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North of England: Infrastructure Spending

Volume 684: debated on Wednesday 25 November 2020

I beg to move,

That this House has considered infrastructure spending in the North of England.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gray. This debate about support for infrastructure spending in the north of England is extremely timely and significant, for a number of reasons, the first being that in the next few hours my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will get to his feet in the House to make a financial statement on public spending.

I welcome the many new colleagues on the Government side of the Chamber who represent seats that we did not hold a year ago and who have an absolute commitment to ensuring that infrastructure projects go ahead in their constituencies. Although I also welcome Members on the Opposition side, we do not have quite as many as I thought we would for this important debate.

Recent press briefings detail that the Treasury is keen to use today’s statement to announce the conclusion of its review of the Green Book. The Chancellor, after all, represents a northern seat, and I am sure that his constituents will also benefit from changes being made to the guidance on how the Treasury appraises and evaluates policies, projects and programmes, as well as the investing of billions of pounds in a national infrastructure strategy. I speak for many colleagues in welcoming that news from the Government, and I look forward to hearing the announcements in full in a short while.

Another factor is most pressing and only too obvious to hon. Members: we are in the midst of fighting a devastating pandemic. However, that pandemic is not only a health crisis, but an economic one. The north has historically seen greater adversity and has more recently experienced greater disruption—unparalleled disruption, compared with other parts of the country. That has exposed the deep structural, systematic disadvantage that we face.

That distinct disadvantage was highlighted by the Institute for Fiscal Studies when it released shocking statistics in October. It calculated that spending on infrastructure was higher per person in London, at £1,461 a year on average over a five-year period, than in the north-west, where the average was £979; the north-east, where it was £793; and Yorkshire and the Humber, where it was £744. Consistently disproportionate investment has, over the years, created an obvious divide between north and south, and particularly between London and the south-east, and the north.

Without adequate investment, the north has been held back and unable to see the benefits, such as jobs, growth and investment, that other areas have seen. That has undermined the quality of economic opportunity for people, families and businesses to thrive, compared with other areas of the country. There is an urgent need to redress those inequalities and start to invest in infrastructure, which will unleash the north’s potential.

Let me also say that the north is much more than its cities. It feels as though any discussion that we have about the north provokes a reaction centred on Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds and Newcastle. Although they are important, that is another reason that there is a feeling in some areas of the north that, over the years, they have been forgotten and left behind—more so in those areas where there is no major city at all.

It would be remiss of me, especially as my right hon. Friend the Minister is listening, not to mention my own constituency and all the prosperity that we want to bring to Southport through infrastructure projects. Southport is a jewel in the north’s crown, attracting thousands of visitors each year to its annual events: the flower show, the air show and the comedy festival. I am also privileged to have in my constituency the Royal Birkdale Golf Club, which hosted the Open golf tournament. Royal Birkdale is in fact one of four championship golf courses in my constituency. That, combined with some wonderful bars and restaurants, makes Southport a great place not only for me to live in, but for thousands of others to visit. However, the visitor economy, which accounts for more than a third of the local economy, has been particularly hit during the pandemic.

Improved spending on transport infrastructure would open up our economy to more opportunity and the benefits that come with better connectivity. That connectivity is best delivered through rail projects such as the Burscough curves, which would connect Southport and Preston with a direct line, benefiting us as well as communities in the neighbouring constituencies of West Lancashire and South Ribble, and in the wider region. I say to the Minister that rail should be a key focus of revitalising the northern economy. Bringing with it highly skilled jobs and increased gross value added, more rail would enable us not only to move people around with greater ease, but to move freight around, helping to reduce carbon emissions and making our communities healthier.

We also want to see new rolling stock on our tracks. The north of England is unique, but there is a wonderful comparison. I am sure my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys (Paul Maynard) will confirm that the north of England shares similarities with Iran. They are the only places in the world still using Pacer trains—of course, in Iran, they are reserved fleet, not the current fleet that they use when they can get them round. That is quite a damning indictment of what we need to do in this country to get improved rolling stock out on our rails.

Infrastructure investment would also attract private investment. Another great initiative taken by the Government is the town deals. Our town deal, which was submitted recently for £50 million, would unleash a further £350 million completely to transform Southport—enhancing our tourism industry and diversifying our economy, making it stronger and more resilient. The prospect of the town deal has already been the catalyst for private investment projects such as the Southport surf cove and the Viking golf attraction. With more emphasis in our plan to develop enterprise and innovation, we hope to attract more companies, such as Techedia, a specialist IT company that has started a £1 million transformation of a landmark building, which will bring into the building 75 brand new jobs.

As Great Britain becomes global Britain, another great initiative announced by the Government is freeports. Across the north, there are six project bids, one of which is an excellent bid by the Peel combined freeport, which provides links between the United States, Canada and the Americas, and Southport and Lancashire. With these trading links, we can develop and grow advanced manufacturing, energy, digital, biotech and agriculture. The importance of investment in such projects cannot be overestimated if we are to overcome the economic challenge of covid and realise the full potential of Brexit.

Looking to the future, we heard last week about the Government’s 10-point plan to create 250,000 green jobs. We want to get our share of those jobs by creating investment in infrastructure, particularly nuclear energy and advanced manufacturing. We should give highly skilled, highly paid jobs to people in constituencies such as mine—building wind turbines, servicing those wind turbines and seeing them through a career.

A recent report from the Green Alliance estimated that, in striving to get the UK to net zero, associated infrastructure investment would create 60,500 jobs in the north-west, 21,500 in the north-east and 17,200 jobs in Yorkshire and the Humber. Creating jobs through the upgrading of digital infrastructure, particularly in rural areas, will allow increased home working and facilitate the transition to a smart, low-carbon and decentralised energy system away from London. It is quite apt that my right hon. Friend the Member for Tatton (Esther McVey) is present. She is the leader of blue-collar Conservatives and is doing a fantastic job for our communities in the north, but she might have another title yet: she might become the leader of green-collar Conservatives, which would enhance the portfolio of things that she looks at in those areas.

The fact is that the pandemic has accelerated the need for improved infrastructure spending in the north. From energy to broadband, and from transport to trade, we have an unquestionable opportunity to use infrastructure spending not only to root out and address disadvantage, but to provide greater and improved economic opportunity and empowerment for our constituents. I have campaigned with many other northern MPs and the Northern Research Group for a northern economic recovery plan. Improved infrastructure spending is a vital and core part of our recovery. Done correctly, it will have the power to fulfil our commitment to people living in the north to build back better, to level up and, dare I say, to unleash our potential.

Order. I do not intend to impose a formal time limit on speeches. Looking around the Chamber, colleagues will realise that if they keep their speeches to three or four minutes, they can accommodate one another.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gray, and I give the hon. Member for Southport (Damien Moore) credit for securing such an important debate, the topic of which is vital for our region of the north and for our infrastructure.

Levelling up, closing the economic divide and dealing with decades of inequalities in the north has certainly been a clarion call for me and many Labour MPs. We now have the new voices that the hon. Gentleman referred to in seats in the north of England that were traditionally red. They talk about powering up and levelling up the north, as well as regional disparities and infrastructure. The evidence cited by the Institute for Fiscal Studies and others is clear, and it is decades long. For example, in London and the south-east, nearly three times as much is spent on transport infrastructure. The hon. Gentleman mentioned average spend as well.

Collectively as northerners, regardless of whether we are Labour, Conservative or Liberal Democrat, or the odd Green that we might have, we represent our communities, and I hope that at times we can act together to ensure that the Executive—Downing Street—become more focused on our street in the north. However, this is about more than the fiscal environment; it is about power, democracy and shaping our own future. The missing part of the jigsaw, or the unfinished business, is genuine devolution for Cheshire and Warrington.

