[Albert Owen in the Chair]
I beg to move,
That this House has considered economic growth in the South West.
It is a great pleasure, Mr Owen, to serve under your distinguished and experienced chairmanship.
It is a delight to see the Under-Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, my hon. Friend the Member for Rossendale and Darwen (Jake Berry) in his place. Today it is my intention, and I think that of my colleagues, to build on the debate we had about two and a half years ago regarding the successes and challenges of our great region—the south-west—and to reiterate the requests that we make of the Government to make our area even better than it is at the moment.
I am a great believer in summaries, partly because I only ever read the executive summary of any report. At any event, a summary of my speech would be: our region is doing well, many businesses and sectors are flourishing, and we are grateful for the commitments that the Government have made to us, especially regarding infrastructure, but we want 2019 to be the year of delivery.
I have been in the House for 26 years.
Not very long.
Not long enough, I know. Thirteen of those years have been under a Conservative Government and 13 under a Labour Government, and the reality is that there has been under-investment in our region’s vital infrastructure for the entirety of those 26 years. At last we have a Government who are listening, and now we need to see delivery to our ambitious region.
First of all, I will just say a few words about what our region actually is. I suppose that the best way of describing it is variable geometry. For some purposes, it is the seven counties that are in the European region—dare I use that expression in the company of some of my hon. Friends? For some of us, it is the two counties of Devon and Cornwall. Increasingly, however, we can talk about the four counties of Cornwall, Devon, Dorset and Somerset working together. There are four counties and three local enterprise partnerships working together to make the peninsula—
May I remind the hon. Gentleman that Cheltenham is a proud part of the south-west? It is the gateway to the south-west and, in fact, the jewel of the south-west. Does he agree?
All of those things are true, of course, but I did say that “for some” the south-west is the seven counties, including even Gloucestershire, which Cheltenham is in. I understand that Cheltenham itself is a small market town somewhere to the north-east.
I will describe that which is going well, what we welcome from the Government already and what we still want to see. First, what is going well? Of course, our natural assets are still there and they remain unrivalled: the sea, the coast, the moor, the areas of outstanding natural beauty, the stunning landscapes and the beautiful towns and villages. The south-west is a region like no other.
I am delighted to say that tourism is flourishing. We have more quality places to stay, and better visitor destinations and tourist attractions. Mr Owen, you might be interested to know that I will make the case that we are not just a tourist region—far from it—but 311,000 people were employed in the hospitality sector in 2017 and it provides roughly 11% of the overall regional employment. So tourism remains significant and it is doing well, thanks partly to the fact that we had some wonderful weather last year and the roads were full all the time.
The second thing that is going well is the collaboration between our local enterprise partnerships, and our local authorities and national parks. That collaboration is the closest and most effective since records began, and in all my time in this House I have certainly never seen our various component parts working together as they are today. There is also a close working relationship with the private sector. Some colleagues in Westminster Hall today will recall the “Back The South West” campaign that we launched in 2016, with the charter—the south-west growth charter—that I will refer to shortly. All of that is driven by private sector companies that are ambitious for our region and determined to deliver.
At the 2016 Exeter conference, the then Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government came down and made a great and passionate speech, and told us to speak with a single voice in the south-west. We have done that; we are more joined-up than ever before, and I think it is beginning to make its mark upon Government.
Far from being just a tourist area, our region boasts some wonderful companies. For example, Princess Yachts in Plymouth employs 3,000 people and Babcock employs 4,500 people in the dockyard and naval base. That is to name but two; there are many other companies and I am sure that colleagues will mention some of the high-performing companies in their constituencies.
I will single out just two companies from the south-west that are doing particularly well. First, there is the Pennon Group. Brilliantly led by Chris Loughlin, it includes South West Water, which is a leading national water and sewerage company that will make £1 billion of investment in our region by 2025. Its business plan has been fast-tracked by Ofwat for the second time in a row, which I think is unique among the water companies. Pennon Group also includes Viridor, which is the UK’s largest recycling company, so we have this successful and ambitious green company that employs over 5,000 people UK-wide. It is a company that our region is rightly proud of and it generates over 6,000 jobs in our region alone through direct and indirect employment. We thank the Pennon Group for all it does for our region.
The second company is Thales, which is a major global defence contractor that employs over 1,100 people in the wider south-west, including in Cheltenham. Thales stated recently that it sees huge potential for its business in the south-west and the region as a whole:
“There is the opportunity to put the region on the map in the digital technology and maritime space and with the support of Government we think the region can go from strength to strength.”
