Wednesday 23 November 2016
[Geraint Davies in the Chair]
Exiting the EU: Higher Education
I beg to move,
That this House has considered the effect of exiting the EU on higher education.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies. My delight at securing this debate is slightly tempered with disappointment, because I originally submitted it to the Brexit Department but it was passed over to the Department for Education. Much as I like and respect the Universities Minister, especially since he campaigned on the same side as most of my hon. Friends and me in the EU referendum, I wish that the people responsible for this mess were answering these questions. But never mind; we are where we are.
For a matter of such crucial importance, the future of universities barely featured in the debates before 23 June; it was completely absent from the notorious leaflet, it was not on the side of any bus and it was not in any of the TV debates. However, it seems that some catching up is under way. The other day I opened my alumni magazine from its polythene wrap to find a long essay about it from the vice-chancellor of Cambridge University —or should I say a long lament? A Prime Minister’s question and a parliamentary question were asked on the subject last week, and I recently turned on the TV and found that the House of Lords was debating it. In her answer to the PMQ, the Prime Minister affirmed the need to continue to attract the brightest and best, but I am afraid that many in the sector fear that the opposite could happen because of the decision to leave. The damage must be limited now.
Brexit in general raises all sorts of questions of uncertainty and unpredictability, from macro stuff, such as the freedom of movement and the single market, to micro issues that people can get their heads around, such as the size of a Toblerone or the price of Marmite. Universities too have macro and micro issues, all refracted through the academic prism; this debate is almost a microcosm of all such debates. I will raise some of those issues before seeking some assurances and listing some asks of the Minister.
In the Times Higher Education’s ranking of 800 universities according to a range of indicators, UK institutions were three of the top 10. We should all be proud of that, but it is now imperilled. I see a parallel with how the leave campaigners kept saying, “We are the fifth largest economy; we’ll be okay”, but now, soon afterwards, it looks as if we are slipping down to sixth place. Most of the rest of those 10 universities are in the United States, so we should be under no illusions: our placing is a result of the all-important English language, but it is also buttressed by our access to European networks and by our intellectual climate. We need to do all we can to indemnify our universities now.
On macro issues, it is arguably the role of a university to be about global reach and collaboration. Many speakers in the Lords debate spoke about soft power. Other people like the phrase “bridges, not walls”—although the chief advocate for building literal walls has found that the reputation of his own university, Trump University, has not fared that well recently, given the court case that was settled on Friday. Leaving that aside, concrete examples of research projects that have benefited from EU funds include the hadron collider space research that captivated the world.
EU students on campuses have also benefited. I taught in universities for many years before I came to this place in May 2015, and I know that many of our courses are populated by EU students—particularly STEM subjects and business studies, which are less popular with home students. When I talk to my friends in the sector, they say that a lot of masters courses would completely collapse without those students. We need some assurances on the fee code that will apply to them; we know that there are assurances up to 2018-19, but what will happen after that?
We also know that the Treasury will underwrite research funds obtained while we are in the EU, but such research streams often go hand in hand with EU structural funds—I think Portsmouth has had a medical campus out of it. Structural funds related to EU funding fluctuate yearly but can be between £50 million and £100 million.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this important debate. Does she agree that universities and their research and spin-offs have a crucial role post-Brexit, but that to make the most of it they need to be assured that lost EU funding will be totally reinstated, that collaborative research with researchers and institutions in the EU will be enabled to continue and that restrictions on overseas students’ post-study opportunities must be relaxed?
As always, my right hon. Friend makes an excellent point. He has anticipated my speech very well, because EU students and their migration totals are on my list of asks, which I am coming to.
The Prime Minister’s much quoted Downing Street speech advocated
“an economy that works for everyone”.
Universities are often the biggest employers in their cities. There are lots of figures on this; in 2014-15, 125,000 EU students generated some £4 billion for the UK economy, and there is off-campus spending as well. We must not ignore all that. We need to bust the myth that universities are merely insular communities up an ivory tower with their heads in a book and provide no wider public benefit. In addition, there is the £836 million of research funds—15% of the total. Universities provide good economic value.
Universities are also changing. My constituency is home to the University of West London, but also to a distance learning and blended learning institution, Arden University. People felt that there were already pressures on the sector, but Brexit is exacerbating everything.
As well as statistics, we should also consider a wider set of philosophies. In my alumni magazine, the vice-chancellor of Cambridge wrote that
“the University has a duty of leadership that it will not forsake…Our commitment to Europe…is…to a shared cultural and intellectual heritage”.
In the ’90s, as a twentysomething, I did a stint at Strasbourg II, one of Strasbourg’s many universities. I want others to have the same opportunities. After I finished my degrees, I worked as a university staffer; the Russell Group, where I was employed early in my career, has had to lay on hotlines to provide not only emotional counselling but legal help for its institutions to get indefinite leave to remain for academics who are completely traumatised by what has happened.
I know from friends in the research community that British researchers are already being snubbed for Horizon 2020 funding or are being told, “You can’t be the lead partner institution any more because you will be gone soon”, and we have not even left the EU yet.
The hon. Lady makes some valid arguments. I was on the other side of the Brexit campaign from her, but I know how important universities are. European research funding makes up 11% of the research budget for York University in my constituency. She has hit a key note. We really need to know whether Britain will be part of a wider collaboration with the EU and involved in the future beyond Horizon 2020, whatever it may be. We do not know what that future will be, but we need to make certain that UK universities play a leading role in it.
I completely agree with the hon. Gentleman. There are many unknown unknowns in this debate. A former employer of mine, Professor Martin McQuillan from Kingston University, where I was last employed, has written an article about the post-1992 sector. York is a Russell Group university, as is Cambridge, and Manchester, where I used to work, but at the other end of the spectrum we have the new universities that John Major equalised—the ex-polys, which felt precariously perched anyway. In his article, he outlines some of the pressures—we discussed some of them on Report on the Higher Education and Research Bill on Monday—including rocketing class sizes without commensurate resource, reforms to the research excellent framework, and the new teaching excellence framework.
My old boss says that to some extent EU funding used to level the playing field, but if that is gone, it will tip things even more unequally towards the older universities. He highlights the shocking Higher Education Funding Council for England prediction that between 2015 and 2019, the funding gap between the best and worst-performing institutions will widen, with the spread running from plus 21.5%—some will be in surplus by that much—to the worst performing at minus 28.6%. That is quite a disparity, and it is set to grow; hardly an economy that works for all.
I would rather we had remained in the EU to shape the criteria. One of the arguments was that we might be like Norway, having to do all the same stuff but not making the decisions at the top table. But we are where we are. I shall now go through the list of asks, or—I do not know—demands; or should I be collegiate and friendly and call them the suggestions that we might like to build into a future strategy?
Yes. Many academics, and not just them but the ancillary staff and all those other people, such as the technicians, are part of the 48%. If we are going to jump off a cliff, it is a good idea to have some idea of where we are going to land, preferably with a parachute to soften the descent.
Here come the assurances I am seeking. First, I urge the Government to heed the warning of MillionPlus, which is the pressure group for the post-1992 sector, equivalent to the Russell Group. It says that any moves to create a more “hostile environment” for EU or international students in order to drive down immigration is “problematic”, so we should remove students from the immigration targets. All the polling shows that people see them not as immigrants but as temporary stayers, and they are welcome here and valued by the population at large.
Secondly, we all do surgeries and we all deal with the Home Office. Home Office procedures and the vexatious visa requirements should be speeded up. The tier 2 visa threshold is now at £35,000; it was £18,000. I have spoken about it previously in relation to curry chefs, but the principle also applies to people such as lab technicians, who are highly skilled but who in universities might not be earning £35,000, which is quite high on the spinal scale. The threshold should therefore be looked at again.
Thirdly, I mentioned my experience with the Erasmus programme; access to Erasmus+ should be guaranteed for UK students. Even if it requires funding, the money should be found from somewhere, because we want to be a forward-thinking trading nation that keeps engaging with the world. Fourthly, we have had short-term assurances on Horizon 2020 and fees until 2018, but longer-term stability is needed for forward planning as we voyage into uncharted waters. The business model cannot continue as “business as usual”.
Fifthly, we are substantial net beneficiaries of our universities’ European dealings, so we somehow need to retain as much as possible in a new way, which is why I would like to see higher education represented at the top table in Brexit negotiations. I hope that the Minister will be there, given all his expertise and all the multifaceted aspects. Will we be like Norway, with access but no influence? Will we be a sort of pay-as-you-go country? Or will there be some third way that I have not thought of?
Sixthly, since this debate was announced I have received loads of suggestions from institutions all over the country —far wider than Ealing Central and Acton. My old union, the University and College Union, has produced a charter that urges the Government to enshrine human rights, and has also said that there should be an urgent inquiry. If that inquiry, or any other, goes ahead, it should consider campus hate crime. Anecdotally, we have heard of a worrying upsurge now that people feel disinhibited in voicing what was previously not politically correct, or was politically incorrect. We had already heard about Islamophobia and anti-Semitism rearing their ugly heads on campuses. The climate at a university should be that of a safe space for all, so all intolerance should be stamped on.
Seventhly, of all the different quotes I have seen in preparing for this debate, my favourite is this one, which I think the Minister may recognise:
“European research funding offers a good example of how the EU can get things right…EU countries are among our most crucial partners…Free movement of people makes it easier for our universities to attract the best talent.”
Those words were of course said by the Minister, the hon. Member for Orpington (Joseph Johnson). They are as true now as when he said them. I know that we have lost that argument, but we still need to do everything we can to ensure that the Prime Minister dispels all doubts that EU nationals in the UK, and their dependents, will ever be bargaining chips in some kind of negotiating game. The Minister must also set out robust reciprocal arrangements for our academics who go elsewhere.
I could go on. I have spent a lifetime in universities: from 1990, when I started my undergraduate degree, to May 2015. That is quite a long time, and I have never really got out—I am always in the Library upstairs. In my experience, Westminster Hall debates sometimes have meaningless responses from Ministers, but I am optimistic that this Minister, whom I like, trust and respect, will come up with something better for us today, and I am keen to hear the contributions from right hon. and hon. Members from both the Government and Opposition Benches.
We have had our fair share of bad news this year. I could go on and on listing so many international atrocities, the result the other week and the referendum result. Before all that there was our friend and colleague, Jo Cox, whom we lost in June; that is still very difficult for many of us to process. We have had so much bad news that I am hoping for some good news from the Minister when he responds.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies. I congratulate the hon. Member for Ealing Central and Acton (Dr Huq) on securing this debate. She should be more forthright in her demands of the Government; I give her some encouragement in that direction.
The terms of Brexit are clearly still to be decided. My priority, and that of my party, is to campaign for the least bad option for the Welsh economy. That includes getting the best possible outcome for higher education and putting in place every possible safety net to mitigate the potentially catastrophic effects of leaving the European Union in a hard-line way.
The right hon. Gentleman asks a very interesting question, but given the shortness of time I shall not go too far in discussing it. The research that I and other respected academics in Wales have conducted shows that deprivation was an important factor. The constituency that received the most money from Europe—that of the hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Nick Smith), who is not here today—voted most heavily to leave. It is something to do with deprivation and being left behind, but it is also, of course, much more complicated than that. I should say that my constituency voted 60:40 in favour of staying in.
Plaid Cymru has been united in its determination to maintain membership of the single market and the customs union, at least, because that would be by far the least damaging option for the Welsh economy—first, because of the wide-reaching benefits of being in the single market and customs union for Wales; and secondly, because it will enable Wales to qualify for the cross-border and transnational programmes and research and innovation funding from which our higher education sector derives such benefit.
Higher education is a major economic actor in Wales. It generates around £2.4 billion of Welsh gross value added and sustains almost 50,000 jobs. As for structural funding, I once worked at Bangor University, which alone has benefited from around £100 million of EU funding over the past 10 years. That investment supports jobs as well as capital projects. Swansea University’s campus on the bay was backed by £40 million of structural funds, plus a finance package worth £60 million from the European Investment Bank. These are huge sums of money. If we are to continue our success, the UK Government need to match the commitment of the EU to the principle of regional equalisation. That is why we call for a UK convergence strategy to replace EU funding, and on a needs basis.
I opposed, and still oppose, leaving the EU for many reasons: philosophical; historical; educational; the EU’s promotion of peace on our continent; and most importantly for me, at least, the EU’s cultural and linguistic diversity, and the normality of multilingualism, which is sadly not matched in this member state and certainly not in its Parliament.
Higher education has been a central feature of Welsh policy for many centuries. When we were last independent—a little matter of some six hundred years ago—there were three main planks of Government policy in Wales, one of which was the establishment of a university to join Padua and Oxford, which were already up and running. That ambition was not realised until the 19th century; it took us four or five hundred years to get our act together. Nevertheless, it is indicative of the importance that we place on higher education in Wales, and of the need to defend what we already have, that there are now seven higher education institutions in Wales.
I do not ignore the material benefit that we also derive from membership of the EU. It is no source of pride to me that we get convergence funding because our economy is on a par with some parts of the former communist states in eastern Europe. We get that money because we are a poor country with some extremely poor regions, one of which I represent. At least the EU has a policy of convergence funding for which Wales qualifies—alas—and our institutions derive great benefits from that funding.
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman knows that the UK is a net contributor to the EU, so that anything that comes back in regional funds is a loss. However, when we break the UK down into its regions and countries, only Northern Ireland and Cornwall are net beneficiaries. Will he accept that Wales loses out by the European funds in net terms, rather than gaining from them?
I would be much more prepared to accept that argument if the Government here in London had a similar regional policy, so that when we leave the EU one could be guaranteed that the money that comes from Europe will come from London instead. When David Cameron was Prime Minister, I repeatedly asked him to guarantee that this funding would continue post-Brexit, but he refused to give such a guarantee. I doubt that it is in the power of the Minister today to make up for that failure, but I look to him for at least some reassuring indication that this issue is actually on the agenda.
I will refer very quickly to cross-border programmes. In the first year of the Horizon 2020 scheme from 2015 to 2016, Welsh university staff have already succeeded in securing £25 million of funding. Those programmes help Welsh students and institutions to compete on the world stage, which surely must be our ambition. Identified research funding to Wales suggests that Welsh institutions received some €183 million between 2002 and 2013, and it is estimated that Wales received at least €29 million from lifelong learning funds, including Erasmus, from 2007 to 2013. Those funds are vital to encourage joint working and collaboration between academics and students in different EU member states and further afield.
I will briefly refer to my own university of Bangor. There are 2,000 international students in Bangor; the total student population doubles the city’s population, so the university is vital to the local economy. Can the Minister assure me that the UK Government are giving due consideration to the disproportionate effects of post-Brexit immigration controls on small university towns or cities, of which Bangor is one? That is a particular issue. Bangor University also has widespread international links, which I referred to in the debate on higher education the other day, including a site in China, so we are worried and concerned. Moreover, Trinity College Dublin has a site in Bangor for Japanese students to learn English. It is an excellent institution, but I think the staff there are also worried.
To cut a much longer speech short, the HE sector in Wales is one of the keys to unlock the doorway to our prosperity—
I will conclude, as I have reached the last page of my speech. As I was saying, the HE sector in Wales is one of the keys to unlock the doorway to prosperity. Both the UK Government and the Welsh Government have a duty to protect and advance the HE sector in Wales, and we will scrutinise the way in which they do so very closely indeed.
As ever, it is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies.
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing Central and Acton (Dr Huq) for securing this important debate. I know this subject is very close to her heart, given her work as a university lecturer before her election to serve her constituents here in the House. This subject is also very close to my heart. As an NHS scientist before I came to this place, I worked in a field that thrived on collaboration and recognised no boundaries.
Our universities are rightly held in high esteem worldwide. We have 18 of the top 100 universities in the world, including four in the top eight. Globally, Britain represents only 0.9% of the world’s population, but we have 3.2% of global research and development expenditure and 4.1% of the world’s leading researchers, producing more than 15% of pioneering research papers.
It is well known that British science punches above its weight in the international university league tables and does so mainly thanks to EU grants. British science is not awash with funding; in fact, Britain has the lowest per capita spending on research of any G7 country. Sadly, Brexit and the Government’s handling of the referendum outcome have shown their inability to lead and to quash uncertainty over what Brexit will actually mean for the higher education sector. Brexit just adds more uncertainty, and uncertainty breeds insecurity.
There are two aspects of the human and intellectual cost of Brexit for universities. The first is the brain drain and the second is the potential restrictions on overseas research students. The brain drain is nothing new. Many senior figures in British universities remember the lack of support from the Thatcher Government in the 1980s and the exodus of scientists abroad. It is ironic that the four recent British Nobel prize-winners—Duncan Haldane, David Thouless, Michael Kosterlitz and Sir Fraser Stoddart—are all based in the US, having been forced out of Britain during the 1980s brain drain. British research scientists are worried that the Prime Minister’s mantra that “Brexit means Brexit” will lead to a lack of funding and grants for British science, and has the potential to create a modern-day brain drain.
I neglected to say something in my own speech. As a scientist, is my hon. Friend aware of the Science and Technology Committee’s report last week that says that the future of EU researchers and scientists in this country should be guaranteed, because otherwise we would imperil our science research base here?
I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention, and yes I am. I was briefly a member of the Science and Technology Committee and I try to keep on top of the work that it produces. I fully support its call for EU funding to be replaced in some way by this Government, and I hope that we might get a response from the Minister today on that subject.
Is my hon. Friend aware of the previous Science and Technology Committee report that pointed out that the EU is inimical to UK science? The clinical trials directive has destroyed much research in this country; the EU’s ban on genetically modified food has destroyed much of the chemical-agricultural industry in this country; and the arbitrary sacking of the Commission’s scientific adviser was destructive to science. We have example after example of how the EU has damaged British science.
I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. I am not aware of that report. I do not know when it was published. It certainly does not echo the views that I am expressing in my speech or the views of eminent vice-chancellors and scientists who work in the UK today. Perhaps if he can send me a copy of the report, I will look at it at a later date.
As well as the potential for a modern-day brain drain, we have the very real potential of UK universities becoming less attractive to international research students. Indeed, the vice-chancellors of LSE, King’s College London and Bristol have already voiced their fears for the recruitment of international students and how that will have serious financial and human resource consequences for our universities. The vice-chancellor of Cambridge University, Professor Sir Leszek Borysiewicz, is a stalwart remainer, but he recognises the result of the referendum and he wants Cambridge to get the best out of Brexit. He says that to achieve that, the Government must provide some basic clarity on what Brexit actually means. He asks for three things from the Government: clarity on the national status of university staff; a recognition of the collaborative ideal implicit in EU projects; and a Government guarantee of vital university budgets. I hope that his requests will be listened to and heeded by the Government.
Some people might regard the vice-chancellor of Cambridge as something of an expert, and although the people of this country were urged not to listen to experts during the referendum, it is vital that, on this subject and the many other areas affected by the Brexit negotiations, the Government take note of our finest minds and our experts. They are not asking for a running commentary, but for clarity and a coherent, informed plan as to the exact nature and manner of our departure from the EU.
The EU makes substantial financial contributions to research in UK universities. Research funding from the EU amounts to some £1 billion a year, while Britain’s national research budget, as I alluded to while discussing British science, is below international averages. The EU’s contribution to the income of UK universities has risen by more than 30% in the past five years. I represent a Greater Manchester constituency, and universities across our region have more than 4,000 EU students currently on their campuses. That equates to spending of £90 million a year—that is not just tuition fees, but expenditure in the local economy. Manchester University has received £48 million in research funding in the past two years alone. The loss of such substantial funding and a failure to attract EU students could not fail to have a detrimental effect on our area.
I have spoken about the economic positives and security of funding, but the academic, scientific and higher education sectors are not merely about money. Education at its core is about collaboration, common understanding and continual progress. Education has no boundaries and no borders, and science knows no country. We must decide where Britain’s place post-Brexit is going to be. I hope that it will be not in isolationism and introversion, but that the Government will set out a clear plan for diversity, collaboration and funding and for our universities to maintain their place and their standing in the world.