In the past, I worked for Andy Burnham, the current metro Mayor. I was a councillor for 11 years in Manchester, so I have been involved in shaping devolution in that patch, which is just up the road from my constituency and that of the right hon. Member for Tatton (Esther McVey). On the other side of my constituency there is devolution in the Liverpool city region, so we have a missing part of the jigsaw where things are largely done to us, sometimes mistakenly and sometimes not the right things. We have minimal say.

I want to ask the Minister about the devolution White Paper. We genuinely have an oven-ready deal, ready to go with the support of Cheshire West and Chester Council, Warrington Borough Council, Cheshire East Council, and, very importantly, the business community, whether that is the Tatton Group or the local enterprise partnership. We just need to get on.

Before the pandemic, the economy was worth about £38 billion. We can realise that potential and shape our own destiny, which will help us to focus on the things that we need in our patch, such as the mid-Cheshire line, which the right hon. Member for Tatton and others are campaigning on cross-party. We need that to happen in our constituencies and we need it to happen yesterday. We need to realise the potential of hydrogen in Cheshire, where we can not only lead in Britain, but be world leaders. However, we need that say, that investment and that devolution deal.

I will conclude there. I thank the hon. Member for Southport for giving me, a Labour voice, the opportunity to contribute to today’s debate.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gray, and I thank my hon. Friend the hon. Member for Southport (Damien Moore) for securing this important debate. The topic is broad, but I will confine my remarks to Tatton and Cheshire, and will look at cost viability and prioritisation as a good Conservative should. I want to bring a good dose of public common sense to Parliament for the Minister to hear and hopefully take back to the Chancellor and the Cabinet.

I want to talk about High Speed 2, whose cost is like a runaway train, rising and rising. We have that grandiose scheme—some might call it a white elephant—but in Tatton we do not have local infrastructure. We are waiting for local train routes that are meant to have been delivered, and while we focus nationally on just one line, many small lines across local regions have not happened. People commuting from Knutsford to Manchester off-peak are waiting two hours for a train. That is one train every two hours off-peak, although it is one an hour at peak times. However, when the bid for the franchise was made, we were promised that we would have two trains an hour—not two a minute, but two an hour—which is not a lot to ask for and does not involve huge amounts of investment. Just two trains an hour, but that has never been delivered.

Bus routes are another local transport issue to look at. It is hard to find a bus or bus route in Tatton and people are crying out for buses. Buses are not often used during this covid period, but soon that will change and people will not be able to get around, for example, from Wilmslow to Handforth, and then maybe travelling further afield to Warrington, Liverpool or Manchester. I would be remiss if I did not mention my constituents Mr and Mrs Sunderland, who stopped me the other day in Handforth as they were shopping at the Paddock and asked, “What is happening to the 130 bus?”

I ask the Minister to please think about these local transport routes, the bus service, the tram service, the train service—nothing is happening. We also need investment in the mid-Cheshire line, as was mentioned by my friend the hon. Member for Weaver Vale (Mike Amesbury). We have been talking about that year after year and we are here for every question and debate in the House to ask what is going on, but it is being overlooked. We are talking about levelling up. We are talking about not just the north, although we are all here from the north, but the regions, towns and villages, and we all need our local transport.

The final bit of infrastructure we absolutely need and must have is the digital infrastructure to have us all connecting and connected. I admire and praise our Government’s vision for a 1 Gbit capability and the money they have promised to achieve that. It is vital—now more than ever, as people work from home, learn from home and socialise from home—that we have the digital connectivity we need. Therefore, I say stop HS2 with its runaway expenses—it should have hit the buffers a long time ago—and put that money into digital infrastructure to benefit the whole country, and into local transport.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gray, and I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Southport (Damien Moore) on introducing this important debate.

I want to build on what my right hon. Friend the Member for Tatton (Esther McVey) has just said, although I both agree and disagree with it. HS2 and other big projects are important, but I think she was saying that they cannot be exclusive, and they must form part of a bigger picture. She is absolutely right that this is not just about transport links and that fibre broadband infrastructure is going to be revolutionary. Many of us have noticed during lockdown just how difficult it can be at certain points in the day even to open emails. That stands in stark contrast to what needs to be done.

My view on infrastructure, as laid out in a paper I hope to publish shortly, is that we must look to the short, medium and long terms. This is where I differ from my right hon. Friend: I believe there is value in the long-term projects, which will take a long time to build, although it is vital that we have these small, short projects, which are sometimes as simple as 1 km of train track that completely opens up different rail routes. There are lots of those around the Liverpool area, I understand. My hon. Friends might be able to build on those comments.

There are medium-term projects such as light rail infrastructure around my city of Leeds—something that has been in the offing for decades and where money has been supplied, but we have been talked out of it because the project is too difficult and upsets too many people. These things need to happen. However, I want to focus on the main big projects over the long term, which really make a difference, and on particular issues that will be in the report we are producing soon.

In the north of England we are lucky in our maritime position, with the port of Hull and the port of Liverpool. If the globe were tilted to give the relevant perspective, it would show that that corridor is more linked into mainland Europe than the other corridors are. Germany has been able to adapt its economy regularly as the world has changed and moved forward, and the one fundamental truth about where and why that happens is the River Rhine. It is a huge transport link, and a lot of engineering work has been done to link it to other rivers.

Of course, we do not have that between Liverpool and Hull. The canal system was built, but that is not what I am talking about. We need to look at a fundamental freight rail transport system that is akin to what the River Rhine does for commerce in central Europe and Germany. That is there to be built on. On that route, we could build inland freeports, to which the railway freight would be brought from, say, Hull, having come out of Europe. With value-added engineering in tax-free freeports, it would go back on the railway, over to the port of Liverpool and off round the rest of the world—or vice versa, coming back the other way.

We must think in the short, medium and long term, but the long-term projects, which will cost a huge amount of money, need to be really transformational and to put the country in a place that we have not been in before. Is that blue-sky thinking? Is it dreaming? Maybe, but it has to be the ambition. That would go a long way, through infrastructure, towards levelling up the north of England.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gray. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Southport (Damien Moore) for securing the debate.

Investment in new infrastructure is a key issue in my constituency. Indeed, it comes up at every election, local and national, and has done since the 1960s. The first issue, and the one that my constituents raise most often, is reconnecting Leigh to the national rail network. From the moment it lost its station in 1969, local people have campaigned vociferously for a new one, as have the people of Golborne, who lost the second of their two stations in 1967—the first was closed in 1952. I am pleased to say that two bids are currently under consideration as part of the Government’s Restoring your Railway programme. One is for the west coast main line serving Golborne, and one is on the Liverpool to Manchester line, at the old Kenyon Junction site just south of Pennington in my constituency, which would act as a new station serving Leigh itself.

Access to the national rail network, through investing in reopening those two stations, will generate massive economic opportunities for my constituency, meaning that jobs in both Liverpool and Manchester will be accessible by a train journey of approximately 20 minutes in each direction, rather than the two hours and 17 minutes that it currently takes to reach Liverpool, and the hour it takes to reach Manchester, by bus. In the long term, the investment will pay for itself in economic returns.

The second major issue to do with infrastructure investment in Leigh is the need to complete the Atherleigh Way bypass, which has lain unfinished for nearly 35 years. Currently only the middle section has been constructed, and the northern section to Chequerbent roundabout in Bolton and the southern section to junction 22 of the M6 are in desperate need of completion.