The Heart of the South West local enterprise partnership has a focus on the marine environment and in Taunton Deane we have the UK Hydrographic Office, which is the global leader on marine data. It is putting in a bid for a geospatial hub in Taunton, as well as an innovation centre. Does my hon. Friend agree that building on that will help the whole of the south-west to really up this sector, which will bring with it untold economic opportunities for the whole region?
I certainly agree with my hon. Friend. That is one of the areas of development for our region that makes it very exciting indeed, and I am very happy to add my support to her excellent support for that project and opportunity.
I will just go back to Thales briefly. It recently opened a Maritime Autonomy Centre at Turnchapel Wharf in my constituency, which I know the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard) has visited. That work includes capital investment of over £1 million, which represents the company’s commitment to its future in the south-west as a place where it can invest in digitally transformative maritime technologies—not a phrase to say after a glass or two of wine. This facility will act as the key maritime integration, test and evaluation centre for the combined United Kingdom and French maritime mine countermeasures programme. It is very impressive.
Our region therefore has substantial companies operating throughout it and is not just a place for people to come for their cream tea, although of course, Mr Owen, you would be very welcome to come down next summer and enjoy one.
Our universities are also doing well—
As I am from the north of England, like the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central (Chi Onwurah), who is the spokesperson for the Opposition, I wonder whether my hon. Friend could just clarify an issue, because I think it is interesting. Can he clarify whether someone should have jam or cream on a scone and, if it is both, in what order they should be put on? [Laughter.]
The Minister will be interested to know that there are colleagues here from Devon and Cornwall, so he will get two different answers. I will continue something that I have made a pastime of in my 26-year career to date, which is to sit firmly on the fence.
The cream is put on first.
My hon. Friend says the cream is put on first; I will go with him.
As I was saying, our universities are doing well. Exeter, of course, is a world-renowned university and part of the Russell Group. Plymouth University is also making great strides as a university and it is really transforming the city of Plymouth, so I pay tribute to the work that it has done, particularly in the marine engineering and science departments. However, let us not forget Plymouth Marjon University—the colleges of St Mark and St John. It has experienced significant growth over the last two years, bucking the current trend and producing ever-greater results for its students. Intellectual capital in our region is powerfully underpinned by excellent places of learning.
The south-west is also home to one of the largest engineering projects in Europe, at Hinkley C, which represents a massive investment in our region and is producing many skilled jobs.
Notwithstanding the fact that the Chair has Wylfa Newydd in his constituency, with which we have had problems, may I just put some figures on this? We will create 25,000 jobs and more than 1,000 apprenticeships; we have just finished the National College for Nuclear, which is fantastic; our Inspire programme has now reached 15,000 schoolchildren; and 64% of the total build at Hinkley is going to UK companies. My hon. Friend has made such powerful comments on that. If it helps Devon, it helps Cornwall, it helps Dorset and it helps Somerset. I know he is celebrating that, and I thank him for his thoughts.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I do celebrate that tremendous project and success story. He is right that it is something for the entire region, not just for the county of Somerset, and we are pleased to be supporting it.
All of what I have said so far is about the things that are going well in our region. What we have welcomed from the Government in the past 12 months or so includes some of the things that were mentioned in the Budget. The transforming cities fund is hopefully of great benefit to Plymouth, and perhaps the Minister will say something about the timescales for decisions on that. The freezing of cider duty was well received by the apple producers of Somerset and, indeed, throughout the region. We have seen the improvements to the Dawlish seawall get under way in the past few months, and I will come on to talk about the major announcement that we anticipate. We welcome the new Great Western Railway trains, which are having a gradual impact on our crucial Penzance to Paddington link—a very pleasant travel experience. We welcome the £10 million for fisheries innovation, to help local fishers.
In January 2019, planning permission for the north Devon link road was given, and I pay tribute to the persistence of my hon. Friend the Member for North Devon (Peter Heaton-Jones). When he started talking about the link road, we all thought, “That can never happen. There is no money in the jam jar for that. He is just off on ‘a frolic of his own’, as Lord Denning once said”. Well, his frolic is bearing fruit, and well done to him for being such an incredible campaigner for his constituents.
We welcome and celebrate the major work to tackle flooding at Cowley, east of Exeter. We all remember the red sausage, or the balloon, that was in evidence some two or three years ago. That should now be a thing of the past, thanks to Network Rail’s investment.
We welcome the Government’s industrial strategy and the fact that our local enterprise partnerships are working hard with officials from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy to develop a local industrial strategy, looking especially at productivity, which I know will be music to the Minister’s ears.
