deal as well?

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Oh, there is a great deal to learn from the Glasgow city deal. Of course I acknowledge the existence of DFID in East Kilbride and the amazing work it does. As the hon. Gentleman knows, I am great supporter of the work of that Department, and I would hate to see it absorbed into the Foreign Office, for example. Whether the Treasury, BEIS, the Department for International Trade or the Home Office, these Departments serve the purposes of the wider Union, and Scotland needs to see that it is part of the United Kingdom. London must not be the be-all and end-all when it comes to sharing out UK Government functions and personnel, and the city deal in Stirling and Clackmannanshire offers us an opportunity, not only to see the Union flag flying on projects in Stirling, funded by taxpayers from the whole UK, but to see that commitment made real on the ground, with Departments of the Union there supporting, and not remote and distant.

I mentioned the work of Stirling Council earlier. I will close soon, so that the Minister can reply, but I should mention the excellent work done by the officers of Stirling Council, who have shown themselves to be skilled and able to punch well above the weight one would expect of a council of that size.

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My hon. Friend is making an excellent point about how different levels of our government work together. Having been part of two city deals, it has been clear to me that we need to use these deals as a learning point. Both the central Government in Westminster and the devolved Administration need to look at how they work with each other and to find methods that are more transparent and effective at delivering for our constituents.

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I agree with my hon. Friend. He and I have the scars from our learning experience with the city deal we are discussing tonight, and the learning from Glasgow and Edinburgh needs to be taken on board. There are better ways to do the things that we do. There is always room for continual improvement.

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It is obvious from what the hon. Gentleman is saying that this is about Westminster, the Scottish Parliament and the councils together. Does that not underline the fact that we can do much better if we are all together as the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland—and that includes our good friends the Scots nats?

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The hon. Gentleman sums it up beautifully. One might say “better together”, and that is exactly the case. The council officers at Stirling Council have done an incredible job of pulling together the city deal, and I give them credit. Knowing their tenacity and their entrepreneurship, I have every confidence that they will deliver on the outcomes predicted for the city region deal. Would it not be great if the council could point to UK Departments—on the ground, right next to it—and know that it has their backing, that they share its ideals and goals and that they are as close to the detailed delivery as it is? Can we have a BEIS taskforce assigned to Stirling and Clackmannanshire to help with the execution of the city deal? I have asked for that before, and I would really like the Government to make a practical and real commitment of that nature.

Our Stirling economy—the Government have demonstrated that they have confidence in it—can be a shining beacon of how different levels of government can work together to attract and retain high-quality business investment. It will be a place to which business from around the UK and the wider world will flock when they see how government at all levels devotes itself to the development of the area. I want nothing less than for this city region deal to be the engine that drives the whole of central Scotland forward. Stirling is a burgh that received royal recognition some 900 years ago, and this city region deal will build on that long and illustrious history. It will build a future in which innovation and investment are harnessed to create good, well-paid jobs and to bring better life prospects to all people in all parts of my constituency.

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I congratulate my hon. Friend on raising the Stirling and Clackmannanshire city region deal. I pay tribute to him and to my hon. Friend the Member for Ochil and South Perthshire (Luke Graham) for their role in advocating for this deal across the Government and securing investment for their constituencies. We were delighted that the £45 million UK Government investment was matched by the Scottish Government.

I am pleased that we are committed to funding deals in each of Scotland’s seven cities, including Stirling and Clackmannanshire. That represents a total investment of £1.2 billion by UK Government. With contributions from our friends in the Scottish Government and other partners, the total figure is even higher. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland has further ambitions, and that is why the Government are rolling out deals beyond the city regions in areas such as Ayrshire, Moray and the borderlands. With further investment from other public and private partners, the total value of these deals amounts to several billion pounds. They represent a fantastic opportunity to give local and regional economies across Scotland a significant, real and transformational boost.