I thank you, Mr Davies, for giving me the opportunity to speak on this issue. I also congratulate the hon. Member for Ealing Central and Acton (Dr Huq) on setting out the case very well. It is no secret that I was very much in the leave camp. [Interruption.] I am surrounded by many people who have a different opinion, but I still look upon them as my friends and colleagues, and that will not change, no matter what happens. I am proud to speak on this matter, because it is of some interest to many of my constituents, and I want to bring a Northern Ireland perspective to the debate. These are important issues, as the Minister and shadow Minister know.
I attended a grammar school, where I did my O-levels, but at that time it was clear that I would not continue to university. My father had a shop and that is where my intentions were and where they ended up, at the beginning at least. I did not enjoy academia as much as I enjoyed the jingle of cash in my pocket. When there was a chance of getting a job and moving on, that is what I thought I should do. I have a high regard for all those who prioritised education and for those who knew they were called to those vocational jobs that are so essential to all. Society could not function without a broad spectrum of people with skills to fill the jobs that need to be done.
The hon. Lady indicated that we have dropped to sixth in the world. I would be happy if the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland was in sixth place, because we would still be strong. Unemployment figures are decreasing. We have a good and strong economy. I have every confidence in Brexit and where we are going.
Does my hon. Friend agree that while there is difficulty with unsureness about funding, there is a danger of talking ourselves into depression and sending out a negative message to students who want to come to the United Kingdom to learn? We will work together to resolve the issues, and I think that is the way forward.
Quite clearly my hon. Friend, like me, sees the glass as half full. We believe in the future and we have confidence in the future, and we look forward to that. We know we can deliver.
I am beyond proud of the universities in Northern Ireland: Queen’s University Belfast and Ulster University. We have tremendous courses that produce highly recognised degrees. I have met many politics students from Europe and the USA who made the choice to study in Northern Ireland because universities in the UK are so highly regarded. We have a legacy of high-class institutions in this country, and we must build upon and jealously guard that legacy. Queen’s University Belfast is made up of 32% international students. It is essential that our campuses retain the ability to access the international market. There are partnerships at Queen’s University and the University of Ulster with companies and students from overseas for new research into medicines.
There is no need for a knee-jerk reaction. The Government have made it clear that EU students applying to study from 2017 to 2018 will not only be eligible for the same funding and support as they are now, but their eligibility will continue throughout their course, even if the UK exits the European Union during that period. That is the Government’s commitment, so let us be clear where we are. We have time to consider the best way forward. We can all still be assured of that. The Minister in his response will reaffirm that position, and it is important that he does so.
We are all aware of the issues regarding visas for those who are not from the EU and who want to study here, and we must be aware of the statistics. Non-EU students contributed £3.5 billion in 2012-13, £3.9 billion in 2013-14 and £4.2 billion in 2014-15. It is clear from those stats that we are still able to attract international students without the benefits of EU membership, but I am certainly not saying that no thought should be given in the Brexit negotiations to reciprocal incentives that our former EU partners could avail themselves of in the short term. Let us ensure that we keep the co-operation with our EU partners that we have at the moment. The value and the importance of our EU and international students and their role in our economy should not be underestimated. Indeed, I believe that the Government are not underestimating them.
It is absolutely clear that we benefit from having universities that people from around the globe want to attend. In 2013-14, there were some 125,300 EU students at UK universities, and in that year £224 million was paid in fee loans to EU students on full-time courses in England. That was 3.7% of the total student loan bill. The higher education sector contributes a massive £73 billion to the UK economy, including £11 billion of export earnings. The latest available figures show that in 2011, EU and non-EU students in higher education contributed an estimated £9.7 billion to the UK economy through tuition fees and living expenditure. The publicly funded higher education sector currently receives 2% of its total income from the fees of EU students, with some individual institutions receiving higher levels of funding.
I will conclude, Mr Davies, because I am aware of the time restraints. International students want to study here; the universities want them to study here; and our Government are aware that in Brexit we must facilitate and foster this educational relationship in every way possible. The value of sharing educational findings and research grants is another issue that I know the Government are very aware of, and I know they have confidence in our ability to continue funding projects such as those that take place in Queen’s University in Belfast and at Ulster University, which have resulted in ground-breaking innovation. This must continue; I believe it will.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies. I, too, want to start by thanking my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing Central and Acton (Dr Huq) for calling this extremely important debate. I think we would all agree that higher education and research must be at the forefront of the Government’s mind as they start to make preparations for leaving the EU. The HE sector has become so internationalised and collaborative that the UK’s leaving the European Union will hugely impact on how the sector will operate in future.
Let me say to Government Members that this debate is not about trying to talk down the higher education sector; it is about trying to highlight for the Minister the action that needs to be taken to protect this hugely important sector as we move forward.
As chair of the all-party group on universities, I met university vice-chancellors last month who shared with me their key concerns about higher education in the Brexit process. Their concerns centre around four core issues: student recruitment, staff recruitment and retention, research, and upholding the global profile of our universities, which will be especially important once we leave the EU. They want to see the importance of the sector recognised more by the Government in their negotiations. As I pointed out to the Minister earlier this week, the sector contributes a massive £73 billion to the UK economy and needs to be at the front of the Government’s negotiations.
As we have already heard, some of the world’s leading universities are found in Britain, and I am pleased that the UK is now the second most popular destination for international students. However, that position could fall if action is not taken by the Government, particularly given the period of uncertainty following the referendum result. We have already seen a decline in the number of EU students applying to study in British universities—for example, in medicine and dentistry at some of our leading institutions. Figures last month showed a 9% drop in the numbers of EU students applying for those sought after courses, so we need to do more not only to protect the 185,000 EU students currently studying in the UK, but to continue to attract them to this country. They amount to quite a large proportion of students in universities, varying from about 5% to about 25%. Overall, about 30% of our students are international.
The Government need to ensure that they do not send out the message that international and EU students are not welcome here. They need to radically and quickly reform the immigration visa system to ensure that the message is that international and EU students are welcome here. The same needs to happen for staff. About 28% of staff working in universities are from the EU. About 40% of new academic posts created since 2004 have gone to EU nationals. They are a really important resource in our universities. They drive forward research and are involved in international collaborations. Again, we need to hear more about that from the Minister—not only how the research they are involved in will be protected but what will happen to their immigration status. That is urgent and needs to be resolved immediately by the Government.
The Government also need to say more about research funding itself. This is not just about Horizon 2020—that is important and we need to hear from the Government that they will continue to support it. We know that about 22% of the research in this country is funded through European projects and European-led collaborations. Universities need certainty that they will be able to continue to be involved in collaborations and to drive forward research in this country.
I have two quick questions for the Minister. I do not doubt his commitment to the sector, but we have not seen it reflected across Government. I am not sure where universities are on the international trade agenda, and he needs to answer the question of why education is not represented on the Exiting the European Union Committee or sub-Committee.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship once again, Mr Davies. I had already cut my speech, albeit not in anticipation of the time limits, but to try and get through it—my throat may stop me, but hopefully I will get to the end. I start by congratulating the hon. Member for Ealing Central and Acton (Dr Huq) on securing today’s important debate. She is obviously well versed on the contribution that our universities make from her time lecturing at the University of Manchester and Kingston University. I very much enjoyed her contribution and the perspective that she brought to the debate today.
Shelby Foote once said:
“A university is just a group of buildings gathered around a library.”
I suspect he was being a tad facetious, as the truth of the matter is that universities are so much more than books, the imparting of knowledge or certificates. Our universities are a cornerstone of the British economy. They provide stability in times of economic downturn, they give direction to young people searching for opportunities and they provide a second chance to mature students looking to better their lives for themselves and their children. I should probably declare an interest: my wife is one of those mature students looking to better our lives and the lives of our children.
I should point out that she is not so mature—I appreciate that sedentary contribution from my friend the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon).
Students internationalise our communities and attempt to provide answers to some of life’s greatest unanswered questions, such as: how in the name of all that is holy can somebody like Donald Trump be elected President of the United States? It is in the acknowledgement of the overwhelmingly positive contribution that universities make to our economy and wider society that we should consider the effect that Brexit may have on our universities.
According to Professor Sir Timothy O’Shea, the principal of Edinburgh University, the potential impact of Brexit on HE
“ranges from bad, to awful, to catastrophic”.
Despite what the Government may sometimes suggest, people like Professor O’Shea are not political figures looking for an axe to grind. They are experts in the field whose views should be listened to and respected.
To compound the Brexit issues, the plan to prevent universities from recruiting international students—this would be based on an obscure and superficial quality mark decided by the Home Office—would be deeply damaging. All of Scotland’s 19 HE institutions reject the introduction of any restriction on their ability to recruit international students on the basis of a supposed differentiation in quality. All of Scotland’s universities are already routinely assessed by the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education and routinely audited by the Home Office. When all is said and done, the Government seem to be saying that the institutions that do not receive the higher mark will be deemed not good enough for international students, but good enough for ours. Is that really the message the Government feel comfortable in sending out?
The University of the West of Scotland is going through an exciting period of growth. They ask their students and staff to dream, believe and achieve. Their global reach enabling plan is an ambitious plan to
“deliver an academic portfolio that provides...students with globally relevant skills, is internationally attractive and contributes to global reach.”
UWS is vital to Paisley and Renfrewshire. Some 15,500 students study there and 25% come from SIMD 20 postcodes—those ranked statistically under the Scottish index of multiple deprivation as the most deprived 20% in Scotland. UWS employs more than 1,500 people and helps to support 4,500 more. The Biggar Economics report noted:
“UWS has [the] potential to significantly increase its economic and social impact in the future through the delivery of its Corporate Strategy, which will transform both the University and the communities that it serves.”
The principal of UWS, Professor Craig Mahoney, has explained that expanding the university’s international presence, increasing the international opportunities for domestic students and growing the number of international students on their campuses are key to achieving the vision set out in its strategy and realising the potential set out in the report.
The truth of the matter is that Brexit, combined with the anti-HE policies of the Government, seriously risks damaging the operations and future plans of all our universities. Universities across the UK generate more than £73 billion each year for the economy. Their position in our society, the direction they provide to students, the jobs they support, the research opportunities they deliver and their importance to our national economy means that the Government cannot afford to undermine the sector, which deserves answers to the many questions about the Government’s approach. We need clarity, before the Government permanently damages our HE sector. We are at grave risk of being perceived as an unwelcoming location that does not value the contribution of international students, colleagues and partnerships. I sincerely hope that the Minister can provide some reassurance to the HE sector today.
It is a pleasure to serve for the first time under your chairmanship, Mr Davies. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing Central and Acton (Dr Huq) for securing this debate. If the tactic of flattering the Minister brings answers, we are all going to have to start being slightly nicer to Government Ministers. I wait with bated breath to see if the tactic works.
This is an incredibly important debate. Most of the issues being discussed will be repetitive, because we all represent university cities and are concerned about the impact of Brexit on what is happening in our universities. It is not just Opposition politicians who are concerned—vice-chancellors, principals, students, student bodies, academic staff and those involved in research are constantly knocking on our doors at advice sessions. They are watching debates such as this one, and want their questions answered, not just for their own personal needs, such as their academic careers or their passion for higher education and research, but for the wider higher education sector and the economy. We should bear that in mind. I hope the Minister will tell the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union how important it is that he has a seat at the table to champion the cause of higher education in this debate.
In the short time available, I want to concentrate on Edinburgh University. It is in the heart of my constituency and epitomises the issues being discussed around the country, such as in Oxford, Cambridge or Loughborough, or in the west of Scotland, as we have just heard from the hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Gavin Newlands).
Edinburgh University is unique. It is one of the world’s top universities and 25% of its academic staff are from the European Union. That is higher than the average of 21% for Russell Group universities or 15% for universities across the UK as a whole. Some 14% of all students at Edinburgh University are from the EU, almost 5,000 in the last academic year, which is double the average for Russell Group universities. The figure is only 5% for universities across the UK. Some 10% of Edinburgh University’s entire total research income of £226 million in 2015 came from EU sources, with the largest proportion going to research in the College of Science and Engineering, the driver of innovation for the future needs of our country and economy. Figures up to February 2016 ranked Edinburgh University as the most successful Scottish higher education institution for Horizon 2020 funding, ranking sixth across the EU, gaining nearly €60 million in funding to date.
I hope the Minister realises how concerned we all are about Brexit and its impact on not just EU nationals but research funding and, critically, collaboration. Some 30% of the entire output of research from Edinburgh University, one of the world’s key research institutions, is from EU collaboration, co-authoring with other EU nation states. Anecdotal evidence, and some factual evidence that we have heard from my hon. Friends this morning, tells us that universities in the UK are still involved in those collaborative projects, but they are being told not to take the lead, not necessarily because of their skills or what they can bring to those projects, but because of the uncertainty about the impact that leaving the European Union will have on the projects. The Government have to reflect on that point seriously. Having universities in this country that are at the cutting edge of technology, research and development but which are unable to take the lead in big co-authored projects across the European Union diminishes our ability to run other major projects in the future and diminishes our higher education and research sector. To put the 30% into context, the figure is only 18% for co-authoring with the United States; collaboration with the EU is almost double, and that is why it is incredibly important.
I will not rehearse the arguments that my colleagues have already made, but I will re-emphasise the points that we need addressed. We need to maintain UK university access to EU research programmes. We need to seek income, partnerships and influence and make sure that outputs are collaborative, with UK universities right at the top of those collaborations. We need to continue UK contribution and access to EU research infrastructure, such as CERN. We need to preserve research excellence across the university sector. We need EU nationals to be told that they can stay and continue to work here. We need to continue to make sure that free movement, both EU and non-EU, is prioritised for our university sector, so that it can attract the very best, very highly skilled researchers. We need early clarity over the rules that will apply to tuition fees at Scottish, UK and EU level, so that we can make sure that future funding for universities is secure. We need continued access to Erasmus schemes. That is what universities are telling us they want. The Government have to deliver.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Ealing Central and Acton (Dr Huq) on securing this debate. The issues that she raises, and the questions that universities are raising, are of course legitimate matters of concern, but the language that she used—“we are all jumping off a cliff without a parachute”—is the kind of negative language we should try to avoid. In my dealings with vice-chancellors —I represent Essex University in this Parliament, I am a graduate of Cambridge University and I deal with other universities; I am shortly to be appointed a visiting fellow of another university—I do not find universities are using this alarmist language. They want to make a success of the opportunities they have in the world.
It is important to understand the tremendous strength that our universities now have as a result of the progression towards fees and loans. They have been liberated from the constraints that Governments used to put upon them, have grown dramatically and are financially stronger than they have ever been in my lifetime. It is an extraordinarily good position to be in when approaching the present situation.
A lot of the uncertainty arises from confusion, which I have to say extends to Government Departments. I chair the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee; I see a lot of the civil service struggling to catch up with the absence of preparation for the outcome of the referendum, which is one of the lessons that we must take from it. It is unforgiveable for a Government to call a referendum and remain completely unprepared for one of the possible eventualities. There are many officials rapidly trying to get their brains around some difficult and complicated questions, in a scenario that they perhaps are not emotionally attracted to anyway. It is taking some time and the Government are entitled to take that time. I do not remember the Opposition parties telling the Government that they should prepare for Brexit when the referendum was called; I think they should be given the time that they need.
A lot of the uncertainty arises from confusion about what category the problems and concerns should be put in. Some concerns arise simply because of the uncertainty, and the Minister has already addressed some of those concerns. He could address some more and give more definition and assurance about funding streams, the status of students and academic staff joining universities at the moment, and so on.
Most of the debate is about what the Government’s policy will be after we leave the European Union—post-Brexit questions on issues of post-Brexit policy, such as what our immigration policy or our policy towards foreign students will be. There are relatively few issues that have to be included in the article 50 negotiations. In my discussions with universities, I advise them to try to categorise the issues and not to overload the article 50 negotiation process by trying to get everything resolved in that agreement. The less we put into that agreement, the more likely we are to get what we require.
There are three basic overall concerns. The first is about the access that foreign students—particularly EU students—have to the UK. It is interesting to note that only 5% of students in the UK are EU students. Some 10% are non-EU foreign students, who pay full fees, whereas EU students do not. It is actually going to be an advantage to the universities sector if we can charge EU students full fees. At the moment, the British taxpayer helps to fund those students. What is more, we are obliged to offer them loans, and the default rate among EU students is higher than that among UK students. There is talk in the Treasury about universities having to pay the cost of that default. We can resolve that issue by leaving the European Union.
The second concern is about access to EU funds. Table 9.9 of the Pink Book has become famous in the debate about leaving the European Union, but nobody disputes that we are one of the largest net contributors to the European Union. No Government in their right mind would use the pretext of leaving the European Union to cut the funds that universities receive, just because they get some of their money from the European Union. Let us remember that the money universities get from the European Union for research grants comes from us taxpayers. We put money into the European Union and we get only half of it back. We should be able to afford to pay more into our universities to fund more research and support our universities more effectively as a result of leaving the European Union, because we will no longer be forced to pay to subsidise universities elsewhere in the European Union. I acknowledge the concern that universities need certainty now and year on year into the future, but my hon. Friend the Minister should be able to give them a long-term assurance that we will fund research programmes in our universities as generously, if not more generously, in the future.
Finally, the idea that we are no longer going to collaborate with other universities in the EU is about as potty an idea as could be imagined. First, there are non-EU countries that participate in EU schemes. CERN, for example, is an international project. Let us have confidence in our universities. We have the crown jewels of scientific research in the EU in our universities. If I am correct, we have four universities in the world rankings top 10. We have 10 of the top 50 universities in the world—more than any other country outside the US. Two are in London—the same number as are in the entirety of the rest of the EU. It would be perverse if the EU wanted to cut itself off from UK universities, so we should approach the negotiations and future collaboration with universities with confidence. We have what it takes to promote successful collaboration with countries across the whole of Europe, whether they are in the EU or not. Outside the EU, our universities have as great a future, if not a greater future, than they would if we remained in the EU.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies. I congratulate the hon. Member for Ealing Central and Acton (Dr Huq) on securing this important debate.
I have been thinking about what the big asks are for higher education as we move towards Brexit. There are three things that are going to be affected by Brexit. The first is the collaborations that take place across Europe, which draw in not just funding but people and are extremely important for the quality of higher education in the UK. The hon. Member for Arfon (Hywel Williams) talked about the concerns in the Welsh higher education sector about the threat to its EU funding as we move towards Brexit.
The hon. Members for Strangford (Jim Shannon) and for City of Durham (Dr Blackman-Woods) highlighted the position of EU students. Both talked about the need to collaborate with EU partners to ensure we continue to attract EU students, and they raised the economic benefits that those students bring.
Of course, the EU also draws in funding. A recent Scottish Parliament report suggested that Scottish universities and institutions have received more than €200 million in Horizon 2020 funding, which has helped to fund research in disease prevention, improve our ability to tackle cyber-security issues and increase our understanding of climate change and how we can build a greener economy. That funding has been key for all those projects, so we need assurances about what will replace it in the future.
The hon. Member for Edinburgh South (Ian Murray) said that leading universities such as Edinburgh may find it difficult to lead collaborations. We need to be aware of the damage that will be done if universities that are currently leading collaborations are not able to continue to do that. My hon. Friend the Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Gavin Newlands) raised the issue of the University of the West of Scotland. It is currently in a period of expansion, but that could now be under threat.
Horizon 2020 is not an abstract research fund. It affects all our lives and helps us address challenges. Without EU membership, we will have very little influence over how that research funding is allocated in the future. I hope the Minister will be able to explain to universities what will happen in the event that they are not able to apply for Horizon 2020. I know that he knows that that fund has helped to support research work in higher education. What assurance can he give to the researchers whose research grants are being pulled because of Brexit? What certainty can he give to academics at the start of their careers, who are expected to collaborate internationally?