Finally, we must not forget our farmers. We have excellent farmers throughout the region and they welcome the fact that the Government are listening to them and helping to shape our UK-wide agriculture policy post Brexit. I have said two words that I know some of my friends will be very, very pleased to hear.
What do we now need from the Government? I will focus on that for a few minutes, and I will then conclude and let others have a say. We await, of course, the major Dawlish announcement. Today is the fifth anniversary of those extraordinary images of the railway line waving in mid-air and everything beneath being washed away by the winds and waves of that winter’s storms. I will never forget the journey we have been on since then, via Downing Street, the Peninsula Rail Task Force, the 20-year plan and the negotiating with Government. Of course such things take time but, even though the announcement will, I hope, come next week, and even though I think it will be a good and fully funded one that we will all welcome, for me, it has taken at least 12 months too long. The region has become impatient. It will be fine, provided we get what we are looking for, and perhaps the Minister can say something about that.
Although we look forward with anxious trepidation, but hopeful expectation, to what might happen next week, does my hon. Friend at least feel encouraged by yesterday’s announcement that there is now an application for planning for the work that will happen along the Dawlish station wall? That is something very concrete that we can celebrate.
Yes, I completely agree with my hon. Friend. It was good to see that announcement. It could perhaps have been better dovetailed in with the Government’s announcement, so that we had one and not two. Perhaps that was because of a planning time cycle—I am not sure. I hope that by the end of next week, we will have received all the news we have been waiting and fighting for for five long years. We cannot allow our region to be cut off from the rest of the country just because of adverse weather conditions.
Will my hon. Friend give way?
I give way to my hon. Friend from London.
Chair, you probably wonder why, as the Member of Parliament for Hendon, I am standing in a debate on the south-west. Not only did I grow up in Cornwall; I undertook my PhD in economic development on Cornwall, so I thought I would come along and have a listen. My hon. Friend is entirely correct that the county of Devon in particular is cut off. A major component of Cornwall’s economic development programmes of the 1990s and 2000s was the Actnow project, which was to bring superfast broadband to the whole county. Does he agree that connections are not only physical but include electronic communications, which are able to reduce the peripherality of a county like Cornwall, bringing the markets to the consumers and, indeed, the consumers to the marketplace through technology?
I totally agree with my hon. Friend. If I may say so, I think he summarises the situation wonderfully well. Many of us in this Chamber have often said that our biggest challenge in the west country and the south-west is peripherality and that the answer is connectivity. When I started my political career in 1992, connectivity meant road and rail, but these days it most certainly means digital connectivity, which is probably more important—[Interruption.] Or as important; that is absolutely right. Cornwall has benefited from the programme my hon. Friend talks about. I will come on to say that we want to see the roll-out of superfast broadband speeded up and that we must have 5G in our region. I am getting towards the end because I know so many colleagues want to speak.
First, there is the rail announcement next week—fingers crossed it is what we have been waiting for. It is so important to our region and we look forward to it.
Secondly, there is the A303. I am grateful to the Government for the commitment to dualling it to Taunton and am glad that the work at Stonehenge has started, but we really need to see spades in the ground at our end of the A303 so that that very important project can get under way and be concluded as quickly as possible. The M5 is now snarled up every Friday and Saturday from May until September, particularly from Taunton to Bristol. I do not think there is a plan on the table to consider that, but the Minister may know more than I do. We desperately need a new second major arterial route coming into our region—a dual carriageway at least—that can cope with the flow of traffic at peak times. That is another critical aspect of infrastructure delivery that the region is waiting to see.
Coming on to what my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon (Dr Offord) mentioned, digital connectivity is absolutely essential in our region. Possibly the roll-out of superfast broadband has been too slow. We have had the hiccup with BT internet in Devon and Somerset, and we now have Gigaclear. I hope that all the targets will be met in the next couple of years. That is critical.
What we are seeing now, and perhaps other regions have seen this before us, is that bright young things are coming to our universities and, instead of returning from whence they came, more and more of them are staying locally and inventing their internet-based businesses—in their bedrooms probably—and planting a business in our region. That is really encouraging, and it is transforming the bottom-up business and economy of our region. It can happen because of digital connectivity. We can do almost anything from almost anywhere if we are online and connected, and that is a game-changer for our region. We are desperate to see the roll-out of all the superfast broadband, including 5G.
