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Borderlands

Volume 788: debated on Thursday 25 January 2018

Question

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the Chancellor’s speech on the Autumn Budget 2017, what progress has been made on a growth deal for the Borderlands.

My Lords, in the Budget, the Chancellor committed to opening negotiations for a growth deal with the borderlands following a proposal it submitted to the Government in September 2017. The Government, working closely with the Scottish Government, are now starting work with the borderlands to develop a deal that brings the private and public sectors together on both sides of the border to drive growth across the region.

I am grateful to the Minister for his Answer, but can he clarify what would be available under this scheme for Berwick, which is on the English side of the border but is the economic and transport hub for the Scottish eastern borders? With two Governments, six or seven local authorities and a proposed “North of Tyne” elected mayor involved, who will make the decisions?

My Lords, five local authorities are involved in the borderlands area and have been discussing possibilities for some time, notwithstanding that the proposal was made in September last year. The first meetings since the Budget announcement were a week ago today: one in Carlisle—not, alas, in Berwick—and the other in Dumfries. The Scottish Government, the UK Government, the local authorities and others were all represented. This will be driven by the area itself—it will bring forward proposals—rather than the Government. It is early stages yet, but to reassure the noble Lord, I can say that some of the proposals being looked at do involve Berwick—Berwick marina, a landing stage in Berwick for cruise ships, and the Berwick theatre—as well as various areas in Northumberland, such as the Kielder reservoir. There are also other developments across the area involving energy and tourism.

My Lords, the three authorities on the north-east side of the border—Northumberland, North Tyneside and Newcastle—have secured something of a deal with the Government, who will supply £600 million to invest over 30 years, which is £20 million a year. Is that not bordering on the irrelevant, given the scale of the problems the area faces? I refer to my local government interests.

My Lords, obviously, the local authorities concerned, some of which are under the control of the noble Lord’s party, do not think so. They have come forward with proposals which we will be looking at, and there will be distinct advantages for the area. We are disappointed, obviously, that the southern side of the Tyne is not participating any more, but that is not on economic grounds. As the noble Lord well knows, it is on personal grounds.

My Lords, given that the Government are now committed to regional plans involving the private and public sectors, does the Minister think it was wise to do away with the RDAs, which had a very successful record in many parts of this country?

My Lords, the noble Lord is right to draw attention to our many successful regional deals involving metro mayors, many of whom are operating very effectively across political parties, and to say that those are working well. The Government, as always, are focused on the future rather than the past. We are developing a very successful policy and I am glad that it has the noble Lord’s backing.

My Lords, I declare an interest as a Cumbrian. Can my noble friend confirm that the money being talked about is new and not simply money that the local authorities in the area have anyway, and it is a question of robbing Peter to pay Paul?

My Lords, we do not know what the new money will be; it depends on the proposals made to the Chancellor, but in all likelihood there will be new money, just as there has been in other growth deals. Not all the money is from the public sector by any means; much of it will be driven by very successful businesses in the private sector.

My Lords, the distance between the edge of my former constituency in the Scottish borders and the Eden district in Cumbria is the same as between London and Sheffield. A huge area is potentially covered by this issue, and each part has distinct needs. That is why the local government committee in the Scottish Parliament has called for extra specificity in this deal, as opposed to city deals. As the Minister said, this has been on the table for quite a while—since I was in the Scottish Parliament—so can he give an assurance that agreement will be made in advance of the coming Budget, in time for the UK budget for English local authorities, and the Scottish Parliament budget process for the Scottish local authorities?

My Lords, the noble Lord is right about it being a very large area; it is also a very beautiful area that I had the privilege of travelling across fairly recently. He will appreciate that this is not solely within the control of the UK Government—or indeed, the Scottish Government, to be fair. It will be driven by what is happening on the ground with the businesses and local authorities that are now talking together. The early signs are that the meetings held last week were highly successful; everybody was full of praise for what was happening. There is a timescale to abide by, which means coming forward with concrete proposals no later than the late spring.

My Lords, will my noble friend ensure that there is parity in all growth deals between rural and urban areas? Do the Government accept that it is infinitely more expensive to deliver public services in rural areas, which should be reflected in all such deals between public and private partners?

My Lords, I can understand my noble friend’s hyperbole, but I think “infinitely” more expensive might be slightly overdoing it. Nevertheless, she is absolutely right that this, like all growth deals, must benefit all parts of the area. This is a very rural area; there are issues on farming which are being pursued, as well as on sustainability, tourism and energy, which will benefit the whole region. That, I think, will be the essence of its success.

Will the Minister welcome the fact that Carlisle airport has announced that it is going to resume scheduled services? That will help the whole region.

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord. Yes, I certainly give an unqualified welcome to that. The noble Lord is absolutely right; it is very good news, which we have just heard publicly this week.

Is the Minister aware that there has been a great deal of dualling between Edinburgh and Berwick, but less dualling between Berwick and Newcastle? If this development can be encouraged, it will greatly help the local economies of Berwickshire and Northumberland.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend very much for that—I think the A1 is the dualling in question. The Government committed £290 million to that in 2014, I think. My noble friend is absolutely right about the vital nature of infrastructure and good communications.

My Lords, it is very good to hear that progress is being made on the borderlands growth deal, but Yorkshire is a rather larger and more compact area. I was at a meeting in York last week with local councils, Peers and MPs for Yorkshire. We are now clear what we would like from the Government, but they seem very slow in responding to Yorkshire. Is there any progress in prospect on that?

My Lords, the noble Lord may be referring to the issue of the all-Yorkshire plan; I think that is what he is getting at. He will be aware that we are proceeding towards mayoral elections in the Sheffield City Region this year. There is the prospect after that, if the parties agree, of an all-Yorkshire deal down the line, as it were. But that is something for the area to come to the Government with proposals on. We have not had any concrete proposals, but if the area comes forward with some, we will of course look at them.

My Lords, can the Minister confirm that there is a potential compromise—much welcomed, it has to be said—regarding going forward with the Sheffield City Region mayor? Would the Government consider weighing in and riding with that compromise?

My Lords, I know that the noble Lord takes a particular interest in this, for understandable reasons, from the Sheffield perspective. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State has written to the authorities in the Sheffield area outlining a compromise. I think that a response has come back and we are now looking at it. There is certainly a sign of some compromise emerging that will suit everybody in the Yorkshire region.