Secondly, given the reputational damage caused by Brexit, the lack of post-study work visas and the Higher Education and Research Bill, higher education in the UK is being viewed now internationally. The hon. Member for Harwich and North Essex (Mr Jenkin) mentioned the lack of preparation before the vote to leave the European Union and the uncertainty that caused for our universities. It is also causing uncertainty across the world, and we need to be aware of the difficulty that is causing for institutions.
Thirdly, there is the effect of Brexit on people. The hon. Member for Ealing Central and Acton talked about the need to stamp out intolerance on our university campuses. I would widen that. We are in a dangerous worldwide situation at the moment, and we all need to be aware of the rise of the right wing. People feel that such views are legitimised by the recent election results.
My hon. Friend is making some excellent points. Does she agree that one benefit of being in the EU is Erasmus, which enables students from this country to go to other European countries to study and learn more about other European cultures? Given that xenophobia and the views that she spoke about are on the rise, cultural understanding is more important than ever.
I agree completely. Going to university is not just about learning; it is also about diversity and experiencing different cultures. My son has just started at university, and one of the things he looked at when he chose his university was whether it participated in the Erasmus scheme, which is now under threat. He is not alone. Many young students thought they were signing up for something, but will potentially have it taken from them.
Sticking with people, the brain drain of the 1980s was considered by the hon. Member for Heywood and Middleton (Liz McInnes). She suggested the potential for its repetition, which could be one of the most dangerous aspects of Brexit. We need to work hard to ensure that that does not happen.
The recent report of the Select Committee on Science and Technology was mentioned by the hon. Member for Ealing Central and Acton. The report called for the Government to make an immediate commitment to researchers already working in our universities—not a reciprocal agreement, not a “If you let ours stay, we’ll let yours stay”, because those people need certainty, and they need it now. The position of our universities worldwide is under threat if we do not get that right.
The biggest damage and the biggest threat to our higher education is the threat to freedom of movement. For Scottish universities, freedom of movement and talent is the most important aspect of being a member of the EU. I am sure that that is the case throughout the UK.
The existing visa restrictions and the removal of the post-study work visa have taken on new significance as we move towards Brexit. How will EU students be viewed? I do not share the opinion of the hon. Member for Harwich and North Essex that we will be able to milk more money out of them by calling them international students. Unfortunately, the reality is that they will simply not come. Unless we get that right, we have a real big problem.
Talking about the EU, we have Irish students who come to study here as well. The Ireland Act 1949 states clearly that Ireland is “not a foreign country”. How will Irish students be considered as we move towards Brexit?
I have great respect for the Minister, so perhaps I should not be the one sitting here this morning to question him. What guarantees will he give to EU researchers already in our higher education institutions—what non-reciprocal guarantees? The greatest assurance is needed if we are to protect higher education in the UK.
It is a pleasure to wind up this debate for the Opposition with you in the Chair, Mr Davies.
I join others in congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing Central and Acton (Dr Huq) on securing the debate and for making a characteristically powerful and entertaining speech to set the context. She was right to highlight the absence of a Brexit Minister from the debate today, because that team is leading the negotiations. I join in the plaudits for the Minister who has joined the debate, and we are all reassured by his views on the issues, but we need to know that those views will be reflected in Government.
This is a hugely important debate about a vital sector, and I welcome the many contributions from all parts of the Opposition. It is disappointing—I am sure the Minister is disappointed—that so few Conservative Members are willing to speak up for our universities in such an important debate.
Our universities are a great British success story. Higher education exports are worth almost £11 billion. The wider value was highlighted by my hon. Friend the Member for City of Durham (Dr Blackman-Woods). Hundreds of thousands of jobs depend on universities’ success, and they provide the high-level skills that our economy needs. In a world in which our success as a country will be determined by our ability to innovate, the research capacity of our universities is central to economic growth, as my hon. Friend highlighted.
All of that is potentially at risk if the Government get Brexit wrong. What would getting it wrong look like? What are the risks? Let us start with students, who after all are the bread and butter of our universities. International students, as many have pointed out, are hugely important. About 185,000 of our 500,000 international students are from the EU. Their future is uncertain and, under the sort of regime that the hon. Member for Harwich and North Essex (Mr Jenkin) talked about, many are unlikely to come to the UK.
We are not talking only about EU students. In a survey taken before 23 June, one third of non-EU students said that they would find the UK a less attractive destination if we exited. The worst outcome, therefore, might be that we lose half our international students—billions of pounds and hundreds of thousands of jobs, not only in universities, but across sectors that serve students in communities throughout the country.
We might imagine that the Government would seek to mitigate such risks by setting out a clear strategy to maintain our position as a destination of choice for the world’s students, but sadly not. Instead, the Home Secretary has put international students at the centre of her plans to cut net migration, making a bad situation worse. My hon. Friend the Member for Ealing Central and Acton was right to highlight that net migration point.
The question of staff was highlighted by my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh South (Ian Murray). Because our universities are so good, they attract great staff from all over the world: 28% of academics are non-UK citizens, with more than 15% from the EU. For key research staff the number is much higher, accounting for more than half in some STEM—science, technology, engineering and maths—subjects. Those of us who represent universities have already heard stories about job offers refused and those here now questioning their future in the UK, because the Government will not give the assurance this House asked for in July on the position of EU nationals.
If we leave the EU with no deal on the future movement of workers, we will fall back on existing immigration rules, and for universities that will not work. Tens of thousands of early-career academics and researchers will not meet the tier 2 income threshold, creating a potential crisis for research and teaching.
Let us talk about research funding and the collaboration that goes with it, as my hon. Friend the Member for Heywood and Middleton (Liz McInnes) did so ably. Because our universities are so good, we do disproportionately well from EU funding. EU programmes provide almost 15% of university research income, and with that money comes critical collaboration across countries and disciplines. All of that is at risk if research is not put centre stage in the Brexit negotiations.
What do we need from the Brexit negotiations? First, we need a plan. It is all very well for the hon. Member for Harwich and North Essex to say that civil servants are playing catch-up, but the problem is that Conservative Members and Ministers at the heart of Government seem unable to agree on what that plan should be. As they struggle with each other, in the policy vacuum the tail is increasingly wagging the dog, giving rise to increasing talk of hard Brexit.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ealing Central and Acton is right: this debate is a microcosm of a wider one on many issues. For universities, what would hard Brexit mean? Hard Brexit would mean losing students and staff, and cutting research—it would be a disaster. So we need reassurance from the Minister that the Government—not just him and his Department, but the Government—recognise the problem, and that they will put the continuing strength of our universities at the heart of the negotiations on exiting the European Union.
Among other key issues, we need clarity on fee levels and access to funding for EU students considering coming here until we leave the EU. As the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) pointed out, we have that for next year, but frankly that is not good enough. What about 2018-19? Will the assurance apply to postgraduate students as well as undergraduates? What about the future? Will the Minister confirm his views on the immigration status of existing and prospective EU students and their right to remain in the UK after graduation for work or postgraduate study? Will he support the benefits accruing to UK students from the Erasmus programme by confirming that the Government intend to seek continued participation in it?
On staff, will the Minister press for the earliest confirmation that EU nationals working in our universities will be able to stay for the indefinite future on existing terms without having to apply for leave to remain? Will he go further—this is crucial—and extend that right to those who join our universities in the pre-Brexit period until 2019, because that will be critical for the ability of our universities to continue to recruit? What representations is he making about future visa arrangements post-Brexit, so that our universities are in a position to continue to enjoy the benefits of securing the services of the most talented academics from the EU and the rest of the world?
On research, will the Minister give a clear commitment that the Government will prioritise research and innovation in their negotiations, with a view to ensuring continued UK participation in EU research programmes not just for the full duration of Horizon 2020, as he has assured us in the past, but in all its successor programmes? Will he outline, beyond the announcement that we expect from the Chancellor this afternoon, what plans the Government have to strengthen support for research and innovation more widely to mitigate the potential damage from leaving the European Union?
One vice-chancellor recently described to me the challenge that our universities face as “existential”. If the Government get this wrong, it will be a calamity for the sector. If it is a calamity for the sector, it will be a calamity for the economy and the country. So will the Minister, by addressing the points that my hon. Friends have made and the questions that I have put to him, explain just how the Government will avoid that potential disaster and ensure the continued success of our university sector?
It is a pleasure to be here under your chairmanship, Mr Davies. Happily, it falls to me to congratulate the hon. Member for Ealing Central and Acton (Dr Huq) on securing this debate. I am glad that it falls to me rather than a colleague in another Department, because this is an important issue on which I am happy to represent the entire Government’s position.
The debate is timely, because the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union and its possible effects on higher education affect all Members in the Chamber and institutions across the country. This matter is of great importance, and the Government are giving considerable thought to its management, as hon. Members would expect. Higher education is clearly one of our great national assets. Hon. Members who served on the Higher Education and Research Bill Committee will be aware of how keenly the Government feel about this question and how strongly we want to help the sector through these times so we can move to calmer waters and continue to strengthen what is undoubtedly a world-class system.
In global league tables, four UK universities are in the world’s top 10 and 18 are in the world’s top 100. Those universities are home to world-class teaching and research, and we want that to continue in the years ahead. I am sure that hon. Members will have welcomed the Prime Minister’s announcement at the CBI conference on Monday that the Government plan to commit an extra £2 billion a year by 2020 to support research activities across the country in our university system. I hope that hon. Members will acknowledge that that underscores this Government’s determination to put science and innovation at the forefront of the new industrial strategy. We promised that we would do that, and we are delivering on that. I hope that in his speech this afternoon, the Chancellor will provide further details that will give hon. Members even greater confidence that the Government are clearly putting their money where their mouth is—behind our universities.
Research and innovation are key drivers of this country’s global competitiveness and key sources of economic advantage for us. Our HE sector can be proud not only of UK science: the universities across our nations are also leaders in social sciences and the arts and humanities. But we are not complacent about our success. We recognise that the EU referendum has brought uncertainty for our universities and their students and staff, particularly the non-UK EU nationals among them. We have taken steps to mitigate that uncertainty where we can, be it in relation to the terms on which EU students can access finance or the terms on which we can underwrite research funding.
I will come back to those points shortly, but I want first to reflect on the UK’s knowledge landscape. As I said, our science system is one of the very best in the world. It is highly efficient, competitive and internationally successful. Among the G7 countries, we have stand-out impact rates; ours is perhaps the most productive science base when measured by papers or citations per unit of GDP. We punch well above our weight, and we want that to continue. We recognise that our universities’ world-class academic staff are central to that outperformance and our extraordinary bang per buck.
In her party conference speech, the Home Secretary announced that she was conducting a review and would be consulting on arrangements for non-European economic area migration, including the study route. The process leading up to that consultation is still under way.
It is important for hon. Members to recognise that we already have a strong offer. We are second in the world after only the US in terms of the number of international students who come to study in this country—according to Home Office figures, the number of students coming here has risen by 14% since 2010—and we continue to be successful in attracting international students. We should not create an impression that we have closed off as a country, because that is clearly not borne out by the facts. It is not borne out by the successful recruitment of many institutions in this country. I would not want to create an impression that we were closed, because we are not; we welcome international students and we want to continue to do so.
As I said, the quality of the staff at our institutions is central to the UK’s outperformance, and we want them to feel welcome and that the Government appreciate their contributions to our institutions. We want to give them the assurances that they need to feel confident that they can continue to embed the richness that they bring to our institutions.
We also derive benefits from EU students. Hon. Members have referred several times to the contribution that EU students make to our institutions’ health. We want those students to continue to study here. We are extraordinarily successful in that respect. In 2013, 20% of EU students who chose to study overseas chose the UK—the greatest proportion of any country. We also welcome those who choose to study for a short time under the Erasmus programme. The hon. Member for Sheffield Central (Paul Blomfield) asked what the Government’s plans were for future involvement with Erasmus. Post-exit access to Erasmus will be a matter for the negotiations that he knows will follow the triggering of article 50. We will work through the implications for future years as part of those wider negotiations.
I completely share the determination of the hon. Members for Ealing Central and Acton and for Glasgow North West (Carol Monaghan)—and I underscore the Government’s absolute determination—to show that we are welcoming and will not tolerate hate crimes of any sort in our universities or our country. Since the referendum, the Government have worked closely with the police to monitor hate crime and ensure that local forces have the necessary assistance and guidance to respond, and police forces are responding robustly to incidents. Ministers and officials have also met ambassadors and high commissioners from EU states and offered them reassurance and a single point of contact to raise concerns on behalf of their citizens.
In the remaining minute or so, I will skip forward to deal with the points that were raised about research, which is clearly of great importance. My hon. Friend the Member for Harwich and North Essex (Mr Jenkin) and the hon. Member for Sheffield Central asked what relationship we will have with future Horizon 2020 programmes. The short answer is that it is too early to speculate about the UK’s future relationship with those programmes. There are already several models for co-operation by non-EU countries on research with the EU and EU member states, and there may be areas where the benefits of collaboration to both sides provide a case for ongoing co-operation. Again, that will be a matter for the negotiations about our future relationship. We are keenly aware that the matter is of great importance to the university sector, and it is fully represented in the thinking of the Cabinet Committee on Brexit, on which the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy sits.
Motion lapsed (Standing Order No. 10(6)).
Clinical Commissioning: North Durham
I beg to move,
That this House has considered changes in clinical commissioning group commissioning practices for GP referrals in North Durham.
I asked for this debate as a result of a development that affects many in my constituency and other constituencies covered by the North Durham clinical commissioning group. I was made aware of it not by the clinical commissioning group but by “BBC Look North”, which received a tip-off from a GP about an upcoming change to the way GPs refer patients to a specialist. The change made by North Durham CCG fundamentally alters the way in which a GP refers a patient to a specialist.
It was always the case that if a GP saw a patient and considered that their health condition needed further investigation, they would be able to refer that patient directly to a specialist. The scheme introduced by North Durham CCG adds an additional layer of referral: if a GP wants to refer a patient, they must send a letter and medical records explaining why to a private health company called About Health, which will decide whether a patient should be referred to a specialist. That means that, in effect, a private company that has never seen the patient can overrule the decision of the patient’s GP to refer them to a specialist in a hospital. Conditions that would be referred under the new system include cardiology, gynaecology, dermatology and gastroenterology. Suspected cancer cases would be excluded from the system, although many cancers are detected when patients present with other health issues.
The decision to implement the scheme was taken following a year-long trial carried out by North Tyneside CCG. We do not yet know the clinical outcomes of the patients involved in that trial, but North Durham decided to roll out the scheme even without that information. North Durham CCG’s decision to adopt the new practice for referrals was also made without proper consultation of local residents or patients. Many patients were not even informed that confidential information about their health status was being shared with a private company. My hon. Friend the Member for North Durham (Mr Jones) and I had a meeting with the clinical commissioning group in September, only weeks before it introduced the new scheme, and yet it made no mention of the scheme whatever.
I am listening to the debate with astonishment. General practitioners, by their very name, are generalists, are highly trained and should be aware of the signs and symptoms of diseases and know who to refer patients to, but the intervention of a private company has been inserted as a barrier to patients getting specialist treatment. I cannot believe what I am hearing. I am sure my hon. Friend shares my surprise.
My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. Indeed, I was shocked and surprised. In fact, when “BBC Look North” presented me with the information, my immediate reaction was of huge concern for my constituents. I did an interview for “BBC Look North” and was then contacted by other news outlets. As a result of those interviews, I was contacted by many of my constituents, some of whom had already been adversely affected by the new referral system, and by GPs who said they were being forced to jump through hoops or to refer their patients unnecessarily to physiotherapy services when they knew that treatment would not help before they could refer to a specialist in a hospital.
I was also contacted by a GP in the area covered by North Tyneside CCG who said that he had referred a patient to a specialist for a skin condition but the referral was overruled by the new scheme, which is called the referral management system. The skin condition turned out to be cancer, but that was not discovered until months further down the line, which meant that far more radical surgery was required than would have been the case if the patient had been seen by a specialist when the GP first referred them.
I therefore have a number of serious concerns about the referral system and the way in which the decision to implement it was made. My first concern is the possible negative impact on the health of my constituents and other people who live in areas affected by the new patient referral management schemes. I am concerned because whether a referral to a specialist goes ahead or not could have a long-term impact on the health of the patient or even result in something more serious, especially if decisions are overturned by About Health. A patient might not receive the treatment they need early enough.
I am also concerned about the financial impact of the decision. I understand that the NHS is under considerable financial pressure, but I doubt whether the scheme will end up saving money in the long run. That is because, as I just set out, in many cases where referrals are rejected the problem does not go away and patients return to their GP or even go to A&E with far more serious problems, which take up more of the NHS’ time and resources. About Health, the private company deciding on referrals, will be paid a basic fee and an additional £10 for each referral letter, which in itself will incur a significant cost. I am therefore not at all sure that the scheme is cost-effective.
My final concern is about the lack of public consultation and information on the decision to implement the scheme. Last October, the Secretary of State for Health announced plans to rate CCGs to make
“the most patient-focused NHS culture ever”,
which would be
“much more accountable to their local population than previously.”
The decision made by North Durham CCG to change completely the way in which GPs can refer a patient to a specialist without any consultation flies in the face of CCGs being accountable to the local population. How are people supposed to hold a CCG to account if they are not aware of changes that are being made?
The North Durham patient reference group meets monthly in Durham city to discuss patients’ points of view and give feedback to the CCG about proposals and issues. The group, which is drawn from members of each GP practice forum across Durham, was informed of the new referral scheme only as it was about to be introduced, and it was not given any opportunity to give feedback on proposals. Despite meeting monthly, members of the group had not even heard about the plans before they were presented with them and told that they were to be introduced imminently.
Similarly, members of patient forums at local GP practices were informed of the decision, rather than consulted on it. I am told that patient forums and the North Durham patient reference group were concerned and opposed the immediate implementation of the proposals, but North Durham CCG decided to go ahead and implement the new scheme immediately in any case.
This is a really important point for the Minister. If a patient goes on to the CCG’s website, what they see does not tell them that their details will be given to a private company; they are simply told that a referral system is in place and that referrals are to “consultants” or “specialist GPs”. I think many patients would conclude from that wording that their medical information is to be sent to a specialist at a local hospital rather than to a private company.
I have written to the CCGs in the north-east to invite them to meet me and other members of the northern group of MPs to discuss this issue. It has been extremely difficult to get them to come to a meeting with us or indeed to get any information from them at all. I have some questions, which I will put quickly, to give my hon. Friend the Member for North Durham time to speak. Does the Minister know of any other clinical commissioning groups in the UK that have implemented a patient referral management service? Does he think that it is acceptable that no consultation was carried out? Will the practice be repeated by other CCGs across the UK—particularly ones ranked as in special measures? How can About Health, or other private companies, be held accountable if decisions result in negative outcomes for the health of patients? Does the Minister agree that the referral system is acceptable at all?
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for City of Durham (Dr Blackman-Woods) on securing the debate.
The decision of the North Durham CCG raises some fundamental questions about how the NHS is run in North Durham, and our constituents’ relationship with the NHS. As my hon. Friend described, there was no consultation of my constituents about the decision, which was taken in secret. There was no transparency at all, nor any consultation with Members of Parliament in the CCG area or any local elected officials. The decision changes the fundamental relationship of trust between a patient and their GP. My constituents have never been asked for permission for our private medical information to be passed to a private company—and neither have I or my hon. Friend. We have not been asked whether the company has our individual permissions. In many cases I do not think constituents have even been told by their GPs that the information is being passed to a private company.
What is the legal position on the giving of my private medical information, and that of my constituents, to a third party? Who is responsible for ensuring that it is secure? Do I have a right, given that it is my personal medical information, to withhold permission for it to be passed to a private third sector organisation? I certainly do not think that patients in North Durham are being told that that is happening. As my hon. Friend the Member for City of Durham said, the website does not give the impression that the information is being given to a third party.