Finally, on the issue of marrying together physical transport infrastructure—the trains—and digital connectivity, we must have the capability for people to be online all the time while they are travelling on our trains. That is what the business community has demanded: it is even more important than shaving five or 10 minutes off the journey time from Penzance to Paddington. We must have connectivity, and I know that the Government are working on that. Of course, that responsibility is a cross-departmental one, but I say to the Minister that it is a huge priority for our region.
To conclude, when we last discussed this matter in 2016, we all mentioned the south-west growth charter. The first headline ask from the region was for a new Government partnership with the south-west, which is starting to take shape. The second was for investment in digital connectivity and high-speed business: some progress has been made in that area, but we would like to see a bit more. The third was for investment in energy connectivity—switching on to opportunity—on which, again, there has been some progress, but there is further to go. The fourth was for investment in transport connectivity and getting business moving, on which there has been some progress, but that is still our big ask. We say to Government that our demand is infrastructure, infrastructure, infrastructure, and may 2019 be the year of delivery, delivery, delivery.
Seven Back Benchers are indicating that they wish to speak. I will call the Front Benchers at 3.40 pm, which leaves about six minutes each. That gives Members some indication that they should keep the debate flowing.
It is a pleasure to follow my neighbour, the hon. Member for South West Devon (Sir Gary Streeter). I believe I was just 13 years old—probably causing as much nuisance then as I do now—when he was first elected, and it seems as though some of the issues that affected our region in the 1980s and 1990s were similar to the ones that we face today. There is still a lack of investment in our strategic infrastructure, and the hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to signal road and rail as areas in which we need investment. We also need skills and investment in education, delivering benefits for all young people right across the region, so they can stay in our region and create jobs and future prosperity.
Similarly to the hon. Member for South West Devon, I want to distinguish between the south-west and the far south-west. When I talk about the far south-west, I mean Devon and Cornwall, because there is sometimes a temptation for Ministers to lump together improvements in Swindon and in Bournemouth as part of the overall benefit to the south-west. We need to break down the larger region and focus on where some of the benefits can best be felt, particularly around the peninsula of Devon and Cornwall, as well as further up in Somerset and Dorset.
As a region, we have a lot to be proud of. We are a region of immense beauty, immense skill and talent, real professionalism, and huge potential for job creation. However, we do not always talk enough about how good we are as a region. That is certainly true of Plymouth, but I realise it can be true of our wider region: we hide our light under a bushel, and then we hide the bushel. We are not always as good at talking ourselves up as we need to be. If we are to get our fair share from Government, we need to be bolder about our ambition, clearer and more relentless about where we need help, and prouder about the areas in which we do so much and excel. That unfairness is one of the reasons why I first thought about going into politics, because as a young lad growing up in Devon, I saw other parts of the country getting stuff that we were not getting. My friends in other parts of the country seemed to have more opportunities than were being afforded to young people in the south-west, and that did not seem fair.
Whether a person lives in Plymouth, Devon, Cornwall, or anywhere else around the country, they should have the same opportunities, but sometimes our peripherality seems to restrict our opportunities in that respect. To engage with those opportunities, we need a structural, long-term, cross-party plan, and I hope that today’s debate will help to put pressure on Ministers to create such a plan, because our region needs a turning point. As the only Labour Back Bencher in this debate, with my regional Tory colleagues sitting opposite me, I feel as though I am up against a very tough job interview—the question is whether I would like the job at the end of it, if it involves working with that employer. I know that the other Labour MPs who represent the region—my colleagues from Bristol and Stroud—would echo this point; sadly, the Whips have timed statutory instrument Committees very well in order to avoid their being present here. However, if we are to succeed as a region, fairness and cross-party working are important, and my Labour colleagues would like me to emphasise the benefits that come from working together in order to achieve that.
We know that as a region, we have been starved of investment for far too long. We know that our education, health and transport spending per head is well below the national average. We know that those structural problems have affected our region, not just since 2010 but for decades prior to that, and we know that we need to change that. I am mindful of the fact that, with the Government’s entire majority sitting opposite me, we have a power and a voice that we should be using more. The sooner our region starts standing together across parties, and being louder and more determined about our key asks, the more likely it is that Ministers will listen to Members from the far south-west. It should not be only the Democratic Unionist party and its 10 Members of Parliament who hold sway in this House. The DUP received about 300,000 votes at the last general election, but 260,000 people live in Plymouth, and we need to start evening out our influence as a region, because there are still some problems that we need to address.