Both Leigh and the surrounding communities are beset by congestion and the associated air quality issues. Air quality is poorer in some parts of my constituency than it is in central London, with regard to nitrogen dioxide and fine particulate levels. The latter problem will only increase with the introduction of heavier batteries in electric vehicles, adding to the wear on tyres and roads. That congestion also dissuades new businesses from setting up in the constituency and considerably increases journey times for commuters. In 1966, Golborne Urban District Council, a predecessor authority to Wigan Metropolitan Borough Council, our current local authority, wrote to the Government of the day that the construction of the bypass was an urgent priority. I assure Members that the situation has grown no less urgent in the intervening 54 years.

The final issue I want to raise is that of connecting Leigh to Greater Manchester’s Metrolink system. In the fullness of time I hope that the Leigh guided busway system can be upgraded to a light rail link. Evidence provided to me by the all-party parliamentary group on light rail shows that buses persuade between 4% and 6.5% of car users to switch to public transport. Light rail, by contrast, persuades nearly 27% of car users to make the switch. If we are to meet our ambitious environmental targets, a new generation of hydrogen fuel-powered light rail serving suburban communities will be critical, and we need to start undertaking feasibility studies as soon as possible.

For too long, northern constituencies such as Leigh have been left behind in terms of infrastructure investment. We have been talking about these issues for the better part of 60 years. It is time for the talking to stop. It is now time to deliver for towns such as Leigh across the north.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gray. I am relieved to see a Treasury Minister here who has also been a Transport Minister, so we might have a good chance of a response to our debate, given the focus on transport.

This should be a technocratic debate as much as anything. There is no Labour philosophy on pouring concrete to build a new road, and no Conservative philosophy based on an exegesis of Edmund Burke on how to erect a gantry for overhead line electrification. This is predominantly technocratic. I could spend an entire four minutes trying to demolish the per capita regional spending figures that I have heard quoted for the past 10 years. They are a myth and deeply misleading, but the political class seems universally to have drunk the Kool-Aid.

More topically, it is worth thinking about the review of the Green Book announced today and the impact it will have on benefit-cost ratios. As a Minister who had to focus on BCRs time and again, I can tell colleagues the input to deliver any BCR they wish to find. BCRs on their own do not allow projects to move forward. They are a useful tool in comparing projects that achieve a similar objective—for example, how to improve trans-Pennine links. We can then compare different ways of achieving that and work out the best value.

What BCRs do not do is allow us to choose between north and south projects. It will still be a political choice whether to opt for Crossrail 2 or Northern Powerhouse Rail, and the sequences in which one might do that. In particular, and I will disappoint my hon. Friend the Member for Southport (Damien Moore), it will not get us any new rail carriages—as I know from experience—because a BCR does not take into account the fact that any new rail carriage does not mean more passengers travelling. Therefore, there is no benefit in the Treasury’s mind in that regard.

It is also worth considering that one of the problems that the Treasury has created—and a rod for its own back—which I have been unable to solve over many years, is that it has numerous fantastic projects across the north of England that cannot proceed, because they are predominantly private sector-led. A good example right now is Peel Holdings, which owns Doncaster airport. It wanted to build a short four-mile spur of the east coast main line into the airport. The Department for Transport has just turned it down, despite it being private sector-led. That is because, despite a Treasury and DFT joint review, we could not find a straightforward and simple way to keep such projects off the public purse—that meant that they would have counted towards our debt figures. That still needs to change if we are to properly unlock the true potential of all the private sector-led schemes out there.

Since my three minutes have gone—very quickly—I will make one final plea. I am struck by the fact that I have never detected such a dislike of devolution at any point in the past 15 years from the Government and most of my colleagues. In my view, and in my experience, it is only by devolving power to Metro Mayors, combined authorities and our regions that we will get these smaller projects through and get the compromises that are needed between the regions to deliver some of the more strategic projects. In all my conversations with Metro Mayors and combined authorities—with one notable expectation that Members can probably predict—they have always been apolitical, sensible and constructive and have improved decision making because of the quality of local transport planners. If we move away from devolution, we will have a much less effective transport policy and must less infrastructure built, so please show a little confidence in why George Osborne chose to devolve during the coalition Government. That is my four minutes up.

Thank you, Mr Gray. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Southport (Damien Moore) on securing this important debate. In 2019, we Conservatives stood on a manifesto that pledged new infrastructure projects to help reduce the disparity between the north and south of England. Inequality between the north and the south has long existed, but has grown exponentially over the past two decades. In 2004, London’s economy was the same size as that of the north. As of 2020, London is a quarter larger, according to the think-tank Onward.

Her Majesty’s Government have since committed to a significant number of projects that seek to fulfil their manifesto pledges and reverse the historic imbalance between north and south. To date, a £5 billion package of new funding to overhaul bus and cycle links for every region outside London has been established. Northern Powerhouse Rail and the upgrade to the trans-Pennine route will serve to benefit regional interconnectivity, which is vital to collaboration and commerce between key northern cities.

On 18 November, the Prime Minister announced the Government’s 10-point plan for a green industrial revolution, which includes commitments to key infrastructure areas, notably public transport and clean energy. Today, the Chancellor will unveil the national infrastructure project, which will provide billions to improve transportation connectivity, improve infrastructure such as flood defences, and bolster fibre broadband in our digital infrastructure. It is vital that the funding is used to help areas that have long felt left behind by successive Governments, to boost local economies and to create new sustainable jobs. Conservative MPs elected to represent northern seats such as my own must hold the Government’s feet to the fire and help them to realise their splendid vision for the north to ensure that our constituencies receive tangible and transformative change from these investment plans.

However, the state should not always be the driving force behind infrastructure projects. Incentivising private firms, which understand market demand and consumers far better than the state should be the primary means of levelling up the entire United Kingdom, especially the north. We should appreciate how Heathrow terminal 5 was entirely funded by private investment. It serves millions of passengers, providing hundreds of thousands of flights each year.

We have reached the current stage only because of the failed policies of successive Governments of all stripes, who have created and entrenched a national divide through London-centric policies. Thus, a severe market failure requires rectification. Once we emerge from the covid-19 pandemic and focus on resetting our economy, ensuring that every region of the United Kingdom thrives must be central to policy making. I am confident that, together with my fellow Conservative parliamentary colleagues, we will keep holding the Government to account and ensure that they deliver this exciting and welcome promise for our constituents and the entire kingdom.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gray. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Southport (Damien Moore) for bringing this debate to Westminster Hall.

I and my hon. Friend the Member for North West Durham (Richard Holden) represent the north of the north in this debate, and we would like to make sure that we are all holistic in our consideration of where investment goes in the north. When we think of infrastructure spending, what comes to mind are roads, bridges and trains, but it is also about research and development, social infrastructure and social capital, and about allowing money to be channelled into not only buildings and equipment but the day-to-day needs of public services.

The Government’s promise of levelling up is extremely welcome in the north, and particularly in my constituency. As my hon. Friend the Member for Southport said in his introduction, London has received significantly more public spending per capita than the north has. Looking at the 2003 Treasury Green Book updated by the then Labour Government, that is hardly a surprise. The north and particularly the north-east have suffered since 2003, when these disastrous funding decisions were put in place as a direct result of the Green Book and its skewed investment criteria. The north is clearly disadvantaged, and reform is urgently required to give it stronger weight. The Green Book needs to be ripped up, and investment should go where it is needed in the north.

December 2019 showed that the north had had enough and wanted change. The question is: how do we set about doing that? First, new transport spending in the north should focus on connectivity and capacity. The north does not have the same issues as the south, and what will level up the north is connecting the north’s forgotten and left-behind towns, villages and communities to employment centres and cities. That will connect people across the north to well-paying jobs and will allow people access to better education, being an enabler to lift people up.

