A northern powerhouse will be built by connecting up the cities in the north so that the whole is greater than the parts. We have committed billions to new transport investment and devolved powers to the cities, and we are promoting science and culture. According to one recent survey, the result is that the number of foreign direct investment projects in the north is up by 127% since 2014. The employment rate is now close to its record high, and unemployment has fallen faster than in the south.
May I add my congratulations to the new Front-Bench team? In medieval times, the north was ruled from the great city of York. Even in Yorkshire, things do move on, but the need for well-connected transport links is still fundamental for every thriving city. Will my right hon. Friend ensure that sufficient funding is in place to deliver the key infrastructure needs, such as the upgrading of the York northern ring road, which will allow the city to fulfil its true potential in the new enterprise zone?
This Government are determined to ensure that we have strong transport infrastructure in the north of England, but I very much hear the points my hon. Friend has made. We have committed to investing an extra £161 million to accelerate the transformation of the M62, and £75 million to improve other road links, including the A66 and the A69. We very much recognise the case he is making and, as I say, as a Government we are determined to ensure that the north of England can fulfil its potential.
May I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on his promotion to the Cabinet? Earlier, he was very vague about the European structural funds. Some £800 million of European structural funds were part of the north-east devolution deal. Without a guarantee from the Government, the loss of that money will drive a coach and horses through the deal. [Interruption.] I will give the Minister time to listen to what the Chancellor is saying in the hope that he can come to the Dispatch Box and say that the Government will guarantee the £800 million.
As I said earlier, we recognise the need to bring any uncertainty to an end as soon as we possibly can. In the circumstances, it is right that we take a moment before making any guarantees, but let me be absolutely clear that as a Government we remain committed to doing everything we can to strengthen the northern powerhouse and to ensure that the north of England fulfils its full potential, which includes transport infrastructure. On the specific point, we will make an announcement in the not-too-distant future.
17. Since 2010, my city of Leeds has seen hundreds of millions of pounds invested in its transport infrastructure. I wonder whether my right hon. Friend can confirm that the billions of pounds that were to be put into the northern powerhouse to invest in transport infrastructure across the whole of Yorkshire and the Humber will still be delivered. (905960)
The northern powerhouse plans in south Yorkshire are at risk. In the 1980s, our economic regeneration was kick-started by funding from Europe and it still supports small businesses, training and apprenticeships, so may I give the Chief Secretary another chance? Will he guarantee that the £174 million that has been pledged to south Yorkshire under the current programme will be paid in full?
The right hon. Gentleman will understand, as a former Treasury Minister, that there is a need for consistency. My answer remains that we will make an announcement soon. We recognise the point that he is making and the desire to remove uncertainty, but I am not in a position to make an announcement this morning.
21. There are nine enterprise zones in the north-west of England, including the magnificent Sci-Tech Daresbury in Weaver Vale, which employs more than 500 scientists. Does my right hon. Friend agree that enterprise zones are essential to the Government’s commitment to rebalance the economy, close the north-south divide and build a great northern powerhouse? (905964)
My hon. Friend makes a very good point. Enterprise zones, which were reintroduced by the Government in the last Parliament, are important in creating a clustering effect and a culture of enterprise. They are making a big contribution to the northern powerhouse and playing a role in the increase in investment in the north of England.
May I welcome the new Ministers to the Front Bench? Five northern powerhouse combined authority leaders have requested a meeting with the Prime Minister in Manchester to discuss the serious implications of Brexit for the northern economy, given its massive contribution to the country as a whole. In advance of the Brexit vote, will the Chief Secretary tell the House how many civil servants were working on regional plans, or any other plans for that matter, for such an eventuality?
First, I thank the hon. Gentleman and welcome him to his post. I am delighted to see that the shadow Front Bench is almost up to full complement.
We obviously face a number of challenges in terms of the new situation, but there are also a number of opportunities. As I have made clear repeatedly today, the Government are determined to ensure that, whatever the consequences of the Brexit vote, we will enable the northern cities to prosper and work together. That remains a Government priority.