There are also some opportunities, which I will briefly dwell on. The hon. Member for South West Devon spoke about Dawlish. I honestly wonder what went through the minds of Ministers in the Department for Transport when they decided, knowing that today was the fifth anniversary of Dawlish being washed away, to park the announcement on funding until two weeks hence. I cannot understand why that has happened. Equally, at the end of the funding—I anticipate that it will come in a couple of weeks’ time; if it does not, I hope there is an almighty stink about it—we will still only have a train line at Dawlish that closes slightly less than it does at the moment. That funding will not deal with the structural inequality and slowness of our service, or its capacity.
The superb Peninsula Rail Task Force report, which I recommend to the Minister and to all colleagues who have not apprised themselves of it recently, talked about our long-term investment from Penzance at one end of the region to Paddington and other destinations. Some £8 billion of investment over 20 years could transform our economy. Just imagine the transformation if an average journey of three hours and 30 minutes from Plymouth to London could be reduced to two hours and 15 minutes, as the PRTF suggests. Imagine the potential for job creation, greater investment, more tourism and greater connectivity, and the broader horizons for our young people that that transformation could create. I realise that the Minister is not a Transport Minister, but any nudges and winks that he could give to his colleagues in the DFT to encourage them to push out the announcement we know is sitting in their press office, waiting to be announced in a couple of weeks’ time, would be greatly appreciated. It is not just rail that we need to improve: we need to extend the M5 from Exeter to the Tamar bridge, and we also need to be bold in some of our vision.
Finally, I will mention the huge potential that our natural environment presents to the region and our economy. I want Plymouth sound to be designated as the UK’s first national marine park. That project has the support of Plymouth Marine Laboratory, the University of Plymouth, the Marine Biological Association and many of the genuinely world-class institutions that just happen to be based in Plymouth. Being able to protect and value our coastal waters is incredibly powerful, and I know that there are people on both sides of the House who recognise the importance of protecting our coastal waters and valuing them more.
Having the UK’s first national marine park in Plymouth sound could send a strong message that Plymouth is open for business not only for marine sites, marine engineering jobs and fishing, but for marine conservation. It could send a message that our wider region is open to the job creation potential that could flow from greater investment in our marine sector, in terms of both science and the exciting element of marine autonomy, keeping our Royal Navy jobs and the marine refit jobs that accompany them in the city of Plymouth. It is an exciting project, and I hope that Government Members will join the increasingly large numbers of individuals who are getting behind this campaign on a cross-party basis. If it works for Plymouth sound, it could work for coastal waters right around our peninsula, and indeed around our country. It could be really quite exciting.
I am glad to follow the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard). I also give credit to my hon. Friend the Member for South West Devon (Sir Gary Streeter) for having secured this debate and for his inspiring leadership, driving us to continue to bang the drum for the great south-west.
To take Members a few hundred miles further west, if that is okay, my constituency—which covers St Ives, west Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly—and the Duchy of Cornwall more generally are a brilliant and unique part of the UK, with a thriving culture that contributes much to the UK as a whole. Our tourism industry is a great success, which increasingly attracts visitors from across the globe—so many, in fact, that Visit Cornwall decided to turn them away in the summer, and made that point to the media.
We also have a proud story to tell about supporting and hosting renewable energy platforms and about environmental protections, but the fact remains that distinct economic challenges exist that hold us back from achieving our potential. Handouts are not needed, but Government policy, support and investment are needed to create a thriving and prosperous economy that leaves no one behind in Cornwall. I want to use the opportunity today to flag up the moral case for ensuring that Cornwall and other parts of the south-west receive adequate and appropriate support and funding from Whitehall. Gross value added per head is £17,634, which is 35% below the UK average. Wages are 20% lower than in the rest of the UK. House prices do not reflect that reduced income and are roughly the same as in the rest of the UK. One can imagine that for a family starting out and working on the average wage, the cost of getting a home and having a stake in their area is prohibitive.
Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly is the only local enterprise partnership area in the whole of England that is currently classified as less developed. I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in this debate to remind the House that work and effort is needed to change Cornwall’s economic development. The Government have made it clear that a shared prosperity fund will replace European funding streams once we have left the EU. In response to that opportunity, I set up a jobs and growth roundtable bringing together business owners, Cornwall Council, local elected representatives and members of the voluntary sector. We meet every quarter to focus on how shared prosperity funds could address the problem of low wages and sustained deprivation in west Cornwall. That is something that European funds have not successfully addressed.
I was grateful that the Chief Secretary to the Treasury attended our inaugural jobs and growth roundtable and was clearly engaged in the issues we raised. She asked us to set out the barriers to growth in west Cornwall. In response, we said that there were many barriers in the way of ambitious young people seeking a good career in west Cornwall. That results in a skills drain, with young people moving out of the area to find a career. The colleges confirm that the biggest challenge in west Cornwall is providing young people with good employment opportunities. The Government must support employment and apprenticeships and stop messing around with further education curriculums, which are currently not fit for purpose for small companies that are keen to take on apprentices.