The way the decision was taken was shameless. As my hon. Friend has already said, we met the CCG in September and there was no mention of the contract at all. I want to ask why. One of my constituents, Keith Johnson, raised concerns and the CCG responded:
“GPs have responsibility to make best use of NHS resources and need up to date evidence and advice to be able to treat patients in practice or to refer on appropriately. Unnecessary outpatient appointments are a large cost to the NHS.”
I do not think anyone would disagree, but that is the job of GPs; it is not up to a private sector organisation, or anyone else who has never seen the patient, to decide whether they should be referred to a specialist.
My concern is not just the way the decision is being implemented, but the fact that it fundamentally breaks down the trust that we all value, and the confidentiality between us and our GP. I am also concerned that the more articulate constituents and patients will insist on getting care; some others will not. There will be rationing of care, depending on people’s ability to make their case. That goes to the principle at the heart of the NHS—care being free at the point of need.
I have questions about the way the contract was let. We have had no information about how that happened. Was it by competitive tender? Did any individuals employed by the CCG have any pecuniary interest in awarding the contract? How will it be evaluated? What ability will patients have to say whether they agree with the outcomes? I challenge the North Durham CCG to publish the contract and all information and decision making about how it was awarded, because the cloak of secrecy around it is a disgrace. I also challenge it to scrap the contract and answer a basic question: why is it treating its patients with such contempt?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for City of Durham (Dr Blackman-Woods) for bringing this important subject to the fore. I have a few comments. First, on the question of the impact on patients, what assessment has been made about conditions going untreated? There has been nothing about safety implications. Patients could be affected in two ways: a condition might be untreated and, as has been mentioned, their private, confidential information would go to a private company where the people are not medically trained. We have already seen from other contracts, such as with Capita, total disrespect in the handling of patient records.
Secondly, what is happening is a challenge to the professionalism of general practitioners. We spend a lot of time and money, over many years, on training experts. No wonder we cannot retain staff in the NHS if this is how we treat them. Some important questions need to be answered. The whole thing is cloaked in secrecy. There is an underhand feel to it. It is important that we get answers to a lot of questions. Can the Minister tell us who decided that what is happening was okay? Why has there been no public consultation or transparency? Where is the risk assessment? Why were patients not informed that confidential information about their health was being shared with a private company? How much is the company paid for its role? How much has been saved? How many referrals have been cancelled? We need the answers because what is being done is rationing by the back door, with the potential to compromise patient safety.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship today, Mr Davies. I, too, congratulate the hon. Member for City of Durham (Dr Blackman-Woods) on obtaining the debate, and I congratulate the other hon. Members who spoke too. It is good to have a chance to discuss the matter and weigh up the pros and cons of what is being done.
The context is the CCG in the hon. Lady’s area, which consists of 31 GP practices. It has been rated as a good CCG by the Care Quality Commission. Its treatment referral time is above the national standard, at 92% within 18 weeks. I want to talk first about the policy area, and then about the specifics of the decision to employ About Health in North Tyneside and North Durham.
The first thing to say about the policy is that referral management is not a new area. In 2007, something like 70% of primary care trusts had a type of referral management system in place. The intention is fairly clear: when a GP is making a referral, it will be absolutely obvious in many cases that it needs to happen. In many other cases it will be clear that a referral is not needed. There will also, frankly, be a grey area in the middle—that will happen in any profession.
Will the Minister focus on this specific referral system, under which, we understand, all referrals to specialists from GP practices in the CCG area are subject to private company screening and there is also a target to send back at least 50% of all referrals made?
I was explaining the purpose of the policy and the fact that this referral mechanism was used widely in 2007. A King’s Fund report from 2010 sets out the pros and cons of using referral management—I suggest the hon. Lady reads it.
These things are not new. They are a mechanism by which a consultant, or a GP with a specialist interest in the area of what is being referred—there are six areas of referral in this CCG, as the hon. Lady said—has two to three days to either accept that the referral goes on to the secondary system, or to contact the GP and have a discussion about what the best alternative pathway might be. There is an appeals process if the GP does not agree with that decision.
The hon. Lady asked where else such referral management was being done across the NHS in England. It was introduced in 2007, as I said, and it is being done very commonly. It is being done in Bromley, Cambridge, Peterborough, Imperial in London, and Southampton. I saw a similar system in Tower Hamlets to the one working in her area—indeed, the GP was very proud of the way they reacted, with an email referral system, when there was every possibility of things not going ahead.
This is not rationing. It is completely wrong to say that. It was brought in by the CCG, which is GP-led. If the GPs in the CCG do not agree with it, they have the mechanism to replace the chairman of the CCG.
I understand what the Minister is saying, but what about the patient? Where does the patient come into this? If I go to my GP and he says I need a referral, that is between me and my GP. If it was not for my hon. Friend the Member for City of Durham (Dr Blackman-Woods) or the BBC raising this, none of my constituents—or myself and my hon. Friend, who are patients of the CCG—would have known about it. Will the Minister please answer the point about the patients?
The point I was in the middle of making—which I will finish making—is that if the GPs in the CCG have difficulty with the scheme, they have the mechanism to replace the CCG chairman and therefore to not go ahead with the scheme, so the GPs in his area are presumably content with it.
The fact is that the GPs vote for the head of the CCG who has put the scheme into place. On the patient issue, which is a fair one, if the patient expresses a preference to go to a secondary or an acute hospital and have an appointment, which could typically be six to eight weeks away, of course that is part of the process, and of course the referral management schemes will take that into account.
I am sorry, that is not the case. In North Durham, patients have not been told about it. If I went to a GP who said I needed a referral, I would not be told that. What the Minister is saying is in complete contrast to what he told me during a debate on coeliac disease a few weeks ago, in which he condemned CCGs for not consulting people before awarding contracts.
We are moving around a little bit here, but I will come to the point about consultation. The GP that the hon. Gentleman refers to is a part of a CCG that has made the decision to extend the North Tyneside pilot to North Durham. All I am saying is that those GPs are part of the CCG and that presumably the CCG is doing this because it believes the clinical out-turns are right. We have a locally driven system. I will make some progress on the benefits of this for patients.
I will make some progress; I have taken a lot of interventions.
The benefits to patients are that a consultant will review their case within two or three days of a GP referral and a decision will be made on the appropriate pathway. That is why the King’s Fund recommended these sorts of systems in 2010—in terms of patient out-turns—and that is why it is of benefit to patients.
One example that the hon. Member for City of Durham talked about was a skin case that resulted in cancer. That is a very serious situation, and if it happened in the way that she says, it should be investigated. Another example is when a patient with acne was referred to a dermatologist at a hospital. The referral system said, “Why have we not tried a cream for this first?” That process was put into place two or three days later, as opposed to having an eight-week wait for a specialist appoint. That is of benefit to the patient.
I have given way a lot; I want to make some progress.
That is also of benefit to GPs, because they can quickly validate decisions on the best pathway for those grey areas that may or may not require a referral with a consultant who knows more than them about that particular discipline. Of course, it is of benefit to the providers because it takes away something like 20% of unnecessary outpatient appointments. Indeed, one of the providers for the scheme in North Tyneside has asked for it to be extended to an additional discipline, because they feel that some of the referrals they receive are unnecessary and that the referral management system—in the way we have been doing it in the NHS for the past decade—is a mechanism for preventing that.
I am going to talk about the About Health situation and the people who have been awarded the contract in North Durham. It is a one-year pilot that builds on the one-year scheme in North Tyneside. I think it started last month; it covers six disciplines and it does not cover urgent referrals, in particular cancer. All the national requirements for referral-to-treatment times still count in exactly the same way. The local CCG performed a risk analysis before it decided to take the scheme forward and build on what happened in North Tyneside, and the scheme is monitored.
I have been told that a very important feature is that there is a clear GP appeals process. If they are not happy with a decision that has been taken, that process can happen very quickly.
The GP represents the patients in the health system; that is the fact of the matter. If there are out-turns that are detrimental to patients, as the hon. Member for City of Durham implied, that is a serious situation and should be investigated.
About Health is CQC-regulated—with all that goes with that—in exactly the same way as a GP practice. It is staffed by NHS consultants and GPs with a particular interest. As I said, there is a two or three-day turnaround, and they have to have the same indemnity cover as everybody else. Part of what the CCG is doing is to save money—that is true. Inappropriate outpatient appointments mean that more people than necessary are working. If that can be reduced, there is a cost saving to the national health service. It is about optimising pathways.
I will make a little bit more progress and let the hon. Gentleman in later.
This is about stopping inappropriate treatment; it is absolutely not about rationing. If it was about rationing, the whole referral management system would not have been first introduced by the last Labour Government. I think it is incredible that that point has not come across more strongly.
One of the concerns is that About Health is a private company. It is a private organisation that has won the contract, and the local CCG made that decision. Fair questions were asked about the confidentiality of patient records, in terms of them going across a boundary to a private company. My first point, which is an obvious one, is that GP practices are all private companies. Every partner that works in a GP practice works in a private company, in the same way that the GPs who work for About Health are working for a private company. However, all the requirements around patient confidentiality that About Health needs to make sure are in place apply in exactly the same way as they do in every other part of the national health service.
[Mrs Cheryl Gillan in the Chair]
I beg to move,
That this House has considered access to diabetes technologies.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Gillan. It is also good to see the Under-Secretary of State for Health, my hon. Friend the Member for Oxford West and Abingdon (Nicola Blackwood), in her place; I served under her chairmanship when she chaired the Select Committee on Science and Technology. I intend to use this debate to consider what can be done to accelerate access to new, innovative diabetes technologies.
This is a complex subject. I know there are patients who would benefit from technologies such as insulin pumps and glucose monitoring systems but are not able to access them. For many, access to diabetes technologies will have a transforming effect on their lives, enabling them to live full lives, be economically active and reduce the burden on primary and secondary care.
First, I recognise that progress is being made in this area. The intention behind the debate is to highlight the opportunity we have dramatically to transform people’s lives by accelerating access to diabetes technologies. I am here not to criticise but to say, as my schoolteachers regularly said to me, “You could do better,” because I believe we can in this area. Secondly, I want to use this opportunity to pay credit to the work of the all-party parliamentary group on vascular disease, and in particular its inquiry into patient access to technology last summer. The APPG recognised that access to technology facilitates the earlier and more accurate identification of people at potential risk of diabetes-related complications.
I want to refer to three of the 12 recommendations listed in the APPG’s report. The first is that the NHS must consider steps to become more flexible when commissioning or supporting the commissioning of new technologies designed to improve patient outcomes. Its second recommendation is that the NHS and industry should work together to harness innovation and promote better treatment for patients. Thirdly, it recommends that NHS England should consider how to introduce measures to incentivise the screening and diagnosis of patients at risk of peripheral arterial disease in primary care settings. Those recommendations help me to impress on the Minister a matter of great urgency, importance and opportunity for diabetic patients in the UK.
I would like us to consider the need to accelerate access to existing technologies; how the NHS can accelerate the development, testing and application of new technologies; and how information technology can be used to inform and educate patients, giving them greater power to manage their condition and lead full and free lives.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on obtaining this debate. He will be aware that in our schools today there is a problem with young children administering insulin where teachers are not trained to do it and cannot, because of child protection rules. If new and innovative technologies were used, we could perhaps get over that difficulty.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. I will speak later about the opportunity as regards children. If we do not help them to manage their condition, the complications later on are significant indeed.
I do not intend to go over the sheer scale of the problem of diabetes in the UK and its impact on people’s quality of life, our health system, community and social care services and economic productivity. We all know the stats. Despite that, it is my belief that the NHS fails to take full advantage of the latest technology available to patients, including flash glucose monitoring technology, known as FGM. That issue is being targeted by NHS England via the national obesity and diabetes prevention programme. The programme is a joint initiative between NHS England, Public Health England and Diabetes UK, and it aims significantly to reduce the 5 million people in the UK expected to have diabetes by 2025.
Flash glucose monitoring technology is available to support the NHS and NHS England to achieve their objectives related to diabetes. Today’s debate is an opportunity to see how the Government might take full advantage of that and other technologies in the future. It is timely therefore to concentrate our minds briefly on the benefits of technologies such as flash glucose monitoring. Just a few years ago, who would have thought that someone with diabetes could turn their back on routine finger pricking to test their glucose readings and instead rely confidently on readings taken via a small sensor worn on the body?
Just a few years ago, diabetics must have dreamt of a day when they could take a glucose reading as many times a day as they liked, without having to worry about pain, discomfort, inconvenience or running out of test strips. Imagine a world where schoolchildren or people in full-time employment avoided the interruption of finger prick testing and the stigma of testing in public. That world exists, and accelerated access to FGM, which delivers those benefits, could help to improve people’s health, avoiding the need for people who are in work to take extra sick leave by simply enabling better management of their condition.
Flash glucose monitoring provides a current glucose reading, an eight-hour history and information about the direction glucose is going in. That allows people to monitor whether their glucose levels are rising or falling quickly and can support them to take action before their condition worsens. That can only be a plus for patients, GPs and the wider health system. Furthermore, long-term accurate data on glucose levels must be invaluable for clinicians and patients as they make choices about how they manage diabetes.
I would like to ask the Minister a few questions. How confident is she that patients are accessing the treatments and technologies that are available today? What action is required of the Department of Health to ensure that the patient pathway is smooth, well signposted and not too long? Are clinicians fully aware of what technologies are available and how to operate them? Are they equipped to train patients to operate these technologies and make the best use of any data provided? What more can the Minister do to apply pressure to clinical commissioning groups to make diabetes technologies such as insulin pumps and glucose monitoring systems available? I know of patients in my constituency who have waited and waited before getting an insulin pump. In the meantime, their condition has been unbearable, and living any sort of normal life has not been possible. I am glad to say that once they get the insulin pump, their lives are transformed. However, I know others who still wait.
I want to move on to the opportunity we have to embrace emerging technology. One of the greatest developments in healthcare and public health must be the availability and use of emerging technologies. In 2004, Derek Wanless described the NHS as a “late and slow adopter” of innovation. I know that the Government are committed to improving that and to taking advantage of the opportunities on offer from innovative technologies. An excellent example of that is the commissioning through evaluation programme, launched in 2013, which was an innovative solution to the problem of developing real-world data to support the use of innovative medical procedures. I would like the Minister to shed some light on where we are with that programme.
I recognise that CTE set out to accelerate treatments for a far wider group of illnesses and conditions and should be a subject for another Westminster Hall debate. However, commissioning through evaluation is an example of good forward thinking that has been successful in accelerating access to treatments for patients and is the perfect tool for accelerating diabetes technologies and treatments. The reality is that patients, the NHS and UK plc will see the benefit if we find ways quickly to develop the technologies and give patients accelerated access.
Finally, I am keen to know what role the Department believes information technology has in informing and educating people so that they can play a greater role in managing their condition. If a diabetic only gets to see a specialist once a year, can online information help to close the gap? What responsibility does the Department of Health have to ensure that patients with diabetes are signposted to reliable, safe and helpful information? Should the Department actively back charities such as Diabetes UK, so that people have confidence about to whom they should turn? I would also like the Minister to outline what role she believes information technology can play in informing and educating people with diabetes.
I am glad to have secured the debate. This is one of the most pressing issues facing us today, and there is a great opportunity ahead of us. It is an opportunity for patients, because if we get this right, they will be able to manage their condition much more effectively and will be much more likely to be active in the world of work. We will be able to hold off lower limb amputations and sight loss and offer a much brighter future for people with diabetes.
There is also an opportunity in relation to health and social care. One in five hospital admissions for heart failure, heart attack and stroke is of a person who has diabetes, so by getting this right and ensuring that patients have access to advanced technologies, we can reduce the burden on primary and secondary care and reduce the £14 billion spent annually on diabetes in the NHS. The savings potentially go further when we consider the costs associated with adapting people’s homes and workplaces following amputations or sight loss, for example.
There are also opportunities for UK plc. If we get this right, the UK will be seen as the place to do research and development, and manufacturing. It must be the aspiration of the Government for the UK to become a hotbed of innovation, and I am certain that the NHS could exploit its sheer size and buying power much more effectively, giving UK patients the best access to the latest treatments.
I congratulate the hon. Member for St Ives (Derek Thomas) both on raising this very important subject and on the constructive and helpful manner in which he raised it.
I intend to confine my remarks to type 1 diabetes and, in particular, young type 1 diabetics. I should say that I am indebted to both Diabetes UK and the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation for the very helpful briefing that they provided and for the important work that they do on behalf of people with diabetes.
Diabetes, whether type 1 or type 2, is a life-changing condition regardless of the age at which it is diagnosed, but for young type 1 diabetics, it is also a lifelong challenge. Young type 1 diabetics face a daily and lifelong routine of monitoring glucose levels and administering the appropriate doses of insulin. It is not insignificant that one quarter of hospital admissions for ketoacidosis are of 16 to 25-year-olds; that is quite a shocking statistic.
At the same time, dealing with the transition to adulthood, with all the attendant biological, psychological and physiological changes that occur, can be even more challenging for young diabetics and their families. Many young diabetics face bullying. The hon. Member for Upper Bann (David Simpson) referred to a problem in schools. Quite often, because of the misconception about what type 1 diabetes is, young diabetics will face taunts: “Well, it’s your own fault because you don’t eat properly”, “You’re overweight” and so on. It is bad enough that young diabetics face bullying in school. Very often, as the hon. Gentleman signified, schools simply do not know how to deal with this issue.
One thing about being a type 1 diabetic is that because their blood glucose levels can be very unreliable, they sometimes need to take glucose, which means that at a certain point their absolute priority is to eat something. They have to be able to eat something to even out their blood sugar levels, yet all too often teachers will not allow them to use the classroom in those circumstances.
I see the Minister nodding. This really is a problem. Schools need to be advised on how to deal with these situations, so that in every classroom the teacher is aware, whether or not they have a type 1 diabetic in their class, of what they are supposed to do in those circumstances. The lack of understanding in many schools—not all of them, as some deal with the matter very well—must be tackled.
However, I do not want to be overly gloomy about the problem. Organisations such as the JDRF and Diabetes UK, in conjunction with others, including the all-party parliamentary group for diabetes, of which I am a member, are both raising the profile of the way type 1 diabetics are being failed by the healthcare system and suggesting constructive ways of improving the situation. Later today there will be the launch of a report, not specifically on type 1 diabetes but on how services can be better organised. That is the result of many months of taking evidence from expert organisations. I hope that Ministers will study that report closely.
With regard to progress, scientific research is making great headway. The hon. Member for St Ives, who opened the debate, highlighted some of the scientific research going on and the technologies that are available. It is in my view highly likely that a cure will be found well within the lifetime of today’s young diabetics. Building on the technology that already allows automatic continuous glucose monitoring and automatically pumped insulin, an algorithm for combining the two into an artificial pancreas already exists. The hope is that it will not be long before that technology becomes the norm. More development work is going on, but the research and tests that have been carried out indicate that that system works and can bring about a massive improvement in the lives of young people and others who suffer from diabetes, because it enables them to keep their blood glucose at an even level.
I want to say a few words about a particular problem that some young type 1 diabetes sufferers experience. As we know, as a society we face a problem—particularly, although by no means exclusively, among young women—as regards body image. The media, magazines and society in general put forward an idealised view of what a woman or, for that matter, a man should look like. We know about eating disorders that arise from that wholly inappropriate promotion of a “perfect” shape. I do not profess to be an expert on this issue, but my experience of life is that human beings come in all shapes and sizes, none of which is more acceptable than another—but that is just a personal view. However, some young type 1 diabetics discover—this is easy to find out through social media—that by manipulating their insulin intake, they can achieve rapid weight loss. To some young people, that sounds like a great thing to be able to do. Someone can lose perhaps half a stone in a week simply by not taking the amount of insulin that they require. Of course, the problem is that it leads to major medical complications and, in some cases, can end fatally.
