Skip to main content

Regional Economic Opportunity

Volume 681: debated on Thursday 1 October 2020

What steps the Government is taking to promote regional economic growth to support recovery from the covid-19 outbreak. (906884)

What steps the Government is taking to promote economic growth to support recovery from the covid-19 outbreak. (906889)

What steps he is taking to promote regional economic growth to support recovery from the covid-19 outbreak. (906898)

Thank you, Mr Speaker. This Chamber has changed in many ways since I went on maternity leave, but I am glad to say that the atmosphere has markedly improved for the better thanks to your warmth and good humour.

The Government are committed to levelling up opportunity in every corner of the United Kingdom, including as we respond to the economic impacts of covid-19. This work has many strands, from the winter economy plan to protect jobs and businesses to the lifetime skills guarantee and the investment we are making in major regional infrastructure. In the Cabinet Office, we are playing our part through our Places for Growth strategy, locating more high-quality civil service jobs beyond the capital so that the Government are better connected to all the communities we are here to serve.

I welcome my hon. Friend to her place on the Government Front Bench.

The Government plan to bring decision making “close to people”. Peterborough is a city just 50 minutes from London. It is on the east coast main line and has a bustling hospitality and retail sector and a hard-working and skilful population, and a university is coming. Can my hon. Friend think of a better place for a civil servant to work than Peterborough? Will she consider the city in the latest round of civil service moves?

I thank my hon. Friend for his passionate pitch for his city. We completely agree with him that Peterborough, with its fantastic transport links, entrepreneurial people and broader economic offering, would be a great place for a new Government hub. That is why we are locating one at Fletton Quays, where I hope to visit next week to demonstrate our commitment to locating more civil service roles in the regions and nations of the UK.

Constituencies such as mine have for too long been left behind, with London taking the lion’s share of infrastructure and small and medium-sized enterprise finance. That means that good, viable businesses in Burnley are left to grow at a slower speed than if they were elsewhere in the country. Does my hon. Friend agree that development banks, which are such excellent mobilisers of capital, could prove a solution to that problem?

My hon. Friend has been a fantastic champion of Burnley’s small businesses since his election. The Government are determined to reduce imbalances in access to finance for smaller firms. Some 83,000 SMEs outside London have already benefited from programmes run by the British Business Bank, which is the UK’s Government-owned economic development bank. Infrastructure is also central to our economic plan, providing opportunities for SMEs throughout the supply chain. We will publish a national infrastructure strategy, including our ambitions on levelling up across the whole UK, later in the autumn.

Pubs and restaurants in Bolton have been harder hit than those in nearly any other of the UK’s 650 constituencies, largely due to an unfairly enforced economic lockdown. Will my hon. Friend assure me that the Government are doing everything they can to support businesses in Bolton? I urge the Government to align our restrictions with those in the rest of the region.

I thank my hon. Friend for his question. It is an incredibly challenging time for constituents in Bolton North East and in many other areas of the country, and I know they will appreciate his advocacy. Local lockdown decisions are determined following advice from national medical experts, local leaders and directors of public health, in accordance with data provided by the Joint Biosecurity Centre. We consider case rates, trends in the data and causes, but also local geography, before making judgments about whether restrictions are needed. We of course keep all these measures under constant review.

I share my hon. Friend’s concern for the hospitality sector, and I have spoken to the Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam (Paul Scully), about the taskforce he is setting up as Business Minister to work through some of the issues for the night-time economy in particular.

In Beaconsfield, many of my constituents work in aviation or other sectors directly affected by covid-19. What steps are the Government taking to ensure that anyone who finds themselves unemployed due to businesses having to adapt or close because of covid-19 can find the education and qualifications they need for the future?

The new Member for Beaconsfield is another very refreshing change in this Parliament, and I thank her for her question. She might wish to point her constituents to the Chancellor’s plan for jobs, which is designed to help unemployed people find work through training to develop their skills. That support includes incentive payments for employers to hire new apprentices and funding to triple the uptake of traineeships. The Prime Minister also set out his commitment this week to lifelong learning. As part of that, adults who do not have a full level 3 qualification will be able to take level 3 qualifications in high-value subjects for free from next April.

I also welcome the Minister to her place. Economic growth in the regions will be maximised by the public and private sectors working in partnership. Currently, there are 92,000 civil servants in London, 56,000 in the north-west and only half of that in the north-east—and two thirds of those are in Newcastle, leaving negligible numbers in Durham and the Tees Valley. Does she agree that any relocation of Government Departments to the regions can be a critical lever and that it is important that they do not all now just move to another metropolitan centre? It is imperative that Departments such as the Department for Transport and the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government consider locating to areas such as Sedgefield, which sits on the intersection of the Tees valley and County Durham and has all the rural challenges, but also has excellent connections to London.

I thank my hon. Friend for his question. He also makes a passionate pitch for his constituency. The Government are committed to levelling up across the UK, ensuring that this Administration is much less London-centric. The Places for Growth programme is working with Departments on their relocation plans ahead of the spending review and continuously exploring opportunities to build clusters of civil servants across the whole UK. I welcome my hon. Friend highlighting what Sedgefield has to offer, and I am sure the north-east will benefit from the relocation of civil service roles.

There is an amazing world of opportunities, talents and skills outside London, and nowhere more so than in Teesside. We are on the up. Our airport is reborn. We are leading the green technology revolution. We have the brightest and best entrepreneurs, manufacturers and exporters. We are fighting for a freeport and gagging for growth. Could my hon. Friend confirm not if but when civil service jobs from Whitehall will make their way to Teesside?

Another very passionate case—perhaps a bit too passionate. It is incredible to see how firmly Teesside has been put on the map over the past few years because of its Mayor and hon. Friends in this place, and it is great to see my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton South (Matt Vickers) join their number. The Government are committed to relocating 22,000 civil service roles out of central London within the next decade, with the majority going to other regions and nations of the UK. We will continue to engage with the Mayor and others to ensure that the north-east benefits from our ambitions.