The Isles of Scilly Steamship Company, a significant employer in the constituency, state that its biggest issue is attracting skilled staff, including marine crew and aircraft engineers. Other companies say they have to send staff to other parts of the country for training. Goonhilly Satellite Earth Station is having similar problems, and it has to recruit out of county and find means to attract people to Cornwall.
Despite changes to business rates, the charge is having a crippling effect on our town centres. Public transport is not suitable for getting to and from work, and our road and rail network can no longer meet current demand. There has been a historic lack of investment in west Cornwall. Much will be said in this debate about the need for investment in infrastructure, and that is true of the whole south-west. The Minister will be acutely aware of the various priorities I have raised repeatedly in this place. In addition, we absolutely need to smash the problem of low wages, and we must invest in people. Investment is needed in providing skilled apprenticeships and training schemes to support employment, ambition and the futures of our children and grandchildren. Investment is needed to make Cornwall a more attractive economic hub. Transport infrastructure is central to that.
There is no denying that Cornwall is a wonderful place to live, with beautiful scenery and the best culture in the land, but we must ensure our economy matches the thriving local culture. I was delighted to support the launch of the “Great South West” initiative last year. Cornwall’s future prosperity cannot be addressed in isolation, and Cornwall is an enthusiastic partner of the “Great South West” initiative. I echo its calls to promote the south-west’s opportunities, to develop shared propositions to attract investment and boost productivity, to work on areas of common interest, and to drive opportunities through the work of local leaders, businesses, schools and authorities.
In conclusion, one area offers great opportunities, skilled jobs and a sustainable future—Cornwall has a specific tale to share in the area—and that is our response to global warming, and the need to care for our environment and leave to our children a planet that is in better shape than we found it. There is a renewed ambition in Cornwall to reduce harmful emissions and increase renewable energy supplies. Cornwall is working together to set up a clear plan on how that can be delivered by 2030. I would like Government funding to dramatically improve our fuel-poor homes, which are some of the leakiest in Europe; to empower greater development and installation of all forms of renewable energy; and to use the latest smart technology to improve the A30. All that will ensure our houses are warmer and cheaper to keep, our air is cleaner, our energy is cheaper and our harmful imprint on Earth is reduced. That is a sure way to create jobs, increase wages, reduce the cost of living and create prosperity.
It is a pleasure to follow my fellow Cornish Member, my hon. Friend the Member for St Ives (Derek Thomas). I thank my hon. Friend the Member for South West Devon (Sir Gary Streeter) for securing this debate. We have already had discussion about where the south-west actually is. For those of us in Cornwall, we kind of think that anything past Taunton is the midlands. We very much see the south-west from our perspective, which is looking from the far end of it, but there is no doubt that Cornwall in particular faces a number of unique economic challenges, and those are largely down to our geography. I do not think enough reference is made to the fact that being a peninsula creates a number of unique challenges that nowhere else in the UK faces. That is shown by the figures that my hon. Friend the Member for St Ives commented on. GVA is 35% below the rest of the country, and our wages reflect that. There is a desperate need to address that productivity gap to grow the Cornish economy and create better paid jobs so that we can start to see the Cornish economy catching up with the rest of the country. Much of that is because our economy is based on traditional sectors that have been low paid, particularly tourism, agriculture and food.
Cornwall has a rich history and heritage of being an industrial heartland. Many of the great advancements in industry and technology started in Cornwall. The invention of the steam engine by Trevithick sparked the industrial revolution. In more recent times, Marconi sent the first transatlantic telegram from Cornwall. My hon. Friend the Member for St Ives mentioned Goonhilly, which received the first transatlantic satellite TV signals. Cornwall has always been at the heart of industrial and technological advancement. My great hope is that Cornwall can once again recover some of that history and put itself on the map as a place for great advancement in technology and industry.
There are some opportunities before us that I want briefly to touch on. It is good to see the chief exec of our Cornwall and Isles of Scilly local enterprise partnership in the Public Gallery. I commend its production of an excellent publication called “10 Opportunities”, which lays out the opportunities before us for Cornwall’s economy. I will touch on three. The first is the space sector, which is well known. I am sure my hon. Friends will be sick to death of me talking about the potential of the space port coming to Newquay, but it would remiss of me not to mention it again. We need to see it delivered. As my hon. Friend the Member for South West Devon said in opening the debate, this has to be the year of delivery. If we can get the space port to Cornwall, it will unlock huge potential for investment and new jobs.