Those who do fall into the habit, which amounts to a highly specialised eating disorder, need to be able to access support from diabetologists and from either psychological or psychiatric specialists. All too often, though, that support is not available—at least not in one place—at the time when the young person needs it most and they are left trying to negotiate a sort of medical specialists ping-pong game between, on the one hand, diabetologists, who do not understand the psychological problem that the young person is experiencing, and on the other hand psychologists or psychiatrists, who do not understand all the scientific and medical issues about their diabetes. I know that that is not the Minister’s specific area of responsibility—[Interruption.] Oh it is, she tells me, great—but I put in a plea for her to really give some thought to how those services can be co-ordinated in such a way that means those young people are not left travelling from one place to another, often with long distances involved, to try to access support, when all they can get is somebody who understands one aspect of their disease and the particular manifestation of that disease they have. We are not talking about tens of thousands of young people; we are talking about hundreds, but nevertheless these are young lives and they need to have proper access to all the services that they require.
I will conclude with a couple of questions, which are asked in an entirely constructive spirit. Can the Minister give an assurance that the Government will take an active interest in the research that is going on into technology, and that it will be properly supported? Does she agree that the achievement of making these technologies normal, particularly the artificial pancreas, needs to be pursued with absolute rigorousness? That could be delivered very quickly if the Government took an active interest in it. Will she commit—both through the technological means and better treatment design—to ensuring that the various services that can prevent serious complications are properly integrated so that the medical ping-pong is overcome?
I hope that I have not gone on for too long. Knowing you as I do, Mrs Gillan, I know that you would have told me if I had. Again, I thank the hon. Member for St Ives for giving me the opportunity to say the things that I wanted to say. I am sure that the young diabetics around this country who have the opportunity to do so, will be glad that at least their plight has been raised by at least one Member of this House.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship today, Mrs Gillan. I thank the hon. Member for St Ives (Derek Thomas) for bringing forward this interesting debate on diabetes technologies. I thank him for his explanation of the position, and would like to publicly agree with him that we need to accelerate access and that we could do better. I am also grateful to him for informing us of flash glucose monitoring—FGM. It is a new technology that I must admit I am not familiar with, and I would have guessed completely wrong, based on its initials, as to what we were discussing.
There can be little doubt that diabetes is the fastest growing health threat of our time and a critical public health matter. It is estimated that more than one in 16 people across the UK has diabetes—be that diagnosed or undiagnosed—and it is worth remembering that around 80% of diabetes complications are preventable, or can at least be significantly delayed through early detection, good care and access to appropriate self-management tools and resources, of which access to diabetes technologies is a fundamental part. With that challenge of the increasing numbers of people with diabetes, access to the technology to help those living with the disease becomes yet ever more important. We can learn much from the different approaches to this issue throughout these isles, and we have heard examples today that are both good and bad. The right hon. Member for Knowsley (Mr Howarth) informed us of the problems faced by many young people and their experiences at schools. That is a very good example of how we could do better.
Much of the debate centres around the two main technologies: insulin pumps and continuous glucose monitors. It is, unfortunately, fair to say that at present the challenges facing sufferers in Scotland in obtaining them are greater than for those in England and Wales. However, much progress is being made and the Scottish Government are committed to ensuring that people living with diabetes have access to the best possible care.
Since 2010, the Scottish Government have set and met targets to increase insulin pump therapy. In Scotland, we have already made good progress in its provision, and by the end of the current Parliament some 6,000 adults—more than 20% of the type 1 diabetes population across Scotland—will have access to insulin pump therapy; currently, the figure is around 9.5%. In 2010, the diabetes action plan called for NHS boards in Scotland to introduce plans to make insulin pump therapy available for patients who would most benefit from it. That was followed, in 2011, by the target that 25% of under-18s with type 1 diabetes should be on insulin pump therapy; that was met by December 2014, and the figure had reached 31.2% by the end of 2015. Good though this progress is, we must still do better.
This form of insulin delivery has made a big difference to those who have received it; however, it is worth remembering that is not always appropriate for everyone. To be successful, insulin pump therapy requires intensive work by the patient in association with the local diabetes team, and requires self-management and monitoring.
Continuous glucose monitoring devices can be extremely useful in helping sufferers to manage and monitor their glucose levels. The Scottish Intercollegiate Guidelines Network—SIGN—guidance recommends that CGM should not be used routinely for people with diabetes; however, it may be considered for women with type 1 and type 2 diabetes, as it may be beneficial during pregnancy. As a result of that, provision through the NHS in Scotland is limited. Earlier this month, Shona Robison, the Cabinet Secretary responsible for health, wellbeing and sport in Scotland, confirmed that a national approach is being developed, stating:
“Work is currently on-going to develop a national approach for the use of Continuous Glucose Monitoring (CGM) devices in Scotland, as we recognise the speed of development of this technology.”
Best practice on provision of CGMs and insulin pumps will continue to evolve with developments in technology. Innovative new approaches to healthcare may prove key to improving the treatment of conditions such as diabetes. The Scottish Government, in partnership with Scottish Enterprise, has funded a £500,000 competition to develop a new technology to help with the management of type l diabetes. To supplement existing education programmes, competition entrants have been asked to develop a mobile health product, which could be an app, a new interface or a new device, to assist people in dealing with their condition. The competition is a good example of working with partners across private, public and third sector organisations to develop a new and innovative solution. At its launch, Dr Lena Wilson, chief executive of Scottish Enterprise, said:
“The economy grows faster when companies embed innovation in all they do. Scotland operates in an increasingly competitive global market so developing and maintaining competitive advantage is imperative. The work underway with NHS Scotland on solutions to the challenges Type 1 diabetic patients face offers an opportunity for more of our SMEs to embrace innovation.”
Of course, the potential benefits of that are not just with the businesses that take part. Managing diabetes accounts for about 10% of the annual NHS Scotland budget —almost £1 billion a year. When 80% of NHS spending on diabetes goes on treating avoidable complications, potentially significant savings can be made through better self-management and use of technologies—and that is before we consider quality of life for the actual sufferers who benefit.
In conclusion, we can do much to improve diabetes education and care for both type l and type 2 diabetics, and diabetes technologies have a key role to play in that process. The challenge is to find effective ways to overcome barriers to implementation, and to facilitate greater access for those who would benefit. I am thankful for the opportunity to take part in today’s consensual and informative debate.
It is an honour to serve under your chairmanship today, Mrs Gillan.
I welcome today’s timely debate on access to diabetes technology, which falls in Diabetes Awareness Month. I congratulate the hon. Member for St Ives (Derek Thomas) on securing this important debate and I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Copeland (Mr Reed), who is not present today, for all his campaigning, work and efforts on the subject over the years.
I also thank the hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Martyn Day), who spoke for the Scottish National party, and I commend my right hon. Friend the Member for Knowsley (Mr Howarth) on his excellent contribution on young people with type 1 diabetes, and for highlighting the worrying danger of abuse by young people who skip insulin in order to lose weight. I had heard of that before, but I am grateful that he brought it to our attention today, so that the Minister may respond. As my right hon. Friend said, it is often due to the pressures of society and body shaming and it can, sadly, often be fatal. It is yet another pressure on these young people: aside from having the diabetes diagnosis in the first place, it is something else that they have to deal with.
I also want to disclose from the off that sadly I was diagnosed as a type 2 diabetic just a year ago, but through getting control of my diet and achieving weight loss, which is still ongoing, my diabetes is thankfully very well under control. This debate is therefore very close to my heart.
More than 4 million people and counting in the UK are now living with diagnosed diabetes. Some 400,000 live with type 1 diabetes, and 29,000 of those are children. I am hopeful that in the future, artificial pancreas technology, which we have heard about today, will be effective, safe and accessible to patients, and that eventually, thanks to important research undertaken by the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, Diabetes UK and others, we will create a world without diabetes.
However, until that time comes, it is paramount that we do all we can to support adults and children living with the condition. Patients need accessible and high-quality education and support, and access to technology that will allow them to manage their condition and to achieve positive outcomes. Not only will that have a positive effect upon the lives of those 4 million people, especially including children, but it could also reduce NHS spend on diabetes-related complications.
There have been significant advances and improvements in care for people living with diabetes over the last 15 years or so, but it would be an enormous mistake for us to believe that the job was done. It is far from done and a significant amount of work needs to be undertaken to improve diabetes outcomes. That is because more than 24,000 people a year currently still die from a complication or condition related to diabetes, and many more will encounter life-altering, non-fatal complications. It is worth noting that diabetes-related complications account for a staggering 80% of the £10 billion annual NHS spend on diabetes.
Worryingly, there is also a regional dimension to the challenges presented in relation to positive diabetes outcomes. According to the national diabetes audit 2012-13, diabetes education courses are not being commissioned for people in more than a third of areas in England. Moreover, gateway treatment for both type 1 and type 2 diabetes is undertaken through primary care. However, with a GP shortfall of 40% across the north of England—my region—it is clear that accessibility is limited in certain parts of the country. Meanwhile, some CCGs have particularly large concentrations of people with type 2 diabetes and, it has to be said, there are correlations between those areas and socioeconomic disadvantage. The Government might well approach funding allocations with that in mind.
However, the issue we are discussing, which must be considered alongside the aforementioned points, is supporting patients to access technologies easily that will better help them to manage their condition, from insulin pumps to continuous glucose monitors, to flash glucose meters—a lot of them were spoken about by the hon. Member for St Ives. The technologies to which I refer make monitoring blood glucose more convenient for people than a standard blood glucose meter does, and in turn, those technologies can transform peoples’ lives. Continuous glucose monitors—CGMs—such as the Dexcom device, and flash glucose meters, such as the Abbott FreeStyle Libre device, are considered by many to be a less invasive technique than blood glucose meters for measuring blood glucose. They work 24 hours a day and CGMs can include alarms to indicate when glucose levels are too high. That is particularly important for people who do not know that they are experiencing hypoglycaemia, and children who may be unable yet to communicate it.
It is critical that the House understands the importance of blood glucose readings for people living with diabetes—both types—but it is of essential importance for people living with type 1. With type 2 patients, as I have found, blood glucose is usually monitored and controlled over a long period of time and the scope for immediate blood glucose correction is limited. For people living with type 1—people whose control depends upon the use of insulin delivered through an injection or a pump—accurate, real-time data are essential for blood glucose control.
To put it simply: better blood glucose control will result in better outcomes for people living with type 1 or type 2. It will relieve significant pressure on the NHS and result in a significant and positive long-term financial gain. Access to CGMs and flash glucose meters is limited on the NHS, and National Institute for Health and Care Excellence guidelines do not recommend that CGMs are offered routinely even to adults with type 1 diabetes, but funding should be considered in a small number of specified circumstances. Meanwhile, children and young people must either have frequent severe hypoglycaemia, impaired awareness of hypoglycaemia associated with adverse consequences, or the inability to recognise or communicate about symptoms of hypoglycaemia in order to be eligible for a CGM at the moment.
The guidelines, which can be difficult for health professionals, adult patients, and parents alike to navigate, are an obstacle to accessing life-changing technologies for people living with diabetes. As such, I hope that the Government will take steps to encourage CCGs to increase the take-up of CGMs—I apologise for all the acronyms—and flash glucose meters, and that eventually work will be undertaken, in conjunction with NICE, to look at increasing and improving access to diabetes technologies at a faster rate than patients currently experience.
The running cost of a CGM is around £3,000 to £4,000 a year, whereas a flash glucose meter costs around £1,300 a year. That represents a significant personal cost to many of those who are unable to access these technologies through their CCG, and who therefore have little choice but to self-fund. Lots of parents do this for their children especially. In considering the financial impact of diabetes, we must recognise that diabetic technologies should not be available only to those who can afford to self-fund. Allowing the continuation of the disparity between people with diabetes who can afford to make use of life-changing technologies and those who cannot undermines the principle of a truly national health service.
It is also important to consider that investment in the new technologies could save the NHS vast amounts in the long term. That is because they can help to avoid severe night-time hypos, and severe hypos cost the NHS £13 million a year. In addition, as I have mentioned, diabetes-related complications account for 80% of the total NHS spend on diabetes, and supporting patients to better manage their condition through access to CGMs and flash glucose meters will inevitably seek to reduce that cost. That is a significant saving, before we even begin considering the impact of hypoglycaemia on the UK economy as a whole.
Finally, during Prime Minister’s questions, in response to my hon. Friend the Member for Copeland, the Prime Minister stated:
“There are many youngsters out there, from tiny tots to teenagers, living with type 1 diabetes. It is important that we send a message to them that their future is not limited: they can do whatever they want.”—[Official Report, 20 July 2016; Vol. 613, c. 821-22.]
I am sure that all of us in the Chamber today very much welcome her comments. I hope that they represent a forthcoming commitment by the Government to improve access to life-changing technologies for adults and children to reduce any obstacles that they might otherwise face.
I ask the Government to commit to working to improve access to diabetes management education, support, and access to emerging technologies. We must ensure that emerging technologies reach the public in a timely manner, and that innovation, to make them even more user-friendly and to encourage take-up, is also supported and encouraged by the Government.
A national focus on access to diabetes technologies has its roots not only in clinical, but in financial arguments, as well having national support. So far, more than 26,000 people, from every single constituency in the UK, have signed a petition initiated by my hon. Friend the Member for Copeland calling for CGMs to be made available as a right on the NHS to adults and children living with type 1 diabetes. Moreover, 25 cross-party colleagues have signed an early-day motion in a similar vein. I extend my support to those cross-party calls to ensure that such technologies become accessible to adults and children living with diabetes—especially type 1—so as, ultimately, to improve the lives of those who need those technologies.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Gillan. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for St Ives (Derek Thomas) for giving us the opportunity to have such an important debate. His timing is impeccable, as always, as I found on the Science and Technology Committee, of which he was such an excellent member—we exist in a mutual admiration society. This debate follows on from world diabetes day last month. I want to add my voice to the tributes already paid to the all-party groups on diabetes and on vascular disease and to Diabetes UK for the work they do on this issue. It is invaluable, as we have heard from the very high quality and personal contributions this afternoon.
As the shadow Minister says, diabetes is one of the biggest health challenges facing this country today. The figures are truly sobering. Almost 3 million people in England are currently diagnosed with diabetes and we estimate that a further 940,000 remain undiagnosed. Furthermore, around 5 million are at high risk of developing type 2 diabetes. If nothing changes, by 2025 more than 4 million people will have the condition. As the right hon. Member for Knowsley (Mr Howarth) said, type 1 diabetes affects 400,000 people in the UK and its incidence is increasing by about 4% a year. It is not preventable, so the emphasis is on improving the lives of people with type 1 diabetes and helping them to manage their condition.
I absolutely associate myself with the words of the Prime Minister: the message should be that people are able to live full and active lives, and the Government are there to do whatever they can to support them to do so. I shall certainly undertake to study the upcoming report mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman and consider its proposals carefully.
Type 2 diabetes is much more common. Diabetes as a whole is a leading cause of preventable sight loss in people of working age and is a major contributor to kidney failure, heart attack and stroke. As my hon. Friend the Member for St Ives said, diabetic foot disease, including lower limb amputations and foot ulcers, account for more days in hospital than all other diabetes complications put together. We are determined to change that.
According to Public Health England and Diabetes UK, 5 million people in England are at high risk of developing type 2 diabetes, and one in 10 will develop the disease if current trends continue. Type 2 diabetes is largely preventable and manageable through lifestyle changes, as the shadow Minister has testified—I was very impressed by her testimony today.
There is also a huge financial cost—as well as a personal cost—to diabetes and its complications. It already costs the NHS in England more than £5.6 billion a year, and that continues to rise. In addition, the annual social care costs associated with supporting people with diabetes are estimated to be £1.4 billion. Managing the growing impact of diabetes is one of the major clinical challenges of the 21st century. That is why preventing type 2 diabetes and promoting the best possible care for all people with diabetes is a key priority for me and for the Government.
It will not surprise my hon. Friend the Member for St Ives to hear that, as the Minister for Public Health and Innovation, I believe he is absolutely correct to highlight the role that modern technologies, properly used, can play in the care of people with diabetes. We are extremely fortunate to have a thriving, world-class life sciences industry in this country—it is one of the jewels in the crown of our industrial sector. That is why we are investing an extra £2 billion a year in research and development by the end of this Parliament to help to put post-Brexit Britain at the cutting edge of science and technology, as the Chancellor announced today.
The development of new, innovative technologies is continuing at pace and is revolutionising health systems throughout the world. However, that will not help if patients do not benefit from it, so we want to make sure that patients here benefit as quickly as possible. As my hon. Friend the Member for St Ives said, we can do better. That is exactly why we commissioned the accelerated access review to support the NHS to become a system that embraces innovation and works in collaboration with innovators to get products to patients more quickly. The review was published last month. We are carefully considering its recommendations and will respond as soon as we can.
It is not surprising that we are seeing the emergence of technologies that have real potential to improve the lives of people with diabetes in the context of such a thriving life sciences sector. As many colleagues have mentioned, key to managing diabetes is monitoring and controlling glucose levels. Various technologies are available. Insulin pump technology is prime among these and is recommended by NICE as an option for people with type 1 diabetes. Many people are already benefitting from blood glucose monitoring with testing strips and a machine to read blood glucose levels, as well as continuous glucose monitoring. The shadow Minister went into great detail about how that already provides hundreds of readings a day to provide a clear picture of people’s glucose levels.
People also benefit from flash glucose monitoring, where the glucose concentration and trend is shown when the monitor is waved over the sensor. Other devices are also available; I understand that many people are already finding them useful in reducing hyperglycaemic and hypoglycaemic attacks. In some cases, as my hon. Friend the Member for St Ives said, such devices can offer life-changing support to patients living with diabetes. They can play a particularly valuable role for certain patient groups, including children and teens, when they are properly managed, as the hon. Member for Upper Bann (David Simpson)—who is not in his place—said earlier.
Clinical commissioning groups are responsible for commissioning diabetes services. In doing so, they need to ensure that the services they provide are fit for purpose, reflect the needs of their local populations and are based on the available evidence, taking into account national guidelines. In the end, none of the guidelines can supersede the best judgment of clinicians, formed with their patients, about the best treatment option for them. I know that NHS England is actively investigating the potential of technologies for use within the NHS with manufacturers and patient groups to understand and identify areas of need and barriers to adoption so that they can improve access.
Looking to the future, artificial pancreas technology, as was mentioned, continues to be developed. One system has recently been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration, and a European licence is being pursued. Large randomised clinical studies of similar systems are now beginning, and several are expected to come to market in the next five years. Teams in the UK, including in Cambridge and London, are leading on some of this work, but these technologies need to be used optimally as part of holistic treatment pathways so that we get the best patient outcomes from them. That is exactly what the NHS innovation accelerator aims to deliver.
The NHS innovation accelerator is supposed to realise the commitment in the five-year forward view to create the conditions and cultural change necessary for proven innovations to be adopted faster and more systematically through the NHS for the benefit of patients. This is being delivered in partnership with all 15 academic health science networks. AHSN initiatives are patient-facing. Monster Manor, for example, is a free app launched by the Oxford AHSN—which I mention very selfishly—diabetes clinical network to encourage children with type 1 diabetes to track their blood glucose readings and become more engaged in their diabetes management. By logging readings, players earn rewards that help them to advance through the game.
The Yorkshire and Humber AHSN is implementing a locally developed set of tools to support general practice and community pharmacy in fostering greater self-care and health literacy among patients with diabetes and encourage them to do something to prevent severe hypoglycaemic episodes. A particular benefit of the AHSN network is the best practice sharing system, which is now in place, to ensure that improvements in one area can more quickly spread across the whole country.