Another part of this approach would obviously be the introduction of things such as freeports in Teesside and using the assets of the state to move Government Departments, as well as pump-priming and stimulating private investment. That would also boost companies supplying infrastructure, such as Hitachi and Cleveland Bridge, as well as smaller infrastructure companies such as Finley Structures in Newton Aycliffe.

In my constituency, Ferryhill station has the east coast main line and the Stillington spur running through it. Those lines are active and connect to major conurbations, but the Stillington spur is for freight only, and the fantastic Azumas just whisk straight on through. At one point, it was one of the busiest stations in Europe. The Beeching reversal fund, launched by the DFT, offered the opportunity for MPs to apply for funding to reopen stations. I have made an application for Ferryhill station, and I hope to hear about that shortly.

A key dynamic of this Beeching rail reversal fund is the need for MPs to lead. MPs have a unique perspective on the communities that we represent; we often look at our communities from a hyper-local perspective, allowing us to see the issues and possible solutions, and how small changes can make a big difference. I suggest that the Government create a similar funding pot, open to applications from MPs, to allow funding for particularly rural infrastructure projects that have been overlooked or ignored by councils or mayors. That should be at the level of sorting out a dangerous crossroads or getting broadband into a small village—the things that are too small for national attention, but never seem to quite make the list of local councils or mayors. I am certain that every hon. Member in this debate from a non-urban-centre seat could name a potential infrastructure project in their constituency that has been overlooked, but that would make a huge difference in their community if it was to happen.

To level up infrastructure spending in the north of England, we must look to our communities, and at both macro-connectivity and hyper-local interventions, to see what can be done to level up locally and regionally, with equal importance. Our communities need to see both serious, big schemes and immediate, community-level initiatives, and they must believe that, in the future, the decision-making field will be level.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gray. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Southport (Damien Moore). I do emphasise the term “Friend” because we go way back—before either of us took up a seat in this place.

I will start by touching on a point highlighted by the hon. Member for Weaver Vale (Mike Amesbury): this is about not only hard infrastructure, but soft infrastructure. Unfortunately, I think he was approaching this from the wrong angle, and I much prefer the approach of my hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield (Paul Howell).

We think of infrastructure very much in terms of concrete, new roads and new rail links. To me, that is not what infrastructure is, or what levelling up is about; for me, it is about education, skills and those communities that we represent. How many times do we speak about large-scale planning applications and then say that there is no real infrastructure to support them, when what we actually mean is that there are no schools, doctors, dentists and real economic centres to support thousands of new homes? That is not just an approach that the Treasury needs to take when moving forward, but an approach that planning policy needs to adapt to to fully understand what is going on in our communities.

The white elephant of HS2 has been raised already in the debate. I have spoken in favour of it previously, and it is the right kind of approach. However, we cannot think of all roads leading to London, because that is a falsehood. People from the north should not be forced to choose between HS2 or HS3, just as the people of London were not forced to choose between Crossrail and Crossrail 2; they were able to have both, and they were able to have their cake and eat it—that is the point of having cake.

We do not necessarily want a quicker journey to London—again, it is a falsehood that HS2 is framed in terms of speed rather than capacity—but we do need to ensure that our northern towns and cities are linked together so that we can truly make the northern communities the economic powerhouse.

My hon. Friend is talking about HS2 and linking northern cities. There is a delay coming on phase 2b, as we have heard. Does he agree that we should look at this creatively and extend HS3 from Manchester to Leeds, so that we do not have to wait decades to link up northern cities?

I completely agree with my right hon. Friend; in fact, he framed that argument so succinctly that I do not need to add to it. As I said, the choice between HS2 and HS3 is a fallacy; we can, and should, have both.

In terms of the view that all roads lead to London, the economy is not driven by London; the economy is growing more and faster in the north than anywhere else in the country, and we need to support that.

Much of this east-west connectivity is also driven by the private sector. Drax wants to improve east-west connectivity so that it can ship its fuel source from Liverpool over to Hull. That is part of our green infrastructure recovery; it is about not just greener fuel but carbon capture, which is intrinsic to meeting our net zero target. When we focus on our infrastructure for the north, it truly has to be a soft infrastructure-led, community-led and community-driven process that we are all part of .

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gray. The Government’s big promises to level up the north and build back better have been warmly welcomed by my constituents. It is not surprising that the north has been widely ignored over the past decades; the Government have the opportunity to bring towns and cities in the north of England into the future, and to develop our hospitals, schools, railways and much more.

In my maiden speech, I promised that places such as Hyndburn and Haslingden would not be forgotten anymore. We have the amazing towns of Haslingden, Huncoat, Great Harwood and Rishton, and villages such as Belthorn, and they have been forgotten. My constituency is at the heart of Lancashire—on the right side of the Pennines, if I do say so myself—but we need investment, which is why I too look forward to listening to the Chancellor today.

Alongside my hon. Friend the Member for Burnley (Antony Higginbotham), I support a new swathe of enterprise zones across the country, especially in east Lancashire. They would be places where businesses could invest in new machinery to help them diversify, while receiving capital relief; where the Government supported the infrastructure that was needed; and where job creation was clearly incentivised.

Since becoming an MP, I have fought to reopen the Skipton to Colne railway line. We need the Government’s support to make that a reality. I am pleased to work with the local group, the Skipton-East Lancashire Rail Action Partnership, which has worked tirelessly and invested thousands to prove the viability of the redevelopment of the railway line, but we need to move forward with the engineering study. That railway line would connect east Lancashire to West Yorkshire in a new way, giving my constituents quick access to Leeds and other cities across the north, and opening up new job opportunities across the region. I want to highlight the economic advantages that would be gained by investing in that railway line, alongside the proposal for a freight terminal in Huncoat, which would support businesses and attract new ones to my constituency. That builds on what my right hon. Friend the Member for Elmet and Rothwell (Alec Shelbrooke) said.

I graduated from university only last year, and I used to have to travel to Manchester. What should have been a 23-mile journey, taking about 40 minutes, used to take me two hours every morning and evening. To level up the north, we really need to improve our roads and railways.

My time is short, and I want to finish by talking about town centres. I was elected on the promise that I would push for investment in town centres such as Haslingden and Accrington, which were once a hub for my community but are a shadow of their former selves. Town centres are vital. There is not the same lure for businesses to set up in the town centre, but I believe that with strategic investment, we can make town centres such as mine a centrepiece of business and social life.

I ask that the Government continue to take the pledges to level up the north seriously by making large investments in towns such as mine. That would create a legacy for Hyndburn and Haslingden, and it would truly make sure that the forgotten towns in the north were forgotten no more.

When I saw this debate scheduled, I looked at the dictionary definition of “infrastructure”, and it said:

“The basic physical and organisational structure and facilities needed for the operation of a society or enterprise.”

Infrastructure therefore goes beyond roads, and this or that bypass; it is a much wider concept, as my hon. Friends have said. When it comes to investing in facilities in individual constituencies, I agree completely with my hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield (Paul Howell) that the role and input of MPs can be crucial and can have a huge impact on local communities.

People who have listened to my various contributions in the House will know that I try to mention Bury football club in every speech I give, no matter what it is about—even if it is on foreign policy. The point about the demise of that club is that its site, Gigg Lane in my constituency, is hugely important and strategic, but it has lain untouched for 12 months. Jobs and economic activity have been lost. So much could be done with a site like that. After my election, I managed to persuade Bury Council to look at investing in it, with a vision of creating jobs and enterprise, which is what is needed from infrastructure. Those positive steps would transform my community, as I think my hon. Friend the Member for Bury South (Christian Wakeford) would completely agree, and the passion of people in the town. That is what I think infrastructure is about. My town does not need a bypass; any bypass would have to go up in the air. We are not connected to any rail; we are on the tram system. If I were to talk about transport infrastructure, it would have to be about buses.