The second is lithium. We are all aware of the growth in demand for batteries. Cornwall is rich in lithium deposits. Only yesterday, I met the Cornish company Cornish Lithium and the Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, my hon. Friend the Member for Watford (Richard Harrington) to see how Government can support the extraction of lithium. Various figures are quoted, but we are talking tens of billions of pounds of precious metal in Cornwall that would revive our mining industry. No longer will it be “Poldark” tin and copper; it will be a new generation of precious metal extracted for battery production.
The third is renewable energy. My focus is particularly on geothermal. The Minister will know, as I have been working with him on this for some time, that we are already digging our first geothermal well in Cornwall, but there is potential for much more. Cornwall has a unique landscape and is the only place in the UK where geothermal energy is possible. It could unlock some great potential for our economy.
We need the Government to support the Cornish economy in the development of those new sectors. Part of that has to be the replacement of the European regional development programme. I am a huge supporter of leaving the EU, but Cornwall has been the biggest beneficiary of economic support through the EU. I never say “from” the EU, because it is UK taxpayers’ money that it recycles and gives back to us with a whole load of strings attached. The fact is that the programme has failed, because Cornwall is still reliant on it. If the programme had been successful after its three rounds, we would not need it any more. We still need it, therefore I believe we can do better with our own UK-based programme. Will the Minister update us on the shared prosperity fund, which will be absolutely essential for supporting the Cornish economy going forward? I know that there have been delays in the consultation, but perhaps he will use his offices to try to push it forward. Those of us who work in Cornwall on the future of our economy need some certainty about what the programme will be so that we can start to work towards it, and any further delay will hinder progress.
I very much believe that there are great days ahead for the Cornish economy. The opportunities before us are substantial. There is an absolute appetite in Cornwall to unlock potential and see things come to pass, but we need the backing and support of the Government. I acknowledge that in my time in this place we have seen a Government who are hugely supportive of the Cornish economy. We have touched on the investment that we have seen in our infrastructure—our roads and railways and the Government’s support for our air connection from Newquay to London. The recent announcement that that connection will be switched to Heathrow will be hugely welcomed. We need the support to continue, the shared prosperity fund put in place as quickly as possible, and Cornwall’s potential opportunities unlocked. I simply ask the Minister to do all that he can to make progress on the spaceport, support for lithium mining, and the shared prosperity fund as soon as possible.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Owen. It is also a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for St Austell and Newquay (Steve Double) and I thank my hon. Friend the Member for South West Devon (Sir Gary Streeter) for initiating the debate. As we speak here in Westminster Hall, in the main Chamber there is a debate on the police grant report. It is welcome to see the extra grant for the police forces across the country. It is very much needed.
The south-west is a great place to live, work and do business, as my hon. Friend the Member for South West Devon has said, but more needs to be done to attract and retain the high-skilled jobs that we need to boost wage growth and offer opportunities for young people. Hinkley Point will play a useful role in that. The availability of labour and skills continues to be a significant challenge to many south-west businesses affected by factors such as transport, housing affordability and an ageing population. It is great that we have several speakers here from Cornwall, but I remind them that they have to go through Devon, Somerset and many other counties before they can get to Cornwall. I remind the Minister that we are debating what has happened in the south-west peninsula. Bristol is a great city, but there is an awful lot of land between Bristol and Penzance. We want our fair share of resources, which we are getting more of, but we need even more.
In areas such as agriculture, hospitality and tourism, we continue to rely on a high proportion of migrant labour. We need a system in which we have control over migrant labour and have enough migrant workers in future. As we leave the EU, not only do we need to ensure that we can still get access to EU migrant labour to fill the jobs but we need to devise a south-west strategy to retain graduates and skilled labour, boost investment in our infrastructure and grow business in our region.
Improving transport in the region and around the south-west is vital. There are two strategic transport corridors for rail and road into the peninsula, which means that the south-west lacks resilience. We welcome the development of the A303, but it will be dualled all the way to Ilminster and then out through the A358 to Taunton. A little bit of the A303 from Ilminster to Honiton needs a little bit more done to it. Much as I welcome and support what is happening to the north Devon link road, we also need that last little bit of road to make sure that we get a second arterial road.