Another example of accelerator innovation is the internet of things innovation diabetes test bed, which is funded by the Department. This enables people with type 1 or type 2 diabetes to do the right thing at the right time in self-managing their condition. It can be difficult to manage any long-term condition, so help is particularly valuable. People get a real-time view of their own data so they can take prompt action to prevent their condition from getting worse. This also encourages more timely and appropriate interventions from healthcare professionals. It is hoped that using technology in this way will also create genuine partnerships between patients and their healthcare professionals.
Realistically, the only way we are going to make measurable progress in halting the diabetes epidemic is to put strong measures in place to prevent those at risk from developing type 2 diabetes in the first place. Healthier You, the diabetes prevention programme, is the first type 2 diabetes prevention programme of its kind to be delivered at scale nationwide anywhere in the world. By 2020, the programme will be made available to up to 100,000 people at risk of diabetes each year across England. Those referred will get personalised help to reduce their risk, including education on healthier eating and lifestyles, and physical exercise programmes tailored to the individual. Building on that, NHS England is investing an additional £40 million each year to support CCGs in promoting evidence-based interventions to improve the care that all people with diabetes receive. In line with the points that my hon. Friend the Member for St Ives made, NHS England is encouraging GPs to refer people who are at high risk of diabetes into the national diabetes prevention programme, although referrals also come through the NHS health check, so there are two routes.
The role of structured education is widely recognised to be hugely important. The Department, NHS England and Diabetes UK are working together to improve the take-up of such education, including through digital and web-based approaches. Furthermore, NHS England is planning to make additional investment from 2017-18 to support the expansion of structured education to help patients to understand their condition better and manage it themselves more successfully.
The right hon. Member for Knowsley made some important points about the interaction of mental health services and diabetes provision. There is already significant activity to tackle the challenges of negative body image, and the Government announced a body image taskforce in 2010. It reports annually and is led by the Government Equalities Office. Simultaneously, in response to the priorities put forward in the five-year forward view on mental health, we are currently significantly improving care pathways for eating disorders. I have not so far investigated the specific challenge of how young diabetic patients interact with that context, but as a result of the right hon. Gentleman’s comments I undertake to do so.
I hope I have demonstrated not only the Government’s commitment but my personal commitment to harnessing new and innovative technologies as part of our drive to improve outcomes for the millions of people already living with diabetes and the many others at risk of developing the disease, as well as to sending out the clear message that diabetes does not in any way limit the ability to live an active life and to contribute well.
I am grateful for the opportunity to have this debate under your chairmanship, Mrs Gillan; I think I have 37 minutes left.
I thank the Minister for the information she has given today. I have learned things, and the challenge now is for us to make sure that patients and clinicians will also know what is available to help them. We want acceleration in technology and the integration of services so that patients can be diagnosed as early as possible, have reliable online information about what is available and how to look after themselves and also get the specialist care they need, as well as access to the most appropriate technology. It seems to me that we are all singing from the same song sheet, and I am encouraged to hear that the Government are doing and will do all they can to support patients.
I appreciate that there have been distractions in the House today, but I think this debate has been a useful exercise; I am sure there will be others in future about how to continue with this important matter.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered access to diabetes technologies.
Car Parking Charges: Stevenage
[Sir Edward Leigh in the Chair]
I beg to move,
That this House has considered car parking charges and Stevenage town centre.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Edward. I am grateful that the Minister is present to respond to this debate, which is important both for my constituents in Stevenage and nationally. It is clear that excessive parking charges have been a major factor in the destruction of many high streets and town centres. They have forced local shoppers away from their much loved local areas towards out-of-town retail parks and supermarkets offering free parking.
The Minister will be aware of the negative impact a poor local authority can have on standards of living. Such an authority can have a chokehold on economic growth, as it holds small local businesses back. Sadly, Stevenage Borough Council is such an authority and has been holding Stevenage back for years. But we are breaking free from the council’s restrictive grip. Stevenage has become the economic engine of Hertfordshire, and Hertfordshire has taken a leading role in the economic recovery.
Stevenage was the first new town in the country. It was established by the Stevenage Development Corporation 70 years ago. It is home to some of the biggest companies in the world and employs nearly 10,000 scientists and technicians. We have more than 4,000 small businesses. Since 2010, unemployment has fallen from 5.8% to 1.6%. I have launched a variety of apprenticeship campaigns. Before 2010, just under 200 apprentices were starting work every year, which was not bad, but not great either. We now have more than 800 apprentices starting real jobs every year in Stevenage, and we are on course for 1,000. That is an absolutely fantastic achievement that is giving young people a real chance at a start in life.
People say, “It’s not rocket science,” but I actually have apprentice rocket scientists, and I have apprentice accountants, too—you name it, we have them. That is because local employers are working with me and the local community to make a difference. We have amazing transport links, as Stevenage is situated on the A1(M) and the east coast main line. In fact, we are only 19 minutes from King’s Cross on the fast trains.
Since 2010, I have secured from the Government more than £300 million of investment in infrastructure. Such massive investment has transformed public services in the area. More than £150 million of that investment has been spent on rebuilding the Lister hospital, which, although it has its challenges, is fast becoming a centre of clinical excellence. We have had a variety of other new NHS investments, including in GP surgeries. Some of our secondary schools have been rebuilt, while others are being modernised. Some primary schools have been rebuilt, and others have been expanded. In total we have 42 primary and nursery schools in Stevenage, and 40 of them are rated as good or outstanding, with the other two closing the gap quickly.
I have secured the money for the widening of the A1(M) between junctions 6 and 8, which was not easy at £8 million a mile. The technical works have started and the Government will deliver on a campaign that has been running for more than 30 years, because we understand how critical great infrastructure is to releasing economic growth.
Hertfordshire is one of the safest places in the country to live, and a third of Stevenage is parks and open spaces. With such great public services, transport connections, new homes being built and more than 400,000 square feet of office space being converted into residential flats because of permitted development rights—all within 15 minutes of the railway station—it is clear why so many people are moving to my constituency. In fact, many Londoners relocate to Stevenage, because they can get to work faster living in Hertfordshire than when they lived in London.
The Minister can see that Stevenage is taking off. We are breaking the grip of Stevenage Borough Council, which is trying to hold us back, and we are moving forward, but we have a huge problem right in the centre of our town. I love Stevenage, but its town centre is not fit for purpose. It needs regenerating and bringing forward into the 21st century, and it needs to reflect the growing aspirations of the people who live there, but do not shop there.
Stevenage Borough Council is addicted to car parking charges and has a monopoly on off-street car parks in the town centre and at the railway station. Let me put that into context: the council takes more than £3.5 million a year in car parking charges, and just over £4 million a year as its share of the council tax. It is a tiny lower tier local authority that provides services for 60,000 electors, making it the smallest local authority in Hertfordshire and one of the smallest in the country.
A third of the council’s budget effectively comes from car parking charges. In Stevenage, we have to pay almost as much in car parking charges as we do in council tax. That is totally unacceptable. I am sure the Minister will agree that councils should not have monopolies on car parks. Stevenage Borough Council should consider divesting itself of such assets, and it should certainly not use excessive parking charges to make up a shortfall in its budget.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way, and to be able to speak in this debate with the Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, my hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton (Mr Jones), who is my neighbour in Leicestershire. The constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Stevenage (Stephen McPartland) has many parallels with mine. We have the MIRA business park and we have very low unemployment. I support what he is trying to do with this debate. On Friday, my private Member’s Bill should receive its Second Reading. It has the twin purpose of allowing councils to reduce parking charges without 21 days’ notice, and introducing a proviso that should councils want to increase parking charges, they will have to consult.
That is an excellent intervention. I would be happy to support my hon. Friend’s private Member’s Bill.
Will the Minister clarify whether a local authority’s revenue surplus from off-street car parking may be used for general purposes, or is it restricted in the same manner as an on-street parking revenue surplus? Will he agree to review off-street parking revenues in areas such as Stevenage, where there is such a distorted market due to the council’s monopoly?
I know that the Department does not collect data on high parking charges centrally, and local authorities are responsible for setting local parking charges, taking account of local circumstances. Nevertheless, the Minister wants local authorities to adopt policies that support local town centres, and the Government have recently consulted on that idea, so will he start collecting the data and analysing the effect of high car parking charges on the viability of the economies of town centres such as Stevenage’s?
The Portas review clearly showed that car parking charges were the biggest barrier to the regeneration of our town centres. A couple of years ago, I launched a campaign to protect local people from Stevenage Borough Council’s car parking rip-off, and received the support of the then Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, my right hon. Friend the Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Sir Eric Pickles). I believe that, by taking more than £3 million a year in car parking charges, Stevenage Borough Council is preventing the regeneration of Stevenage town centre.
My campaign calls on Stevenage Borough Council to apologise and move forward by introducing three hours’ free parking so that more local people can afford to shop locally. On-street parking is free for three hours in the Stevenage old town, and it is vibrant, with the Department recently commending it for coming in the top five high streets in the country.
There is free parking at the Roaring Meg retail park, where Debenhams is currently building a new store. The company has chosen to build there rather than the town centre. Although I welcome the fact that Debenhams is coming to Stevenage, I wish it would come to the town centre and act as an anchor store to kick-start the regeneration scheme. Local people are rightly concerned that many of the fashion shops in the town centre will relocate once the store opens.
I am campaigning for Stevenage Borough Council to match the three hours of free parking at Roaring Meg and stop killing our town centre by ripping off local people. I have spoken to developers, financiers, chief executives and chairmen of leading retailers, and they all tell me the exact same simple facts of regeneration. We have to increase customer footfall and the dwell time of shoppers before they will come, and the quickest way to do that is with an element of free parking. But Stevenage Borough Council cannot give up its addiction to the £3.5 million it receives in car parking charges, which blocks every regeneration attempt.
Thousands of local people have signed my campaign for three hours’ free parking, because we want to see the town centre regenerated. Stevenage Borough Council has launched several regeneration plans over the past 20 years, but they have all collapsed because of this addiction to car parking charges. To put it into context for the Minister, around 40% of my town centre is car parks.
The latest regeneration plan is painful to read. It is a billion-pound joke on local people. The ridiculous proposal involves moving the existing railway station, relied on by 35,000 commuters a day, and closing Lytton Way, which the council says is redundant, but is actually the busiest dual carriageway in Stevenage, going right through the heart of the town centre. One of the only two custody suites in the whole of Hertfordshire is located off the dual carriageway. The plan also involves demolishing the Gordon Craig theatre and building 1,600 flats on the leisure park to wipe out our community facilities, including the first Cineworld cinema in the UK, which is an 18-screen cinema, with IMAX 3D and 4D. None of this would actually take place in the area that we refer to as the town centre; it would all be adjacent to it.
Stevenage Borough Council has made Hertfordshire local enterprise partnership mislead the Government in its application to the local growth fund and it has also misled the Homes and Communities Agency. I shall explain: Stevenage Borough Council created what it calls a public-private partnership, named Stevenage First, in June 2015 to launch its latest ridiculous regeneration proposals. I opposed the proposals as they are not deliverable and will create massive economic uncertainty in our town and intense disruption for the seven years that the railway station move would take.
Consequently, the only organisations that make up the board of Stevenage First are Hertfordshire County Council, Hertfordshire LEP, Stevenage Borough Council and Hertfordshire chamber of commerce. No private companies will touch Stevenage First, so it is not even a public-private partnership. However, Stevenage Borough Council writes to companies and organisations, including the HCA, asking them to join the board and stating that I am a board member, even though I am not and I actually opposed the creation of Stevenage First. Stevenage Borough Council also states that Network Rail is a board member. I have met the chief executive of Network Rail who explained that Network Rail is not a board member, confirming that in writing to me and the council.
The council and the LEP have stated in their application for Government funding to move our railway station and destroy Stevenage’s economy that Legal & General has committed £250 million of private funding. I have met the chief executive of Legal & General and he has confirmed to me and also put in writing that Legal & General has made no such offer of funding and has no desire to see the train station moved.
This disastrous scheme has also seen the new turnback facility for the Hertford Loop line, which we need at Stevenage station, being delayed, and it is now under threat. I secured the agreement for this facility in the last Parliament, because we need it to benefit from the increased range of services that will be available from 2018, when we will have direct services to Gatwick and Brighton from Stevenage after the new Thameslink works are completed.
I will not bore everyone with the details, but the result of the delay is that Govia, the train operating company, has suggested in its consultation for 2018 that a bus replacement service would be needed until the new station is built. That means that for up to seven years the 1,100 people a day in Stevenage who use the Hertford Loop line would have to get a bus if the disastrous station proposal got the go-ahead. That is totally unacceptable and would mean a reduction rather than an increase in capacity.
I spend my time campaigning for more seats and services on our line, and I have secured massive improvements. This ridiculous regeneration plan is putting them all at risk. If there is any money available for station investment, we should ensure that it is spent only on delivering a new platform five in time for the 2018 timetable.
It is time for radical action and for a new town centre in Stevenage, and the first step has to be introducing three hours of free parking, to help to increase customer footfall and dwell time. I have previously asked the Government to step in and take action. I asked them to establish a new Stevenage development corporation, to regenerate our town centre once and for all. If Stevenage Borough Council is frightened of being side-lined, then it should not have a development corporation. Let us have a development partnership, a super-business improvement district and a whole new model we can invent, which can act as a template for small town centre regeneration schemes. I do not mind—I will work with anyone to deliver for my town of Stevenage.
It is time for radical action and I urge the Minister to help me to create a modern, aspirational and 21st-century town centre in Stevenage. We have a real opportunity and we must take it.
It is an absolute pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Edward. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Stevenage (Stephen McPartland) on securing what has been an interesting and informative debate. It has been important to hear his views and how he wants the future of Stevenage to be shaped. It is also good to hear what a passionate and strong voice he is for his constituents.
This debate also gives me an important opportunity to set out the Government’s vision for the future of parking and town centres. Personally, I am passionate about town centres and the role that parking has to play. Town centres are important for our communities and local economies. However, the huge structural shift in retailing, with the rise of online shopping and out-of-town retailing, which my hon. Friend referred to, means that we are at a critical moment for our town centres. I am absolutely dedicated to giving local authorities, local enterprise partnerships and local communities access to the tools they need to transform their local areas and bring their town centres into the 21st century.
High streets and town centres have the potential to aid job creation and nurture small businesses, and parking plays a major role in providing the gateway to them. To date, the Government have taken significant action to support town centres and drive growth. Since 2010, we have helped to create more than 360 town teams and given over £18 million to a number of different towns. That is on top of a range of other steps, including supporting the phenomenally successful Great British High Street awards, which my hon. Friend alluded to, and the Love Your Local Market campaign. We have also introduced a package of important financial reliefs for small businesses, such as the £1.4 billion package of support for small businesses, which ended this year. In addition, we are bringing forward a significant £6.7 billion package of business rate relief, which will start next April and which will benefit many businesses on our high streets and in our town centres.
The best retailers, the best high streets and the best town centres are already adapting to change. They are becoming places where people go for a day or night out, to do some shopping—but also to have something to eat or go to the cinema—and to enjoy their leisure time. Achieving such adaptation is not always easy in many places, as I am sure hon. Members will know. The Government are absolutely committed to helping communities to adapt, but we cannot and should not bail out or prop up ailing businesses. We believe that plans and ideas for town centres must come from local areas themselves. It is for councils, businesses and communities in local areas, with the input of excellent Members of Parliament, to decide what they want high streets and town centres to look like and what they want their vision for the future to be.
The Government must support local people, building skills and spreading best practice, while doing everything we can at a national level to support high street growth. The Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Goole (Andrew Percy)—who has taken on the role of Minister with responsibility for high streets—is taking forward a strand of work through the Future High Streets Forum. He is working with many people from the industry on how the Government can make it easier for local areas, facilitating them in bringing our high streets up to the standard expected in the 21st century, and how a high street or town centre can be restructured to reflect that.
Let me now turn to car parking. This Government have introduced reforms to make car parking easier, allowing high streets to adapt to the needs of their communities. The previous Conservative-led coalition Government introduced reforms to make it mandatory for local authorities to give 10-minute grace periods for all on-street parking bays and all off-street car parks. This gives town centre customers greater flexibility and allows them to complete their business in the town centre without having to worry about whether they are running over their parking time by a few minutes.
The Government have also been concerned about how councils have used CCTV camera cars, which were being used purely as revenue-generating tools. That is why, in addition to grace periods, we banned local authorities from sending car parking tickets through the post. That means that individuals have a degree of certainty, because if they get a ticket now, they know that it will be there when they get back to their car. They will not receive it through the post a number of weeks later, when they may not recall that particular journey, but can instead corroborate the information given by a parking ticket.
I can tell my hon. Friend the Member for Stevenage that we are now looking at further reforms to the local government transparency code, which picks up on his point about how car parking revenue is used. Following the recent consultation, we intend to amend the code so that motorists can see at first hand a complete breakdown of the parking charges their councils impose and how much money the charges raise. Since 2014, councils have been required to be more transparent about how much money they raise through parking charges and penalties. Our proposals therefore go even further, enabling drivers to see far more information about the levels of fines imposed, how many were paid and how many were cancelled.
Let me take this opportunity to commend the private Member’s Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Bosworth (David Tredinnick). The Parking Places (Variation of Charges) Bill offers an excellent opportunity for a small but sensible reform to local authority car parks. The Bill would give the Government powers to scrap the bureaucratic requirements on local authorities if they wish to lower their car parking charges. That is extremely important, because it offers a real opportunity for councils to be at the forefront, supporting their high streets. For example, they can respond to the opportunity of a town centre festival or event by quickly and flexibly reducing car parking charges. Where areas can do that for specific events, it makes a huge difference. It often attracts a lot of people into the town centre who may live in the area but who do not necessarily visit that town. They can get a feel for the town centre, and often it reminds them what is there and what they can do while they visit. That is extremely important. It would certainly make it easier for Stevenage Borough Council to implement the policy that my hon. Friend the Member for Stevenage sensibly advocates.
The Bill would also provide for a consultation requirement if councils wished to increase the charges. Councils often get to the budget-setting process in the year and decide that they want to fill a hole in the revenue budget. Car parking charges are often seen as an easy fix. It is important for councils to have to engage with their local populations and consult to ensure that they are doing the right thing in taking that approach. Charging levels are often a significant concern to town centre businesses, and we think it is fit and proper that councils listen to those businesses before they set their charges. The Bill is on Second Reading on Friday, and I look forward to colleagues in the House supporting it wholeheartedly.
Turning to other matters, I note that my hon. Friend has been an active supporter and campaigner for three hours of free parking in Stevenage. I take this opportunity to say that I fully support his campaign. Many areas across the country have taken that approach, and it has made a significant and positive difference to the number of people coming into those areas. For example, North Lincolnshire Council has taken the commendable step of offering free parking to visitors to Brigg, Ashby and Scunthorpe to encourage more use of those town centres. The scheme offers one free ticket a day for each vehicle per visit, per site. In Northumberland, the council offers a disk-based scheme. It is good to see my hon. Friend from Northumberland, the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mrs Trevelyan). She will know that that scheme allows motorists to park at a range of towns across Northumberland.
I encourage other councils to take up that good practice. Where councils do not think about parking charges, it has negative consequences. In my constituency, Labour-controlled Nuneaton and Bedworth Borough Council regrettably took the step of increasing car parking charges in April, and it has already found that that has reduced the car park income to the council by £200,000. That shows what a negative approach that is and the damaging effect that putting up car parking charges can have on a town centre.
In conclusion, the Government are committed to helping our high streets to adapt to the changing needs of communities and making them fit for the 21st century, but we need to be clear that there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Every town is different, but parking has a key role to play in encouraging people to use our town centres. Everyone needs to play their part, with local economic partnerships, local authorities, businesses, communities and local Members of Parliament coming together. It was good to hear my hon. Friend the Member for Stevenage make that wide offer to his local area—to say, “Let’s work together to make things happen in Stevenage.” That is absolutely right. Local areas must come together to work on behalf of local businesses, bring local people into our town centres and deliver a package that they can be proud of. As we are seeing, many people are indeed proud of their town centres, because across the country more than 400,000 people have voted for their favourite high street in our Great British high street competition.