Let us take a creative view of infrastructure. Let us invest in those facilities, and in local politicians’ vision for transforming their areas through the creation of jobs and enterprise, which will basically improve the lot of thousands of their citizens.

On buses, we had a great campaign to save a vital bus service that ran through my constituency and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Bury North (James Daly). Does he agree that services such as the X41 are vital to our communities, and that it was a great effort to save that bus route ?

I do. The campaign’s success was completely down to my hon. Friend, so I am glad to be able to acknowledge her input. I benefited by associating myself with her efforts.

The simple point I wish to make in conclusion is this: infrastructure is facilities. It is the way to improve people’s lives. Let us take a creative view of investing in local areas in the north.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gray. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Southport (Damien Moore), whom I know well, for securing the debate. I disagree with my hon. Friend the Member for Hyndburn (Sara Britcliffe): there is no right side of the Pennines. It is vital that all of us across the north stick together. Speaking as someone from Lancashire who represents a seat in the north-east, nothing is clearer than the need to improve trans-Pennine links, as well as north-south links.

As we are both proud Lancastrians, my hon. Friend will agree that the best thing to come from Yorkshire is the road to Lancashire.

I thank my hon. Friend for that, but I do not want to create further division; I am trying to bring us all together.

North West Durham is a unique constituency, in that it has no dual carriageway and no railway line or stations. Local people, feeling rather fed up with being particularly left behind, last year voted for change, and for the first time elected a Conservative MP. On the Prime Minister’s promise to level up the country properly, I remember visiting the cricket club in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield (Paul Howell) with the Prime Minister after the election, and he doubled down on that pledge.

I hope that today’s spending review and future Budgets will see some cash flow through. I agree with several hon. Friends that levelling up is not just about infrastructure; it is about something broader than that. It is about providing opportunity—the opportunity for a person to get on, provide for their family, help lift an entire community, employ people and do the right thing. That is what many people in my community would like to see.

Does my hon. Friend agree that it is important to have some small projects now, some planned projects, and visions for the future? This is a journey that starts now.

I could not agree more with my hon. Friend. We need to show people that we are getting on with the job. We need to show plans for the future and a real vision for where we want the country to be in a few years’ time. That brings me to projects in my constituency.

We have had the news in the past few weeks that our local community hospital is to be redone. We are campaigning for future infrastructure projects, particularly in transport, such as the A68 project, on which I am working with hon. Members from across the country. There is a project to transform the Derwent walk into a public transport link with cycling and walking alongside. There are also improved cycling, walking and bus routes in Weardale, Crook and Willington in my constituency. We must not forget the cultural infrastructure, which also helps support communities. I will be campaigning for a new swimming bath for Crook; the Labour council closed down and demolished the old one within a few weeks in 2012.

Most importantly, I will reflect what my hon. Friend the Member for Bury South (Christian Wakeford) said about education. In the past few weeks, I was really glad to see the removal of the age cap of 23 on the entitlement to a first level 3 qualification, and to see other moves to do with post-qualification applications to university. That is a direction we need to head in. This is not about one thing, and not just about infrastructure; it is about our collective approach in the long term.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gray. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Southport (Damien Moore) for securing this debate. I want to touch on the concept of levelling up, which all of us have spoken about, and to give some thought to what it actually means. We have all talked about it and many of us stood on a manifesto to deliver it. But what does it actually mean to somebody on the ground? In my constituency of Keighley, it very much refers to that forgotten-about place that many of us have referred to. For far too long, Keighley and Ilkley have sat in the shadows of Leeds and Bradford. Levelling up is about ensuring that places like Keighley get the economic recognition they deserve, ensuring that proper, sound, well-thought-through investment is put right into the hearts of these places. I mean tangible investment in projects that will make a real difference to everyday lives, and not just glorified, piecemeal projects, but projects that will have a real impact. For me, the levelling-up agenda is about investment in society and communities—in our healthcare, in our schools, in delivering homes and, of course, in cutting crime, which is a huge consideration in my constituency.

Levelling up is also about infrastructure. When I say infrastructure, I mean a whole range of products. In the summer, the Prime Minister himself said that we need to build, build, build, and build back better. Those sound like great soundbites, but it is exactly what we need to do. I want to talk about projects in my constituency. My hon. Friend the Member for Hyndburn (Sara Britcliffe) talked about the Skipton to Colne railway, which I support hugely. We need to get that delivered, and to connect Yorkshire to Lancashire, so that my constituents can get across to Manchester much quicker, and hers can get across to Leeds.

Levelling up is about ensuring that we connect Northern Powerhouse Rail and the cross-Pennine route. Also, it is about ensuring that the towns fund’s kick-start of up to £25 million is really delivered, so that, if we use those public funds wisely, we can crystallise private investment. When I go around my constituency, business after business tells me that they want to grow and expand. We need to start thinking about how we can use public money wisely to remove restrictive barriers and enable the wise use of private investment on infrastructure, and how we can revitalise business rate structures.

There is one small project I would like to push the Minister to consider in the short time I have: a pedestrian bridge across a dual carriageway connecting Silsden and Steeton in my constituency. This has been talked about for nearly seven years; I must see it delivered in my time.

To conclude, levelling up is much more than a slogan. It is about transforming the lives of people right across the country, not just in the north. I am certainly committed to doing that in my constituency. I will continue to lobby on behalf of all of my residents.

I feel a bit of an intruder, because Stoke-on-Trent might geographically be placed in the west midlands, at the very tip of the midlands engine, but we very much see ourselves as the gatekeepers to the northern powerhouse. For too long, Stoke-on-Trent has been forgotten, stuck between Manchester and Birmingham, where money is being poured in, left, right and centre. Stoke-on-Trent is the 12th-largest city in the United Kingdom, but is sadly in the bottom 20% for social mobility and for level 3 and 4 qualification take-up. The average house price is £114,000. It is a city with plenty of brownfield sites, but, sadly, buildings are rotting away, because the negative land value means that, to developers, it is not worth investing.

When it comes to infrastructure, I concur with many of the comments made today. People are wary of “shiny” and “new” in our area, because they have seen vanity projects being built time and again which have resulted in no real, drastic change in their personal circumstances. Therefore, I am not asking the Minister from the Treasury to just build lots of shiny stuff; what I am asking for is a real focus on how we spend that money.

I build on the superb comments from my hon. Friends the Members for Bury South (Christian Wakeford), for Bury North (James Daly), and for North West Durham (Mr Holden), who talked about education. I have too many schools in Stoke-on-Trent North, Kidsgrove and Talke that are simply not hitting the mark. They are producing results that ensure that children stay trapped in a cycle of low-skilled, low-wage jobs. Education means free school investment. It also means ensuring that adult education—the lifetime skills guarantee—is applied in areas such as Stoke-on-Trent, and ensuring the local college has the funding to deliver. People may not be aware of this, but 12% of my workforce have no formal qualifications—8% higher than the national average.

It also means homes—not just affordable homes, because as I said earlier, Stoke-on-Trent has those. What we need are the four and five-bed executive homes that can attract commuters to Manchester and Birmingham to the area, to help bring regeneration and wealth. However, that also means giving us money, as the Government did at the Royal Doulton site, where we knocked down the empty factory and managed to build over 200 brand new homes, each of which will have gigabit installed directly—pure gigabit, not the stuff that BT and others claim that they are inserting into the network grid.

