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Northern Powerhouse

Volume 662: debated on Tuesday 2 July 2019

The Government are supporting the northern powerhouse through devolution deals for, among others, Manchester, Liverpool, the West Midlands and, most recently, North of Tyne, as well as through over £13 billion of investment in better transport across the north. In addition, we have invested over £3 billion from the local growth fund in the region since 2015, and we committed at the Budget to announce a renewed northern powerhouse strategy later this year.

It is quite an achievement for the Minister to get up and say that without any sense of irony whatsoever. The truth is that we have had the incredibly disappointing news this week that Pacer trains in the north of England will not be removed by the end of this year, as previously promised. Despite the warm words about the northern powerhouse, the truth is that since 2014 spending on transport in the south of England has risen twice as fast as in the north of England. Will the Minister use the spending review as an opportunity to rectify these imbalances and finally give meaning to those words, “the northern powerhouse”?

With respect to the hon. Lady, she is not correct on the numbers. This Government are investing more in the north than the previous Labour Government. Over the course of this Parliament, central Government investment in transport infrastructure will be higher in the north of England than it will be in London and the south-east on a per capita basis. We have seen a 40% increase in central Government funding per person in the north under this Government.

Will my hon. Friend confirm that this Government have invested more than £500 million in the northern powerhouse, attracting more businesses and creating more jobs?

Over the course of this Parliament and the last, this Government will have invested £13 billion in transport for the north. With respect to Northern Powerhouse Rail, which was mentioned earlier, over the last two years we have given £97 million to Transport for the North to build the business case and prepare the ground for that project. In the course of the spending review—our zero-based review—we will be considering how to take forward that project.

My constituents in Barnsley Central and people right across the north of England will judge this or any Government on deeds, not words. Does the Minister agree with me that if the northern powerhouse agenda is to be taken seriously, we need to see schemes such as Transport for the North’s strategic transport plan, which includes Northern Powerhouse Rail, properly resourced by the national Government?

I agree with the hon. Gentleman, and that is why we have given funding to Transport for the North to prepare a properly thought-through business case. We of course have decisions to make in the spending review about which of those projects should be taken forward and which provide good value for money. In the hon. Gentleman’s own city and city region of Sheffield, we have of course given money through the transforming cities fund to improve inter-city connectivity for his constituents.

My constituency and the wider Humber region would greatly benefit if there were improved rail-freight connections east-west. What plans does the Minister have to fund those?

We have received representations from the midlands engine, and from Midlands Connect in relation to transport, about both road and rail east-west connectivity. We are considering them carefully, and they will form part of the spending review.

I spot the Leader of the House on the Treasury Bench, but I do not know whether he wants his old job back.

The Exchequer Secretary talks a good talk on fiscal steps to support the northern powerhouse, but the broader facts speak for themselves. Since 2015, for the first time in 50 years, the UK Government no longer provide regional investment aid in England, according to the Industrial Communities Alliance’s evidence to the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee inquiry. What is his explanation for that?

We give many other funding streams to northern communities, including £3.3 billion through the local growth fund and £13 billion for wider transport schemes.

So that’s an unambiguous no. The north is home to 15 million people in five major city regions, 265 towns and 1,000 villages and smaller communities. It has 29 universities, the UK’s largest airport outside the south-east and eight major ports, one in my constituency. Does the Exchequer Secretary agree that changing those eight ports, as suggested by the Foreign Secretary and the former Foreign Secretary, into not economic hubs of excellence but potential revenue-draining, tax-avoiding, money-laundering free ports—more like free-for-all ports—is no substitute for a focused, well-resourced and sustainable economic strategy for the north?

Perhaps unlike the hon. Gentleman, I am interested in any proposal that can drive economic growth in the north of England. Free ports are an interesting proposal, which we have discussed with a number of communities. We have urged them to come forward with well-thought-through business cases. We have yet to receive them from many places, but we have received one from Teesside and we will consider them carefully in future.