Question put and agreed to.
I beg to move,
That this House has considered transport in the North East.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Edward. I am grateful for the opportunity to hold this debate on such an important issue for many of my constituents. This is by no means the first time that I have spoken in this House about transport in the north-east, and I start by reiterating what I said on those occasions about the region’s huge economic potential. Nissan’s recent decision to build two new models at its Sunderland plant was a resounding vote of confidence in the workforce and in the north-east economy and a demonstration of what can be achieved when Government and business work together to maximise what the region has to offer.
As the only English region consistently to maintain a balance of trade surplus over the past decade, the north-east is clearly doing something right in developing export opportunities by land, air and sea. One of the most effective ways that Government can help to support those efforts and drive economic growth is through greater investment in transport infrastructure. After all, a 2014 research paper commissioned by the Department for Transport described transport as an
“essential input to income generation”
“positive impacts on a wide range of economic variables including city size and employment.”
Creating better transport connections between the north’s economic centres is also meant to be one of the central planks of the Government’s so-called northern powerhouse scheme. Despite the soaring rhetoric of the northern powerhouse initiative, the level of public spending allocated to the north-east remains very low compared with almost every other region in the country. Government figures show that expenditure has declined by almost 20% over the decade, with the result that the north-east accounted for only 2.8% of overall UK spend on transport last year.
Although other northern regions have also suffered from a decline in central funding in recent years, the amount spent on transport in the north-east last year was by far the lowest of the English regions, and second only to Northern Ireland across the UK. The difference between the north-east and London is especially stark. At £300 a head of population, expenditure in the north-east is far below the London spend of £1,900 a head. Some £573 million was spent across the whole north-east on transport last year, but £27 billion to £32 billion has been earmarked for Crossrail 2 alone.
Given the substantial levels of public investment in transport in the capital, it is hardly a surprise that one in four Londoners do not own a car. Few realise that the north-east has the second lowest rate of car ownership in the country after London, with one in three people entirely reliant on public transport to get around.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for securing this debate. I know she is a passionate champion of bus services. Does she realise that bus passenger numbers have fallen by 57.7% in the north-east since deregulation in the 1980s—the highest of any region? Does she think that is a sign of success, or is it actually a recognition of the failure to have a co-ordinated transport policy?
I feel that deregulation has been an unmitigated disaster for regions such as the north-east, where we have had a knock-on effect on fares, falling bus patronage and local communities often entirely cut off from bus services. I know that my hon. Friend faces similar problems in his community in Hartlepool to those I face in mine.
On that point, the people in my constituency are entirely dependent on bus services. There is no other option. It is therefore imperative that the comparatively small amount of money allocated to the north-east for transport is spent on ensuring that local public transport services meet the needs of local people and businesses. Unfortunately, expenditure on local public transport in the north-east has dropped by more than 45% over the last five years, which is by far the biggest decrease in spending on any mode of transport in the region.
I want to take the opportunity to again raise with the Minister my long-standing concerns about the state of north-east local bus services. Over the past six years, thousands of local people have contacted me to express their deep dissatisfaction about the cost of fares and the level of service being provided by private bus companies. That is why I vocally supported efforts by Nexus and the North East combined authority to use existing legislation to re-regulate local bus services, through the introduction of a London-style quality contract scheme in Tyne and Wear. It would have integrated fares and routes and ensured that taxpayer subsidies were used to improve services instead of to increase operating profits. I was therefore sorely disappointed with the quality contract scheme board decision a year ago to reject the proposals, even though it acknowledged that the scheme would offer local people a transport system unrivalled outside London. I still find it incredible that the board believed operators should be compensated for the future loss of potential profits. The people of the north-east should not have to compensate bus operators for what is taken for granted in London.
One year on, north-east passengers are no closer to getting the bus service they deserve. Nexus was clear during the QCS process that if the scheme was not implemented, bus cuts were inevitable, fares would increase and ridership would go down. That scenario is playing out. Annual bus statistics show that bus patronage has decreased by 2.7% again in Tyne and Wear and given the frequency with which operators chop and change services and raise fares, that is hardly a surprise. While north-east bus passengers continue to suffer from the absence of a fully integrated network, bus operators in the region continue to make large profits. In fact, in some cases the profits made by commercial bus operators are even being used to prop up loss-making rail franchises, as David Brown, chief executive officer of the Go-Ahead Group recently admitted. We cannot go on like this.
The QCS board decision last November may have blocked efforts to introduce franchising schemes under existing legislation, but there was much hope that the Bus Services Bill would give us the power to implement the change we so desperately need. Unfortunately, despite sensible amendments to the Bill in the House of Lords on bus franchising schemes, the Government seem determined to ensure those powers will only be available automatically to mayoral combined authorities. It seems as if the region will once again be denied the opportunity to improve services for passengers. The current deregulated system has not only failed to prevent a decline in bus patronage—it has exacerbated it. I ask the Minister to think carefully on the amendments and to give the north-east the powers it needs to implement the urgent, radical change needed to arrest and reverse that decline.
Buses are of course not the only means by which people travel across the north-east, although they are the only mode of public transport for many of my constituents, which is one of the main reasons for the poor connectivity between semi-urban and rural constituencies such as mine and the urban centres they surround. If the Government really want to create better transport links between economic centres in the north, they must provide Nexus with the long-term funding necessary for essential infrastructure works to refresh and expand the metro. With 60 stations, around 40 million passenger trips per year and trains running up to 19 hours a day, the metro has been serving the needs of north-east residents for more than 40 years.
I am very interested in that point about how busy the metro is. Is my hon. Friend aware that Network Rail maintains the principal part of the rail tracks that the metro runs on, as well as the rest of the rail tracks in the north-east? Does she agree that we should press the Minister to assure us that Network Rail will not be privatised again, as has been widely reported in the national newspapers? It was brought into public hands because of a poor safety record in the private sector. We need an assurance on that today, bearing in mind how dependent we are in the north-east on the railways and the metro.
I am sure the Minister will want to respond to that point; I am not sure that my hon. Friend will get that assurance, but he has made his point clearly.
The metro, a system that was once the envy of the country, is now in need of major renewal and investment. The metro reinvigoration programme, published by Nexus in July this year, provided a clear strategy for the creation of a joined-up rail and metro network that will make use of the disused former passenger and freight routes that criss-cross the north east, such as the Leamside line. Those plans would provide people in my constituency, as well as those living in Washington, Seaham, west Newcastle, Gateshead, Team valley and elsewhere, with the means to travel much more easily and efficiently across the region.
I thank my hon. Friend and neighbour for giving way. Does she agree that the £550 million required to replace the current metro fleet, which would stop the breakdowns and the unreliability that compounds the problem, is absolutely essential for sustaining where we are at the moment, never mind for moving forward to the phase 3 that she is talking about, and that the Government should look seriously at that?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The Minister should look carefully at the business case being put forward and make sure it is given full and proper consideration.
The benefits for economic regeneration arising from the expansion and extension of the metro are obvious. One example would be connecting Sunderland city centre to Doxford park via the former Hetton colliery railway. That would provide access to Doxford international business park, which is currently very poorly served by local bus services. Extending metro-style services to Sunderland’s biggest business park can only help attract new businesses, investors and skilled staff to the constituency and the wider region.
It is no secret that there have been major issues around the metro’s reliability and performance in recent months. If passengers cannot rely on the metro to get them to where they need to be on time, they will stop using it—it is as simple as that. I commend the progress that Nexus has made in carrying out essential renewals over the past six years in the face of budget cuts, but one of the main reasons many people are experiencing regular delays and cancellations on the metro is the deteriorating state of its rolling stock, much of which dates back to the 1970s and has long since passed the end of its design life. That is why I support proposals by Nexus to introduce a new fleet in 2021, which would also make the expansion of metro services much more likely.
I urge the Minister and the Department to make a decision about Government investment for that project as soon as possible so that Nexus can meet the target. The completion of the metro reinvigoration programme is the least that people across the north-east without access to integrated transport links deserve. Will the Minister commit to considering carefully the strong cost-benefit ratio of those proposals and the major economic benefits for the region that they will bring? Can he give an indication as to when we can expect a Government decision? I urge him to make it an early one.
Greater investment in local public transport in the north-east should not come at the cost of much-needed regional and local road improvement projects. The new Wear crossing, which is part of Sunderland City Council’s strategic plan to create a continuous dual carriageway between the port of Sunderland, the city centre and the A19, will not only help reduce congestion but bring sustained economic regeneration and transport benefits to the city and the wider region. However, the cancellation of the central route scheme in 2011 in my constituency remains a source of deep disappointment. There are major house building projects under way, but we lack the necessary transport infrastructure. Large numbers of vehicles on local roads are causing major congestion and problems for residents, as well as pushing up the logistical costs of doing business.
The purpose of this debate is not to ask for special treatment for our region. All we ask for is a fair funding deal that reflects the unique needs of the north-east and addresses the inequality in Whitehall’s transport spending. Although the transport authority and local councils are doing their best in difficult circumstances, they clearly need more financial help and support from central Government. Big ticket projects such as HS2 demonstrate that significant money is available.
I hope that the Minister will reflect carefully upon the issues that I have addressed and make the case for greater investment in the north-east to the Secretary of State. Warm words and platitudes will not cut it any longer. If the Government are as serious about rebalancing the UK economy away from London as the Chancellor claimed in today’s autumn statement, Ministers need to act now.
I thank the hon. Member for Houghton and Sunderland South (Bridget Phillipson) for giving me the opportunity to talk about a different aspect of transport investment in the north-east—that of mostly rural Northumberland.
I thank the Minister for the work that his exceptional team from Highways England is doing. It is rolling out £300 million-worth of investment in the first stages of dualling the remaining part of the A1, which has been untouched by Governments of every colour for many decades. It is very exciting work. I was with the team on Saturday to see the plans for the detailed work that is going on in that rural territory—the farms there have not had a change to their transportation network for so long. I commend the Minister and the team, which is putting a huge amount of work into local communication so it understands how best to create a modern, 21st-century dualled road through Northumberland. It will ensure that livestock can cross that bigger, busier road and that it does not cut through the middle of farms inappropriately. It is exciting to see that activity going on. Doom-mongers in my constituency still say to me, “It’ll never happen in my lifetime,” so it is exciting to be able to direct them to the maps and show them the farms that will see that investment.
We are doing only about a third of what remains of the last stretch of the A1, which, as its name suggests, should be the first road all the way through to Scotland. As the economic case becomes clearer, we will continue to press for dualling to ensure that people are able to drive from London to Edinburgh, through the constituency of the hon. Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk (Calum Kerr), on a modern, dualled and, in large part, four-lane motorway—although not in Northumberland.
The hon. Member for Houghton and Sunderland South talked about having an integrated transport system. It is important to understand that we all have to have cars in rural Northumberland because the bus networks are almost invisible, except for those between one or two of the more major towns. That is a real challenge for families, which often need two cars if two members of the family work in different parts of the county or if one commutes to Newcastle or up to Edinburgh.
We want investment in the train network to continue to grow. The train networks in the north-east are pretty much as good as they get. I think all of us who use them weekly are reassured that we get to and from Newcastle and Berwick, and down to London, in a timely fashion, but it is difficult for my constituents. We are trying to develop a better conversation with the Department for Transport about how we can extend the platform at Belford railway station—it is in the middle of my constituency, which is nearly 70 miles long—so trains can stop there. That would open up opportunities for house building in that part of my constituency and help communities to grow. It would also ensure that more people get on to trains and are not stuck in the commuting networks, clogging up the city centres, which Opposition Members are here to stand up for and defend.
Those are the points that I want to put into the mix. I thank the hon. Lady for giving me the opportunity to talk about the Northumbrian model, which is different from the city models. After so many decades, the Department for Transport must continue to remember that rural Northumberland is a key development opportunity. We have an enterprise zone in Berwick and a growing aeronautical sector in Amble, and we want to ensure that the transport links work so we can continue to grow and invest for the future.
Thank you, Sir Edward.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this debate on a subject that is so important to all our constituencies. Transport in the north-east is a critical part of our infrastructure. My time is short, so I want to make four points about roads, rail, buses and industrial strategy.
The hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mrs Trevelyan) said that everyone has to have a car in rural Northumberland, but I know constituents of hers who do not have one. The bottom line of a transport strategy should be to have a public transport system that enables ordinary working people to go to work, universities and schools without having a car. The fact that a Member of Parliament who represents Northumberland believes that her constituents have to have a car is significant. It is true that the bus services in Northumberland are often very poor—I have experienced them—but I hope the Minister will commit to delivering transport infrastructure in the north-east that enables my constituents to go about their normal work and leisure business without having a car.
I listened closely to today’s autumn statement, and I did not hear the looked-for and somewhat trailed investment in transport infrastructure. My understanding is that the dualling of the A69 has been replaced by dualling of the A66. If that proves to be the case, I would like the Minister to explain why we cannot have the investment across the north that we need to ensure we have proper transport links, and why investment in our road infrastructure is piecemeal and on such a limited scale.
On the subject of transport capital investment and today’s autumn statement, if the Government are keen on rebalancing the economy so that it works for everyone, why is the Cambridge-Milton Keynes-Oxford growth corridor worthy of a designated budget line in the autumn statement when there is nothing in there for the north-east?
I thank my hon. Friend, the Chair of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee, for making such an important point, which I will come on to properly later. I agree wholeheartedly with the implication of his comments. The economic contribution of effective transport infrastructure for the north-east is not recognised in the same way as it is recognised in London and other areas of the south. That absolutely has to change if we are to have any hope of rebalancing our economy and making it more resilient and distributive across the country.
My hon. Friend set out what she will speak about, but airport passenger duty is also important to the economics of the north-east. Our airports play an equally valid and massive role in helping our economy. We heard nothing today about what will happen with regard to Scotland, but it will be detrimental to our north-east airport if the Scottish Government reduce APD.
Given the interest in and strategic importance of transport, I will focus on the issues I set out, but my hon. Friend makes a critically important point. Newcastle airport is a vital part of our economic infrastructure. Naturally, it competes with airports in Scotland. The lack of a decision today—I am not sure whether it has been kicked into the long grass or into orbit—is detrimental to economic certainty at a time of great uncertainty for many other aspects of our economic future.
Let me talk briefly about rail and the metro. I was nine or 10 when the metro came into being. It was a fantastic, highly advanced network that was ahead of its time—I think it was the first network in Europe or the world to be accessible to disabled people—but 40 years later we are using exactly the same rolling stock. Is that believable? Hitachi recently told me that it can deliver trains that would provide what we have been talking about—an extended light rail and metro service across a greater part of Tyne and Wear and the north-east. I hope the Minister will commit to that investment, because we need transport infrastructure and a metro without delays to support the kind of economy we want.
Most of Newcastle Central’s transport is about buses. We have a number of metro stops, but for most of the west of my constituency and parts of the north it is about buses. The failure of bus deregulation in Tyne and Wear has been so patently obvious for so many decades that it beggars belief that we are still debating it today. Outside my constituency office near Central station in Newcastle two No. 1 buses leave in totally different directions, one going north, one south—they both have the same number, because obviously that puts them at the head of some queue. It is totally incomprehensible to those who have lived in the city for many years, never mind visitors.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Houghton and Sunderland South discussed, we should not still be debating the lack of integrated bus transport in 2016, when we have seen the success of, for example, the Oyster card and the integrated system in London. I really cannot believe that the Minister will stand up to say that Tyne and Wear and my constituents do not deserve some control over a bus system that is so important to them simply because of the lack of a mayor.
Why is this all so important? As my hon. Friends the Members for Hartlepool (Mr Wright) and for Houghton and Sunderland South said, transport is important because it is part of our economic infrastructure and the north-east having critical mass.
On economic infrastructure, does my hon. Friend agree that given the recent enormous investment in Newcastle Central station, investment in Sunderland station—which is just as large a city—needs to be addressed by Network Rail? The station does not even have a toilet for public use, never mind the rest of the upgrading. Influence from the Government needs to be exerted, because the local authorities and Nexus for the combined authority have put aside a significant amount of money for their part in any investment, but it is up to Network Rail, which is simply not doing anything at the moment. Urgent investment is needed to upgrade the facilities for what is a very large city.
I thank my hon. Friend for her intervention, which gives me the opportunity to support investment in Sunderland’s infrastructure—[Interruption.] I know I am going into controversial territory, but I shall plough ahead regardless. As she mentioned, investment has gone into Newcastle Central station and, although the work was painful and disruptive, we now have a fantastic gateway to the city, as well as much improved facilities. Sunderland was equally part of the great industrial revolution and the investment in and birth of the railways. For its history, as well as for its present and future economy, it merits the facilities of a great industrial and manufacturing city.
All this is so important because, as a region, we need critical mass if we are to compete effectively nationally and internationally. We need people to be able to travel to work in less time, so that we can benefit across the region from skills in Sunderland, Newcastle or Durham. We are a distributed region, with a relatively low population by comparison with other regions around the country, so an integrated and effective transport system is even more necessary for us. The talents of everyone and all our businesses and working people could then be shared throughout the region. If the Minister cannot commit to the sort of investment that we have outlined, all the talk—of a northern powerhouse spreading beyond Manchester, of rebalancing the economy to support the regions and of delivering some type of certainty post-Brexit to enable business investment in our region—will be as nothing against the lack of any action.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Edward, and I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Houghton and Sunderland South (Bridget Phillipson) on securing the debate.
My constituency, like that of the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mrs Trevelyan), is rural, although it is not quite as large as hers. She made an interesting point, because in parts of my constituency, too, without access to a car people cannot even get to the public transport system. Many of my constituents travel out of North Durham—as hers do from her constituency—to work in Teesside, Tyneside or Wearside. The important thing, therefore, is to have good transport links to those jobs that exist along the A1 corridor and in areas in the north-east.
Is the answer a metro for my constituency? No, it is not. My hon. Friend the Member for Houghton and Sunderland South talked about quality contracts, but she knows that I disagree with her about that. A quality contract would have done nothing for North Durham or, I hasten to add, for the constituency of the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed, because the Tyne and Wear councils would have got control over buses in my constituency. What saddens me a little is that the councils of the north-east, having lost that case—anyone who looked at the finances knew it was going to be lost, right from the beginning—seemed then to park the issue.
My hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central (Chi Onwurah) spoke about Oyster cards and smart ticketing. It is vital that the combined authority and the councils sit down with the bus operators to consider how to introduce things such as shared ticketing and Oyster-style arrangements. Bus companies tell me that they are willing to speak about the situation but that they are not getting a great deal of traction from councils.
We will do the travelling public of the north-east a great disservice if we simply wait for the national Government to come up with something or think that some future regulation will be the answer. The combined purchasing power of north-east councils is strong, given what they put into security services, for example. Leadership is needed, rather than thinking that in future we will somehow get a quality contract mark 2, as though that were the only game in town. I do not think it is.
There are opportunities to make a real difference, such as being able to change tickets between different operators, a smart-ticketing process like an Oyster card, or some agreement on children and young people’s fares, which I know that the bus companies are prepared to look at. Is that partly down to the Government? Yes, but some things are in our hands, and combined authorities and council leaders could act. I press them to start negotiations now to see what can be done, at least in the short term.
We have no large employers in my constituency, which is a former coal-mining area, and many people move out to work around the region. The other main network for my constituents, apart from the buses, is the railway and Chester-le-Street station. It is 10 minutes from that station to Central station in Newcastle. However, trying to get any investment, not only in upgrading the station but by ensuring that the operators stop more regularly and at times when people actually want to travel, is very difficult.
That could be dealt with straightaway by ensuring more stopping services and hourly services not only during the day—that is what we have at times; at other times they are half hourly—but at peak times, to ensure that we have regular stopping services at Chester-le-Street. That would avoid many people having to use their cars to travel into Tyneside, as they do at the moment.