We need to ensure improved transport. That means finally giving Stoke the transforming cities fund money that it truly deserves. It means ensuring the Stoke to Leek line that connects North Staffordshire is delivered, and ensuring that Superbus, which has been paused due to covid, is reopened, so we can have better and affordable bus routes, and a big push on the hydrogen bus idea in Stoke. The towns fund is an example of how this Government have been superb in ensuring that areas have a chance to level up, and to take ownership of what they want to see. Kidsgrove’s bid is in with the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, and I am hoping we get our full £25 million ask.

The town of Tunstall was previously stuck in the city of Stoke-on-Trent, which meant it was excluded from the last round of the scheme. Stoke is a collection of six towns. Tunstall should not have to miss out. Burslem has the greatest number of closed high street shops in the UK; it is the perfect place for the Government to lead a pilot on how to repurpose and regenerate a high street with town housing, flats, office space and a mixture of small retail and restaurants—and, hopefully, some pubs, when we exit this lockdown. I hope the Government will add my shopping list to the long list of personal requests that I am sure the Minister has been making, and that they will ensure levelling up is a real opportunity for everyone we serve.

Before I call the next speaker, I congratulate colleagues on their self-restraint: we got 14 in Back-Bench speeches in the time available to us, which demonstrates that self-restraint works better than formal time limits.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gray. I congratulate the hon. Member for Southport (Damien Moore) on securing this important debate. I heard one or two murmurs as I came into the Committee this morning: “What on earth is an SNP member for the north-east of Scotland doing intruding on a debate like this?” Let me put hon. Members’ minds at rest: it is not to provoke a regeneration of the Wars of the Roses. I think some Members have been quite capable of stirring that up all by themselves, and I take no sides; I am strictly neutral in that. However, it quite simple for me: whether Scotland is inside the UK, as everybody else in this room presumably hopes, or outside the UK, as I earnestly hope it will be, the infrastructure—particularly the transport infrastructure—in the north of England matters to us as well. There are extensive business and family connections between Scotland and the north of England—or not-the-north-of-England, depending on whether we include Stoke-on-Trent, and where we draw the demarcation.

The north of England lies between us and markets in the south of England, as well as crucial markets in Europe, so it matters to us that the A1 is so poor after Berwick, and between Berwick and Newcastle. It matters to us that the A66 between Penrith and Scotch Corner, which gives access to Yorkshire and the east midlands, should be accessible in all weathers. In that respect, what matters to people in Scotland probably matters as much to the communities all along those corridors. Particularly important is the discussion about what goes where, to what timescale and, crucially—as noted by the hon. Members for Blackpool North and Cleveleys (Paul Maynard) and for Weaver Vale (Mike Amesbury), who is no longer in his place—who gets to decide. It is not just about existing infrastructure; future infrastructure in Scotland is also affected by what is or is not decided for the north of England and the rest of the UK.

Let me return to the subject of HS2. It is clear that there are diverse views in the governing party on the merits or otherwise of HS2, perhaps governed in some part by how close MPs are likely to be to a station on the route that is chosen. For us in Scotland, however, it is quite simple: there is a real benefit in relation to climate. If we can get the journey from Edinburgh, Glasgow and other parts of central Scotland to London below four hours, that is an absolute game changer. Nobody would fly, unless they were going somewhere close to the airport. If somebody is going from central Scotland to central London, of course they would take a high-speed train. It is a game changer.

I have a genuine question. The hon. Gentleman will have heard the speculation about a link between Northern Ireland and Scotland, and what strikes me is the ability to build a high-speed railway between Belfast and Glasgow, and then down the west coast to London. I am genuinely interested in the hon. Gentleman’s thoughts on that.

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his intervention. Not so much in Scottish politics, but certainly in Northern Irish politics, it is a bit of a standing joke that whenever a bauble needs to be dangled, there is talk of a bridge between Scotland and Northern Ireland. There are tremendous technical challenges with that going over Beaufort’s dyke, which is exceptionally deep and full of munitions. Technically, it would be extraordinarily challenging. However the Green Book formula works out, I do not think we will ever see a benefit-cost ratio that will make such a project work, but I am content to let the accountants and number crunchers work that one out. Certainly, in theory, if we could create better connections in the south-west of Scotland and link Northern Ireland to Scotland and elsewhere, I am all in favour of that.

On HS2, if the line is to split either side of the Pennines, it is pretty important to us in Scotland to know on which side of the Pennines it will go. If it goes both sides, logically it is going to head north more slowly than it would otherwise. That matters, because if it goes by Carlisle, we would build a high-speed rail network in Scotland between Glasgow, Edinburgh and Carlisle. If it goes up through Newcastle, we would link Glasgow to Edinburgh and Berwick, and go down that way. Frankly, there is no point spending any money until there is absolute certainty about which way the line will go. That affects the rest of Scotland, because we would be building new infrastructure that would free up train paths capacity and give line speed improvements for the rest of the rail network in Scotland to get into Edinburgh and Glasgow, so the decisions that are or are not taken also matter to us.

There is little doubt that if HS2 had started in Scotland to go to London, rather than t’other way about, it would have happened a great deal faster than it now appears to be happening. That sums up the problem. We can change the formulas in the Treasury’s Green Book, but changing attitudes is another matter entirely. The Prime Minister once notoriously stated that a pound spent in Croydon was worth more than a pound spent in Strathclyde, and I think we can take it that such an attitude also prevails for Merseyside, Manchester and Tyneside. It is quite an embedded mindset in the British Government class—I do not think it is as rare as some hon. Members might wish to think. We will hear later today about the Chancellor’s spending plans and see what transpires.

My final observation is that since 1999, under various shades of political administration, Scottish Governments—whether the Lib-Lab coalition, minority SNP or majority SNP—have moved on investment in Scotland considerably better than in the bad old days of rule from the Scotland Office and Westminster. That is why it is crucial where decisions are taken and why devolution ought to be such an important part of this debate for the north of England.

The UK Internal Market Bill is set to encroach on many of Holyrood’s powers, including the power to set infrastructure spending. Under the guise of “taking back control”, the UK Government are in many respects actually taking away control, and I know it is not just people in my party who regret that that is the case. London clearly receives 60% more per head in capital expenditure than the north-east of England, and 50% more than the north-west. Ultimately, that dial needs to be shifted.

In conclusion, I strongly suspect that it will take a great deal more than today’s announcement to shift that decades-old structural imbalance in where power really lies in the UK, because that power imbalance has roots in politics and the electoral system, and it goes well beyond simple allocations of public expenditure.

Thank you for the opportunity to speak in this debate, Mr Gray. The hon. Member for Southport (Damien Moore) has secured a timely debate. He mentioned the Government’s 10-point plan and nuclear investment opportunities to unleash potential. That was echoed by the hon. Member for Wakefield (Imran Ahmad Khan).

We know that the Chancellor is expected to set out infrastructure spending commitments in his comprehensive spending review today. Given that the north of England has been disproportionately impacted by covid-19 in health and economics, according to the report by the Northern Health Science Alliance, any investment in that region is timely and welcome. We are concerned about the disproportionate economic consequences of covid-19, which make the Chancellor’s announcements on infrastructure spending so important today. Therefore, as shadow Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury, I must ensure that the Government’s actions are closely scrutinised. The north needs real investment, not just empty promises and half-finished projects.

The hon. Member for Southport mentioned that there was a lack of Labour Members at this debate. A similar debate was held on 11 November, led by my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley Central (Dan Jarvis), on support for the economy in the north of England. A number of my colleagues have been vocal on this issue but are unable to attend this debate due to covid-19.

