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Union Connectivity

Volume 717: debated on Wednesday 29 June 2022

I regularly discuss important issues on improving Union connectivity with ministerial colleagues. Earlier this year, for example, I co-chaired a roundtable discussion with Transport Ministers and Scottish stakeholders.

The Union connectivity review provides a boost for regional airports and domestic aviation by suggesting ways in which public service obligations could be reformed to support regional flights. Does the Minister agree that restoring commercial passenger flights between Blackpool airport and locations in Scotland would boost economic growth and help to create jobs and investment in both locations?

Scotland’s love affair with Blackpool has existed for decades and is well known. The more Scots who can visit my hon. Friend’s lovely constituency, the better. We of course recognise the importance of maintaining a thriving and competitive aviation sector in the UK. I know that he is a strong campaigner for more air services to and from Blackpool, and we will continue to consider whether there are further opportunities to utilise public service obligations to meet our Union connectivity and levelling-up objectives.

The Union connectivity review recommended that the UK Government work with the Scottish Government on an assessment of the east coast transport corridor to include improvements to the east coast main line and the A1. Can my hon. Friend update the House on progress in bringing forward that recommendation?

The Government are grateful to Sir Peter Hendy for his work and we are considering his recommendations carefully. The Prime Minister has welcomed, and intends to accept, the proposal for the creation of UKNET, a strategic transport network spanning the entire United Kingdom. The funding that the UK Government have set aside for this review will put us on the right path to strengthen and maintain our transport arteries for people and businesses across the UK.

Connectivity between Scotland and England matters, especially for the area that I represent in Cumbria, and south-west Scotland. Does the Minister share my concerns that the Scottish Government are not helping to deliver the investment, especially with regard to the Borders rail feasibility report and roadbuilding generally?

Yes. I was pleased to be able to visit my hon. Friend’s constituency and see the value of the levelling-up projects in his area as part of the growth deal in and around Carlisle station. I am keen to see the feasibility study work commence on extending the Borders rail line. I have recently met the Minister of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Wendy Morton), to progress that project.

Belfast harbour has reported levels of trade and an increase in turnover and profits of 17%, to £73.3 million, for 2021, so improving Union connectivity for Northern Ireland, even with a tweaked protocol. Why will the Secretary of State’s office not campaign for Union connectivity with the greatest booster of our economy, the European Union?

What we are focusing on in terms of the trade from Northern Ireland to Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom is that part of the Union connectivity recommendations on upgrading the A75 and the A77. We want to do that. I have been very keen to meet the Scottish Transport Minister, who continues to refuse to meet me or my ministerial colleagues. Perhaps the hon. Member could have a word with her to get that meeting in place.

The decision to leave the European Geostationary Navigation Overlay Service satellite programme last year has had catastrophic implications for the reliability of lifeline air services, and even the Air Ambulance Service, across the highlands and islands. We were told at the time that it was done on the basis of cost, but we now know that, for every pound spent on EGNOS, there is a £2.60 benefit to the UK economy. This was one of Dominic Cummings’ madder ideas. Is it not time to admit as much, rejoin EGNOS, and improve air services in the highlands and islands?

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his question. I am aware of the EGNOS issue and discussed it with the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Robert Courts), some time ago. I am aware that Loganair has written to the Secretary of State for Transport, pointing out additional evidence. I would be very happy to meet him to discuss that further, but I do know that my colleagues in the Department for Transport are working with the industry to deliver a good replacement.

We were promised a bridge to Northern Ireland, which everybody knew would not happen, but we have not seen the money for that. We were promised that High Speed 2 would run to Scotland on day one. Not only is it not running on day one, but the Government have now taken away the Golborne link. Is it not the case that this UK Government are running a scorched-earth policy on Union connectivity and the Union overall?

The hon. Gentleman is, I am afraid, completely wrong. Scotland will be connected to HS2 from day one and the project will deliver enormous capacity and journey time improvements. On the specific issue of the Golborne link, Sir Peter Hendy’s review found that it was not the optimal way to connect the high-speed line to the classic network, but we are looking at better alternatives to deliver that increase in capacity.