Increasingly, my constituents complain about the poor service that they get from the operators, whether that involves trains being late, trains not turning up or, when they do turn up, trains being frequently very overcrowded. People sometimes do not even have the opportunity to stand for 10 minutes, because there is not enough room for them to get on at the station in Chester-le-Street in order to go to Newcastle Central.
I ask the Minister to look at the situation. The formidable Alex Nelson, the stationmaster at Chester-le-Street, always argues very strongly when it comes to refranchising for more trains to stop, but there seems to be a blind spot on the part of the operators and the people who draw up the timetables. My hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central talked about extending the metro, but I am sorry; I do not think that is the answer, certainly in parts of my constituency and in Berwick and other places. We need investment in rail—whether it be the Blyth-to-Tyneside route, the Leamside line or others—to increase capacity on the east coast main line, but I fear that over the next 20 to 30 years, most of the money will be sucked into the vanity project that is High Speed 2 and High Speed 3.
Some people in the region, including the chamber of commerce, try to lecture us about how important that project is to the north-east, but I do not think it is. It will be a drain on investment—investment that could go into rail projects in the north-east. It is not even a matter of jam tomorrow; it is a matter of the ingredients and possibly the recipe for creating jam. It will have a detrimental effect on some of the small changes that could be made to the north-east rail network that would make a huge difference to connectivity. The one thing that always gets me is how long it takes to travel from Tyneside to Teesside on a track that with some investment could be radically improved. I do not see that happening in the next few years, because, like I say, most of the rail investment in this country will be sucked into HS2 and HS3, which will not benefit my constituents or many other north-east constituents.
We need to put forward doable plans, but we should not think that everything is in the hands of central Government. On buses, there are certainly things that could be done now. The answer to getting people in the north-east out of their cars and on to public transport is not necessarily just to upgrade more roads. The hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed has campaigned for many years for the dualling of the A1, but that will not directly improve connectivity in the north-east or the region’s economy. Although that would be a good feather in her cap, it is certainly not a priority when it comes to the sea change in connectivity that we need to ensure happens in what, as my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central said, is quite a small region. People in the north-east increasingly do not live near their jobs but have to travel around the region, and it is difficult for people without direct access to public transport to get to those jobs.
I am on the other side of the argument. Re-regulation of buses is acutely needed, particularly in my constituency and especially in the rural parts of east Cleveland. My main concern is the growth in the use of taxis. I am not at all against hire cabs, but there is encroaching monopolisation in the industry. An aspect of transport that is not talked about is the ever-increasing employment of people in the industry, which is highly unregulated and does not best serve my constituents. One Middlesbrough company with a dubious background is encroaching into Redcar and Cleveland. My main concern is that the lack of regulation of rail and particularly local buses, where that problem is acute, is causing ever-growing demand for taxi services, particularly among disabled users.
I hear what my hon. Friend says, but the quality contract was put up as the only game in town for the north-east bus network. I am sorry, but it never was. Proper regulation is important, but the way that it was done meant that it never stacked up financially. It would have meant that my constituency was more poorly served; for example, Durham taxpayers would have subsidised the Tyne and Wear metro system.
I hear what my hon. Friend says about taxis. I have scars on my back from my time in charge of taxi licensing at Newcastle City Council. May I give him some advice? If the political will is there, the regulation is there to be used; it is a matter of how it is used locally. I accept that that is not easy, because taxi drivers are a vocal section of the local electorate, but we made some major changes when I was in charge of taxi licensing in Newcastle. The regulations are there; it is a matter of how they are used.
Was there anything for the north-east in today’s autumn statement? No, there was not. There is a reason for that: the only bits of the north-east that were ever going to get anything under this Government or the previous Government were those with Conservative Members of Parliament. It is not surprising, for example, that money has gone into the A66 and the A1. Those Governments have made pork barrel politics a new art form. It is sad that people in the north-east are being penalised by the Government and denied any major structural investment just because they do not vote Conservative.
On that bombshell—be careful not to encourage them to do so. It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship again, Sir Edward. You have obviously been a naughty boy; you have been sent here many times recently, by the looks of it. [Interruption.] We can see the connotations the Tories take from the phrase “naughty boy”—I don’t know.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Houghton and Sunderland South (Bridget Phillipson) on securing this debate and her colleagues from the north-east on turning up in numbers to support her. They are clearly all concerned and passionate about the issue, and she gave an excellent introduction, which is so important in Westminster Hall debates. Her plea for the north-east to be given the powers that it requires to meet the challenges that she articulated so well cannot have failed to be heard.
The hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mrs Trevelyan) also did well. I see that she now has a friend from the other side of the country, the hon. Member for Carlisle (John Stevenson), so she does not feel quite so isolated. She tried hard and succeeded in making a contribution that was positive about what has been done and at the same time pleaded for much more. I can tell hon. Members that she clearly backs the dualling of the A1, because she gave me a sticker and encouraged me to put it on my car.
The hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central (Chi Onwurah) makes an excellent contribution to any debate, although I will now be concerned every time I see a No. 1 bus—is it the correct one? Going by his detailed contribution, the hon. Member for North Durham (Mr Jones) is quite clearly an expert on buses. He sparked some interesting thought processes about HS2, and I will deal briefly with the challenge of what exactly to spend our money on.
I am struck that the imbalances between Scotland and England that my party is somewhat guilty of always complaining about also apply very much to the regions of England. Those imbalances, and in particular the London effect, make me question why new infrastructure such as HS2 needed to start in London and could not have started in—
As a result of the Chancellor’s announcement today, Scotland will apparently receive an extra £800 million. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that authorities in the north-east should be included in the Barnett formula and get an equivalent sum, which we could use for transport funding?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his contribution. I have not given any thought to how money should be allocated. I do not like the phraseology that he uses, but he certainly puts forward an interesting idea. How do we rebalance the economy across England and across the UK? Devolution of power, including spending power, is an important aspect that needs to be considered. As I was saying, if HS2 is indeed so important, why could it not have started in the north of the country? Why could it not be part of redressing the balance between north and south instead of being done in a kind of hub-and-spoke way that reinforces the idea that it is all about London?
I was told that this room would be full of northerners. I do not know whether this makes any difference, but they are all southerners to me. That probably feels like an insult; I assure them that I do not intend it as one. Let me make a couple of points. First, why I am here to sum up, apart from the fact that the third party is asked to sum up in all debates? The reason is, despite being the spokesperson on the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and on digital, I am from across the border. Interesting interventions were made about how we in the south of Scotland work with the north of England. The more we can collaborate and work together, have a collective voice and look at ways in which we can become more connected, the more we can collectively redress the pull of the south to which I referred.
I will touch on an example that may appeal to the hon. Member for North Durham, which is to reference the longest piece of domestic railway to be constructed in Britain for more than 100 years: the Borders railway from Edinburgh down to Galashiels. It cost £353 million, it was delivered on time and on budget and it is smashing all predictions on passenger numbers. It was predicted to carry 650,000 passengers a year and the figure is now well beyond a million—it hit those passenger targets within six months. I give that as an example not necessarily of an alternative to high-speed rail but of the kind of projects we should consider.
That is a good example of the sort of project that could deliver for the north-east, not to compete with high-speed rail but to bring rail back to communities in rural Northumberland and parts of County Durham, which would be beneficial to local people.
I 100% agree. With the fixation on high-speed rail, as the hon. Gentleman rightly said, the danger is that that sucks up too much money and prevents other projects that could deliver greater economic benefit while attacking some of the geographic challenges that hon. Members have mentioned. The Chancellor in his autumn statement today was keen not to mention too many individual projects. Bizarrely, he decided to talk about one country house refurbishment, although it seemed to me that that was more about scoring a narrow political point against the Labour party than anything else, but such is life.
I appreciate that I am going somewhat off-piste, so if the Minister wishes to bat this back to me I will understand, but is there any mention in the autumn statement or elsewhere on what the Government’s position is on extending the Borders railway through to the constituency of the hon. Member for Carlisle? The Scottish Government have a multi-modal study looking at transport across the Scottish borders and a key ingredient in that is extending the Borders railway service from Galashiels to Hawick and through to Newcastleton and Carlisle, which would create an extra link. That is the kind of project that we should be looking at. That is not necessarily to the exclusion of high-speed rail, but I know which project I would pick if I had to pick between the two. If the Minister could give me any kind of response on that, I would be grateful.
My final point is on pathways. The east coast main line remains an important line for us. The Scottish Government are committed to new stations at East Linton and Reston and a new service with new trains. My concern is that sometimes again we fixate on services to London—Edinburgh to London—which exclude local services, and that means that main lines become less viable. At the moment we are looking at a two-hour service, and once things are made irregular their viability and usefulness diminishes. The Government have a key role to play too in looking at all pathways and the balance between national services serving major cities and local services. I close by congratulating the hon. Member for Houghton and Sunderland South again on securing the debate.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Edward. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Houghton and Sunderland South (Bridget Phillipson) on securing the debate on an important subject for her and her constituents. We have had many good contributions from my hon. Friends, with substantial speeches from my hon. Friends the Members for Newcastle upon Tyne Central (Chi Onwurah) and for North Durham (Mr Jones) and a good speech from the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mrs Trevelyan). We had good interventions from my hon. Friends the Members for Jarrow (Mr Hepburn), for Hartlepool (Mr Wright), for Sunderland Central (Julie Elliott), for North Tyneside (Mary Glindon) and for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland (Tom Blenkinsop). Given the lack of time, I will try to be as brief as possible.
As others have pointed out, transport in the north-east has suffered from consistent underfunding from the Government. Figures from the Department for Transport show that since 2010 the north-east has received the lowest level of public spending on transport compared with any other region in England. As a consequence of that underfunding, bus patronage in the north-east has declined faster since 1986 than in any other region. It has fallen by more than a half, and is now about 50% lower than before deregulation, declining from 426 million bus passenger journeys in 1985 to just 180 million last year. That deregulation, far from increasing competition and improving services for consumers as the Conservative Government at the time promised, has created damaging bus market monopolies. In fact, recent statistics published by the Department show that in Tyne and Wear just two operators—Stagecoach and Go North East—accounted for 87% of market share. Arriva had a market share of more than 97% in Darlington and more than 91% in Redcar and Cleveland, while Stagecoach has 91% in Hartlepool. Monopolies mean that passengers lack alternatives and have to put up with fares rising faster than wages, while we also see allegedly unprofitable routes consistently being axed.
It does not have to be like that. While in Government, Labour introduced legislation to enable local authorities to re-regulate the bus market in their areas. The Transport Act 2000 introduced quality contract schemes and in 2008 there was an attempt to simplify that process, although it is fair to say that we all now recognise that that legislation was overcomplicated.
As we have heard, the North East combined authority came closest to implementing a quality contract scheme, but that fell at the last hurdle just over a year ago. One of my first trips as a member of the shadow Transport team was to Newcastle to meet key members of that team. I pay tribute in particular to Tobyn Hughes, the managing director of Nexus, and the team who tried so hard, and I remember their account of why they did. They gave an account of a local travel system that had been integrated, as hon. Members have explained, and that was one of the most effective public transport systems in the country—it is still fondly remembered—with the metro opening in 1980, providing a seamless integrated link, and one ticket taking people across the city on bus, metro or ferry. Of course, back then we had passengers and citizens, not customers and commodities.
Despite that, the metro is still the busiest light-rail system outside London and the backbone of the transport system, with the public authority specifying fares and frequencies, as we would like to see for buses. However, as we have heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central, it certainly needs overhauling. We will support Nexus in that process. It is extraordinary that if a passenger crosses the river and boards a bus, they now need to buy another ticket. Unsurprisingly, the result of all that fragmentation is that despite support from the local authorities—dipping into reserves to try to help—bus patronage is still falling, and the familiar cycle of declining services and cuts to services locks in future decline. The system simply is not working.
That is why we strongly supported Tobyn and his team in their Herculean effort, and we were deeply disappointed by the rejection of their proposal by the board. In fact, we were astonished by the board’s implication that bus operators ought to be compensated by local authorities for financial losses they might incur. We were more than astonished by some of the comments from some of the bus companies.
We hope that the situation is calmer now, and it was a welcome surprise when the Government followed Labour’s lead, recognised the shortcomings of the current arrangements and introduced the Bus Services Bill, which has its Third Reading in the other place today. The Opposition want a constructive relationship with all bus operators, large and small. However, we worry that there is a danger that the Bill will have insufficient impact in the north-east because of the linkage to the demand for a combined authority and a mayor. Of course, discussions are going on in that part of the world, but it appears that with a devolution deal “off the table”—in the Government’s words—local people are to be denied the services they should be entitled to. We worry about the future of bus services, but there is a solution and we hope that the Minister will give some thought to making sure that it is available to those people.
I will turn briefly to roads and finally to rail, where we also feel the Government are also in danger of breaking their commitments. We recognise how important the “laddering” is—the road connectivity between the parallel north-south highways of the A1 and A19—by way of improvements to the east-west A66, and of course the A19 Tees viaduct is currently a key constraint on the strategic road network.
On rail, the Minister said last week that improving northern transport infrastructure is vital to the success of what the Government have termed the northern powerhouse, and that the Government are committing £13 billion to transport improvements in this Parliament. However, it was promised in 2012 that projects that would benefit the north-east would be delivered between 2014 and 2019, such as maximising the value of the north trans-Pennine electrification through capacity enhancement at Huddersfield station. Much of that has now been delayed until after 2020. There were also hopes for improvements to transform Sunderland, as we heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland Central, and to improve capacity at Newcastle.
To conclude, the recent history of transport in the north-east has been less than inspiring. It is a story of hard-pressed local authorities doing their best for their communities, but in our view they are too often thwarted by rules imposed upon them from the outside. I very much hope that the Minister will confirm today that the Government will give the North East combined authority the power needed to plan its own bus network and regulate bus services, the support needed to continue to improve transport for everyday passengers and the freedom to unleash the full potential of the north-east of the country.
May I congratulate the hon. Member for Houghton and Sunderland South (Bridget Phillipson) on securing the debate? It has been quite clear from the remarks by hon. Members across the House just how important transport infrastructure and investment is to them and to all their constituents. I entirely buy the case that has been made that it supports growth and business and helps people to get to work, to shops and to services.
We do not have too long left in the debate, so I will scamper through as much as I can, and I will potentially have to follow some of it up afterwards.
That was very good timing, from a comedy perspective. I will talk about roads if I get a moment a little bit later.
We are very keen to continue the work on rebalancing the economy. The northern powerhouse is a significant part of Government thinking and has driven much investment over the past few years. We have created Transport for the North, which is a key part of the concept of the northern powerhouse—it is about taking control of one’s destiny. Transport for the North is driving forward transport plans and will support economic growth across the whole of the north. There will be a £13 billion set of investments in Yorkshire and the Humber, the north-west and the north-east during the course of this Parliament alone.
Does Transport for the North’s remit actually go any further than the corridor that Minister referred to? I have certainly not seen a great deal of impact or any ideas for the rest of the north, which, if the Minister looks at a map, goes a bit further north than Leeds.
Transport for the North’s remit is the north: it is north-east, Yorkshire and the Humber and the north-west. That point needs to be made to it and I will happily make it.
Let me get back to the world of buses. I, too, am a passionate supporter of buses. I know that Nexus and the North East combined authority have been working hard to improve local transport in the north-east, and I applaud their work. The Pop card has been a great success and allows for a seamless, inter-modal shift between bus services, the metro and the Shields ferry. However, we have to go much further.
The hon. Member for Houghton and Sunderland South highlighted her disappointment that the traffic commissioner rejected the bid from NECA for the quality contract scheme. It is because of the desire for local areas to have more influence on the provision of their bus services that we have developed the Bus Services Bill. When drafting the Bill, we had clear objectives in mind: to increase bus passenger numbers and improve services. The Bill will have a range of tools to enable that, including new and enhanced partnership arrangements—although that might not be appropriate in all areas—and the provision for local authorities to have franchising powers. Franchising will enable authorities to specify the services that passengers want and to deliver an integrated network.
Our intention is that mayoral combined authorities will have automatic access, with other areas having access if granted with the Secretary of State’s consent. However, we are neutral about the methods that are chosen on a local basis. I do not mind what local authorities choose to do, as long as they achieve their objective, which is to put more passengers on the seats of buses.
The metro is clearly a fantastic asset for Tyne and Wear. I remember its arrival—the home where I was brought up is just to the south of there—and it was fantastic. That is why we are supporting it with a £317 million capital grant to reinvigorate the system and ensure that it continues to provide an efficient public transport system. We are also supporting the day-to-day operational costs of the system with a revenue grant of £203 million.
We have talked a bit in the debate about the business case. Nexus is working up a business case for further investment in the metro system up until 2030. Hon. Members asked whether the Department was open to that. My Department is actually working with Nexus to develop that business case, so yes, we are extremely open to it. I cannot give an indication of the timing of when that will be decided upon; we have to receive the case first. I am also aware that NECA has looked at a wide range of options for extensions, some of which would directly benefit the constituency of the hon. Member for Houghton and Sunderland South. I also very much like the idea of Hitachi providing the metro’s new rolling stock. “From the north-east, for the north-east” is a very attractive message.
Rail has been mentioned, so I should highlight the fact that Network Rail will be spending £40 billion between 2014 and 2019, in addition to the High Speed 2 investments. The key benefits that we will see locally will be in the new franchises: Northern and TransPennine Express. By 2019 we will see brand new TPE trains in service, two new TPE trains an hour between Newcastle and Manchester, an hourly TPE service between Newcastle and Edinburgh and additional services from Sunderland to Middlesbrough and Newcastle.
Clearly trains have to stop if people are going to get on them. That argument does not seem to me a difficult one, but it is one that has to be built in to the franchise arrangements. I will happily take that back. The hon. Gentleman also asked about the Ashington, Blyth and Tyne line. The North East local enterprise partnership has asked us to consider a bid for development funding for the reintroduction of passenger services on that line, which seems to me to be very positive.
There has been some caution regarding HS2, which seems to me to be entirely unreasonable. HS2 will free up capacity on our network, inject capacity to allow more services to be provided and deliver benefits of £103 billion to the UK economy, around one third of which we expect to be in the north of England. Some 70% of the jobs that will be supported by HS2 are expected to be outside of London, so HS2 is an important part of our network.
We have not talked much about roads. Not only will we have a motorway running to the north-east for the first time ever, as highlighted by my hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle (John Stevenson), but there are also schemes to the west of Newcastle. With regard to today’s announcements, I can confirm that we have done five strategic studies in the Department for Transport as part of the road investment strategy. As part of those, the A66 will be dualled and there will be work on the north-west quadrant of the M60. That is part of the road investment strategy from 2020 to 2025, so the idea that the north-west is getting everything and the north-east is ignored is not true. There was a further announcement, which has not necessarily been picked up yet: that the Tees Valley east-west connections are also being approved to take the business case forward to the next stage. That is effectively a Darlington north-western bypass. That was a further positive announcement today.
My hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mrs Trevelyan) talked about people being doom-mongers and wondering whether anything would happen in people’s lifetimes. I was asked by a colleague whether HS2 would happen in anyone’s lifetime and I suggested that, as we were starting to do the build in the spring, it would be quite a good idea to hang on—we do not want a by-election. I agree entirely on the merits of the Borders line. It is one of the most beautiful parts of our United Kingdom, and it is a big success. I will be very happy to see it extended. That sounds like a good idea, but I have not seen anything further on it.
This is my last point. I hope that this quick canter through the various announcements that have been made has highlighted the fact that significant investment is taking place in road and rail. We have seen air capacity increased. We have changes taking place to buses—
I am grateful to the Minister. I look forward to further debates with him on bus services when the legislation returns, and I will hold him to his point about that being open to other areas—I may also be debating that with my hon. Friend the Member for North Durham (Mr Jones). I will also hold the Minister to his point about the business case for the metro. We need progress, and I hope the Department will consider that a matter of priority.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered transport in the North East.