To be the bearer of bad news, the Conservative Government have failed to deliver their promise to deliver infrastructure investment. The right hon. Member for Tatton (Esther McVey) said that she had asked for local investment for local transport, where people were waiting two hours for a train and it was hard to find a bus route. She also mentioned digital infrastructure. My hon. Friend the Member for Weaver Vale (Mike Amesbury) talked about closing the economic divide, dealing with economic inequality and powering up the north, as well as the unfinished business of devolution.

The right hon. Member for Elmet and Rothwell (Alec Shelbrooke) talked about short, medium and long-term projects, which must be transformational. The hon. Member for Leigh (James Grundy) talked about congestion and air quality—I know that he was also at the last debate. He spoke about connecting his constituency to Greater Manchester. I agree with him that the time for talking needs to stop.

Six years on from the announcement of Northern Powerhouse Rail, that line has still not been approved, let alone started. Transport for the North’s website states that the project will be the region’s single biggest transport investment since the industrial revolution. Far from something to brag about, that is a damning reflection of the Government’s commitment to investing in the north.

I am afraid that I will not, as time is short. I ask the Minister to tell me when the northern regional economy will be taken more seriously. When will the Government deliver investment in projects in line with other regions of the UK?

When it comes to delivering projects, the Prime Minister’s portfolio is one of failure. The failed London garden bridge project cost the taxpayer £53 million. The Olympic orbit tower, which was forecast to make a profit of £1.2 million in its business plan, has produced a debt of £13 million, which grows by £700,000 every year. We have seen a theme of failed projects played out in the regions of the UK. In the west midlands, people are still waiting for the Midland Metropolitan University Hospital, which will eventually open four years too late and cost taxpayers £700 million. The Royal Liverpool Hospital is more than five years late and projected costs are now expected to reach £1.063 billion after the collapse of outsourcing giant Carillion, and the taxpayer is still on the hook for £739 million of the overall figure.

I sincerely hope that, for people living in the north of England, the Government’s pledge to level up is successful, but I believe it would be much more fruitful to focus on ongoing projects, a point that has been made by other hon. Members in this debate. That would enable the Government to draw on the great research and infrastructure that is already available in the north and to consult with people living in the region on what they need to see from the Government, rather than announcing a new shopping list of proposals that are unlikely to come to fruition and that will not benefit those who are most in need.

I am afraid that I am unable to.

We know that people living in the north of England have suffered the worst impact on their mental wellbeing, are more likely to have lost their jobs due to covid and have had much higher rates of covid-19 fatalities. The north needs social, economic and health recovery from covid-19 that will address the immediate issues. Labour has consistently called for support for mental wellbeing, including a schools recovery curriculum. We have called for investment in local authorities so that they can provide services that locals are proud of. We need to see the return of youth clubs, libraries open seven days a week, access to leisure facilities and community hubs.

With regard to creating sustainable, high-quality jobs, we have already done the work for the Government and set out to create 400,000 clean, green jobs across the country over the next 18 months. The plan requires three simple steps. If the Government knuckle down and agree to work with MPs across the House, businesses big and small and members of the public, we will be able to create not only a sustainable economy, but a sustainable future for our planet.

We need to recover jobs, with investment and co-ordination to secure up to 400,000 additional good green jobs. We need to retrain workers—something I think we all agree on—and equip them with the skills needed to deploy the green technologies of the future. We also need to rebuild businesses, with a stronger social contract between Government and businesses to tackle the climate crisis and ecological deterioration, while promoting prosperity and employment. I urge the Minister to recommend this plan to the Chancellor and to ensure that yet more money is not thrown at projects that are unlikely ever to be completed.

What a delight it is to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gray. I congratulate you, if I may, on the extremely elegant and deft way in which you have managed the Back-Bench contributions to this debate, with a lightness of touch that has brought great joy to everyone. It has been a good-natured debate, and I thank everyone for the comments, questions and arguments that they have put.

I would particularly like to single out, on behalf of colleagues, my hon. Friend the Member for Southport (Damien Moore) for hosting and calling this debate and for the fact that, in doing so, he has brilliantly selected a day on which the Chancellor himself will be stepping forward with some answers to the specific questions that he is putting. I must say that, as an example of influence in the Chamber, I do not think that is to be bettered; I am very impressed indeed that someone of such tender years in the Chamber and in this Parliament should be able to bring about such a state of affairs, so I congratulate him on that very much indeed.

I also congratulate colleagues across the House on the astonishing fiscal rectitude that they have shown, by and large. At this point, we are normally into the tens of billions in requests from my thrifty Conservative colleagues, as well as from those in other parties, so I am very grateful that they have managed to restrain their appetite—possibly because they are looking forward so intently to the festivities this afternoon.

As my hon. Friends and colleagues across the House will know, I am responding because I am the Minister responsible for the national infrastructure strategy, the National Infrastructure Commission and the Infrastructure Projects Authority. If I may, I will come to many of the comments that were raised and talk a little bit about not just the what, but the how of infrastructure, because that has been well flagged in today’s debate.

I do not think that it needs to be stated too often, and it should not be forgotten, that the desire to invest for the long term and to level up this country is the driving force of this Administration. It is an absolutely central part of what the Prime Minister, the Cabinet and colleagues across the Government stand for. The advent of this pandemic virus has only strengthened and increased the appetite to push forward, and the urgency of that mission. To that, the quality of our infrastructure and the speed of its delivery are absolutely essential.

If I may, I will just rewind a little bit. Colleagues will recall that in the March Budget we announced historic increases in capital spending, setting out plans for more than half a trillion pounds of investment over the next few years. It is important to remember that that investment is not just public investment; it is also private investment. It is very easy to forget the central importance of private investment. This country—through the quality of its regulation, its rule of law, its openness, its ability to set up a business, its accessibility, its language and its culture—remains extremely attractive to international investment, as a place to put hard-earned cash, and rightly so.

In June, the Government explained how they plan to accelerate the delivery of infrastructure schemes. In July, they said they would be bringing forward £8.6 billion of capital spending, focusing on shovel-ready projects, and this afternoon we have not just the spending review statement, but the publication of the national infrastructure strategy and some ancillary documents around that. That will set out the plans for the ambitious acceleration of investment in our country’s infrastructure and, of course, its relation to the levelling-up agenda. If it does not perfectly address all the questions that my hon. Friend the Member for Southport raised his speech, then that is only because if he had given us a couple more days we would have been able to reshape the thing even more precisely.

Let me also talk a little bit about what has been achieved so far. The hon. Member for Erith and Thamesmead (Abena Oppong-Asare), whom I again welcome to her place on the Opposition Front Bench, talked about what has been achieved so far. It is important to flag up what has been achieved, and then we can talk about where we want to go. The first thing I would say is that there is an enormous amount of investment already going into the ground, particularly in the north of England. In his summer economic update, the Chancellor unveiled the great get Britain building fund. Already Mayors and local enterprise partnerships across the north have received some £319 million from the fund, to deliver jobs, skills and infrastructure. That money is pushing forward a range of projects, from the roll-out of electric vehicle charging points in South Yorkshire to a new garden village in Liverpool.

Colleagues will be aware of the towns fund, which is already under way and which, if I may say so, is a great example of collaborative cross-party local engagement, designed to liberate energies, bring forward projects that were not necessarily on local councils’ radar screens and bring them into a coherent, long-term relationship with each other and as part of a single plan for particular towns.

That fund is paying for infrastructure schemes that will unleash the economic potential of smaller communities across the country. It has been rightly said by colleagues that we should not be purely focused on cities. This is a very important aspect of that, and I commend it to them. I am delighted that the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Southport is among the places that are benefiting. We have also accelerated the issuance of some £96 million from the fund, to pay for the roll-out of even more projects that will fuel economic recovery after the coronavirus.