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Will the Minister confirm that although it is important that the city deals are taken forward, it is right that the UK Government have committed to extending such deals across Scotland? Moray, which does not have a city, could benefit from a Moray growth deal in the same way as the cities have done.

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My hon. Friend is absolutely right in that regard. We are committed to having 100% coverage of Scotland. As he will be aware, a commitment to the Moray growth deal was announced at the Budget. It involves some very exciting projects, including an energy pipeline, employability programmes for service families and a college hub looking at innovation in manufacturing. While the figure has not yet been clarified, the Treasury has provisionally agreed a sum of around £25 million for that growth deal, which I am sure he and hon. Friends will welcome.

To get back to the Stirling and Clackmannanshire deal, the UK Government are pleased to be supporting the University of Stirling’s international reputation as a centre of excellence for aquaculture, with an offer of investment in new facilities that will not only safeguard the sector in Scotland and Wales—it can be very significant in supporting rural employment in often remote areas—but allow our world-class researchers to develop technologies that we will be able to export around the world.

In speaking about developing the infrastructure at Stirling, which will have an international focus, I of course want to take this opportunity to commend to my hon. Friends the excellent facilities at the Centre for Sustainable Aquatic Research at Swansea University. As the UK Government Minister for Wales, it would be remiss of me not to slip that into this speech about the Stirling and Clackmannanshire growth deal.

We are also supporting the establishment of the international environment centre, which will take full advantage of the natural environment and heritage of the region to bring together academic expertise from across Scotland to explore some of the key challenges of our age.

The region already represents a major draw for visitors, and local partners have been clear about their desire to do even more in that regard. Of course, any visitor to Scotland will know there is nothing more emblematic than tartan, which is why the UK Government are delighted to provide the investment needed to build the Scottish tartan centre. I am not yet aware of a particular Adams tartan. I hope that there will be one, and if I say that loud enough during the debate, perhaps someone will do a bit of research. However, I would be more than delighted to come up when the Scottish tartan centre is open—if my hon. Friend is brave enough, I will even put the relevant tartan on as well. The centre will provide an historical narrative encapsulating key developments in the history and evolution of tartan, along with related themes that will engage with a diverse audience. I am sure that hundreds of thousands of people will flock to his area to view this fantastic centre.

We are doing further work to identify additional projects in the Clackmannanshire Council area, and those will be worth around £8 million, as we have heard. I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Ochil and South Perthshire on everything he has done to help secure that additional money from the Treasury. It is no easy feat wrestling money from the Treasury, so he should be commended.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland is planning on announcing more details on that deal shortly. As part of the deal, we are pleased to be releasing some surplus MOD land for development in the centre of Stirling, and the Department for Work and Pensions is running a bespoke scheme in Clackmannanshire to help lone parents return to work.

Let me quickly refer to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Stirling about the MOD land. At first sight, the land is due to be made available under the defence estates review in 2022, which is well within the 10-year scope of the deal. The office of the Secretary of State for Scotland and the MOD are working together to ensure that the land at Forthside is ready to be released in a fit state.

On my hon. Friend’s other very valid point, I would just like to politely remind him that the UK Government are committed to Scotland—it is not a case of devolve and walk away. As I have said previously, the UK Government have committed over £1.2 billion to support development in Scotland through the city and growth deal programme. That is what I call real commitment.

These investments represent a significant package that will help to transform the economies of Stirling, Clackmannanshire and Scotland. Growth deals should be transformational and show the real benefits that can be brought about when Scotland’s two Governments work together instead of pulling apart—[Interruption.] I agree with the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) that we are much better together.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland signed the heads of terms for the deal in May last year and expects to agree the full deal in the summer. That will herald a 15-year programme of investment and growth that will bring real and tangible benefits to all those who live and work across the region. My hon. Friend the Member for Stirling is right. He wants to see hi-vis jackets and spades in the ground: I am happy to go up there with a spade and break the ground myself if necessary. In my view, the deal will be the engine that drives the whole of Scotland forward.

Question put and agreed to.

House adjourned.