Of course, it is hard to think about infrastructure without thinking about transport. That will continue to be crucial to unlocking the productivity of this country, in particular in the north. That is why we are investing very substantially—indeed, record sums—into improving it. The transforming cities fund has provided city regions across the north, including Greater Manchester, Liverpool and Tees Valley, with over £800 million to make their transport networks even better and greener. At the last Budget, we also announced a £4.2 billion investment across eight city regions, including Greater Manchester, Sheffield and the Tees Valley, for five-year consolidated transport settlements, starting in 2022. In addition, we are spending billions of pounds on upgrading the north’s major strategic road network.

As colleagues will be aware, I negotiated the road investment strategy 2 with the Treasury when I was on the other side of the fence at the Department of Transport, with my hon. Friend—my beloved friend—the hon. Member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys (Paul Maynard). In RIS2, we were able to negotiate a substantial investment in roadbuilding on a strategic basis across the country, including a lot of schemes in the north.

That is not just about new roads, but about making our existing road network more effective and ready for electric vehicles and, in due course, autonomous vehicles. That is an important part of the development of our overall infrastructure. Those schemes include dualling the A66 across the Pennines and of the A1 from Morpeth to Ellingham in the north-east, and upgrading the A63 and Castle Street in Hull and the Simister island junction in Greater Manchester.

The same is true for investment in the north’s railways. As colleagues will be aware, we are going to publish an integrated rail plan that looks at the scope, form and phasing of rail investment in the north and the midlands. We will also seek to reverse some of the Beeching cuts of the 1960s, so that we can get more community connections in place.

I spoke earlier about the importance when we invest not just of the what, but of the how, and colleagues were absolutely right to raise that question. I single out the comments made by my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent North (Jonathan Gullis), who was right to focus on that. Through the national infrastructure strategy, which we are publishing this afternoon, and through the work that goes on around it, with the National Infrastructure Commission that we set up and the Infrastructure and Projects Authority, we are thinking harder about how to choose, integrate and deliver schemes as best we can and better than any other Government for a long time.

I will give a little example that is close to my heart: the ministerial training programme that I set up for colleagues, who will be pleased to know that it is now in its second phase. We have taken the view that Ministers can benefit, as can senior civil servants and anyone who aspires to be in the senior civil service, from becoming better clients of major projects and better able to ask searching questions about timing, schedule and budget of delivery. That important programme is something that we have put in place. As colleagues will know, we plan to set up a new economic campus in the north of England, with a substantial number of civil servants and people from across the economic parts of Government, to give not just a local presence, but a change of mindset that responds to colleagues’ concerns.

If I may pick up on a couple of other points about the “how?”, colleagues will know that we recently established the northern transport acceleration council, which is designed to get those projects up and running more quickly. We are pressing harder on the devolution agenda—colleagues have rightly flagged that—and have just agreed a devolution deal with West Yorkshire for £1 billion of investment and a directly elected Metro Mayor from May next year. We fully implemented the Sheffield City Region deal, including £900 million of new funding, along with substantial devolved powers over transport, skills and planning. We intend to go further still through the forthcoming devolution and local recovery White Paper.

I am lucky that, thanks to your genius, Mr Gray—

—I have a bit of time left to spend talking about the specific comments that have been made, which have been extremely helpful and interesting. My hon. Friend the Member for Southport was absolutely right to encourage us to look at rural areas as well as cities. He painted an almost garden of Eden-like picture of life in Southport, where people stroll airily from flower shows to comedy festivals to air shows, while striking a mean four iron on Royal Birkdale. I thought that an exquisite moment in his speech. He rightly highlighted the importance of railway, the stronger towns fund and the freeports, which he will know we have announced, and from which the north could benefit hugely in this competition.

The hon. Member for Weaver Vale (Mike Amesbury) is no longer in his place but I thought that he was right to focus on devolution, which I touched on in earlier remarks. The point about the capillaries and arteries of infrastructure was well made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Tatton (Esther McVey). My right hon. Friend the Member for Elmet and Rothwell (Alec Shelbrooke) was absolutely right to focus on the short, medium and long term. As he will know, one of the great unsung heroes of transport policy over the last few years has been Sir Rod Eddington. His report was very much about managing smaller schemes—often enormously important and not to be forgotten—that move people, particularly in suburbs and areas of large volumes of traffic, by rail, road or other means, and it was absolutely right.

My right hon. Friend’s call for a new Rhine system of navigation in the north was optimistic, but I respect the intent and energy behind it. My hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (James Grundy) was right to pick up on light rail. When I was in the Department for Transport, we did a consultation on light rail, which has such great potential. It is extremely inexpensive compared with some of the heavier rail alternatives, and it could be a beautiful new industry for the UK to develop. We have a tremendous amount of relevant skills in the supply chain, and I very much look forward to hearing more about that from colleagues.

If my right hon. Friend will indulge me for one second, we have had a good debate and many colleagues have participated. I just want to put on the record that some of our colleagues have been unable to contribute. For example, my hon. Friend the hon. Member for Pudsey (Stuart Andrew), who was unable to take part due to his commitments, is equally involved in infrastructure in the north, and his ambitions are there. I just want to get on the record that many colleagues in the north were unable to take part—I am sure the Minister will have responded to them—but they are as important in this conversation as the rest of us.

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. The unheard voices are as important as the voices in the room. Of course, as he knows, my door remains absolutely open for them at any point, in this debate or otherwise.

My dear friend the hon. Member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys rightly raised the point about BCRs, which is an important technical point and they should not be abused. There is a certain art and craft to effective valuation assessment. The centre for it across Government is in the Department for Transport rather than in the Treasury. We have a great deal of respect for the work that they do there, although there is a very high level of understanding of industry in the Treasury, in a way that has not always been true. That means we get a better client relationship between the two sides, or a better interaction between the Ministries, the Departments, and the centre.

My hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield (Paul Howell) raised the idea of a funding pot for MPs, which I have to say raises all kinds of worries in me. We have been there before in our history some 100 years ago, so I am a little bit nervous about that, but the idea that there should be significant political leadership in making choices, and accountability for that, is absolutely right. I think the stronger accounts fund is rather a good way of tying those elements together, so I do not disagree with him about that.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bury South (Christian Wakeford) talked about infrastructure of the mind, as I would call it. Skills are so important, but so easy to forget, and only to focus on transport, and he was absolutely right about that. I commend to him the work of the new university we are setting up in Hereford, which does exactly that. The importance of cultural infrastructure was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for North West Durham (Mr Holden). I hope I have said enough to recognise the contributions otherwise made, so rather than overrun, I will allow my dear friend the Member for Southport to close the debate.

I thank all Members for their spirit of conviviality during today’s debate. It is most refreshing when so many colleagues actually agree with one another. The debate was not confined to colleagues from the north of England, although every debate that involves those colleagues always has a Pennines, Lancashire and Yorkshire dynamic to it. It is important to recognise that infrastructure spending in the north not only benefits our communities, but the communities that they touch. The hon. Member for Gordon (Richard Thomson) mentioned communities in Scotland.

My hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent North (Jonathan Gullis), a passionate campaigner, talked about the midlands and the northern links that we have there. It is often said that the north was built by people of enterprise, talent and ability, and I am pleased that we have seen so many of those attributes portrayed by the representatives of those areas today.

We await with eager anticipation the spending commitments today. I am sure we are even more eager for the Minister to get over to the Treasury to rewrite the spending commitments for all the things that we have asked for. Nevertheless, the commitments that the Government have to the north are clear and absolute, and I am sure we will be in this Chamber and the main Chamber of the House debating what we want to see for our communities. They are more than projects; this is about people.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House has considered infrastructure spending in the North of England.

Sitting suspended.