We are improving resilience on the Dawlish railway line. Not only have we got the mainline from Paddington to Penzance but we have a great line from Waterloo to Exeter, which goes through the south of my constituency and runs through the constituency of my right hon. Friend the Member for East Devon (Sir Hugo Swire). We could do a lot more to invest in loops and other things to make sure that we get more trains through the second route. It is essential to have a second railway link into the south-west. Along with my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton Deane (Rebecca Pow), I am interested in the Devon Metro coming through Somerset and creating more resilience on our existing lines so that we can have smaller trains as well as the large commuter trains. That will be a great improvement.
Improving transport will improve education accessibility, so that students can choose whether to do A-levels, apprenticeships or technical education. Not only do we have the great universities of Exeter and Plymouth, and of course Bristol, but we have Petroc, Axe Valley and many other colleges across our region. Apprenticeships are so useful because not everybody wants to go to university, and it is a great bonus to have that provision.
Improving transport will mean that tourists can get around the whole of the south-west, from the Jurassic coast to Exeter Cathedral, and even down to Cornwall, as well as to great towns such as Seaton, Axminster and many others in my constituency.
Broadband and mobile connection is hugely important. As many colleagues have said, it is a huge driver of the economy. Superfast broadband is absolutely essential.
A recent report by the South West Rural Productivity Commission said that improving digital connectivity was a game changer for rural businesses. Also, it is one of the key things in the Somerset Chamber’s report and is its businesses’ most important factor in upping productivity in our region. Will my hon. Friend join me in a campaign to get the Treasury to extend state aid so that Connecting Devon and Somerset can bring about the final rollout of the superfast broadband that we so urgently need in our two constituencies to deliver for our businesses?
I very much support my hon. Friend, who is a neighbour on the Somerset border. We have worked together not only on delivering in the Blackdowns but across our constituencies. State aid will be essential to keep the money flowing. Also, I look forward to Gigaclear really getting its act together and getting more investment in, which will help us to deliver broadband overall in a combination of state, council and private sector funding.
With everything online now, from tax returns to farming administration and farm payments, and from online shopping to school homework, it is imperative that we get the improvements to broadband and mobile coverage that we need. In some areas the mobile system will deliver broadband to some of the very hardest-to-reach areas. Mobile and broadband speeds might not be such a problem here in Westminster, but in the south-west they are a constant handicap for many farm families and businesses. In my own farmhouse there is very little connectivity. Sometimes it can be a blessing when the Whips are trying to get hold of me; I can be completely unconnectable and off the page.
Despite the best efforts of colleagues here today, we still have some of the worst mobile coverage of any region apart from Wales. It is getting better, but we need to do more. We have to make sure that the mobile companies do not keep the masts all to themselves; they must share them more. Joining everything together will make things work better with the same resource. Delays to broadband in the Devon and Somerset area have been extremely disappointing, mainly because we know how transformational superfast broadband will be to our rural economy and home lives once it is delivered. We need the Treasury to provide state aid.
Finally, I want to touch on the importance of farming to our rural economy and the south-west economy as a whole. The UK’s food and farming industry generates more than £110 billion and employs one in eight people in the UK. Farming is a driver for the local economy as it brings money to the south-west, which is then spent in the south-west. However, I cannot get through a whole speech on the economy without mentioning the B word: Brexit is both an opportunity and a threat to our rural economy. We need more fish for our fishermen. We might see greater opportunities for deep-sea anglers, more fish for our processors, and much needed regeneration of our coastal communities. We also need to ensure that we produce good food so that our food processors—our largest manufacturing industry—continue to thrive. Brexit offers us the opportunity to reposition agriculture and the wider rural economy as a powerhouse in its own right. It needs to be recognised across Government, and not just in DEFRA. I hope that the Minister will today recognise the vital multiplier effect of farming businesses in the rural economy, along with tourism in the south-west, and will do everything possible to protect and help farmers as we leave the EU.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for South West Devon (Sir Gary Streeter) on securing the debate. I am sure that all of us here believe passionately in the south-west. The region is already an economic powerhouse, which can rival the northern powerhouse or the midlands engine. We now have a network of professional organisations whose job it is to promote aspects of economic growth in the region. I pay tribute to the local enterprise partnerships—especially the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly LEP, my local one. Mark Duddridge and his team have a clear vision:
“By 2030, Cornwall and Isles of Scilly will be the place where businesses thrive and people enjoy an outstanding quality of life.”
Those few words really sum up the joy and opportunity of living in the south-west.
I was born and bred in my constituency, and we all know what a brilliant quality of life people can have in south-east Cornwall. Apparently the rest of the south-west region is not that bad, either, apart from the fact that my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish) insists on putting the cream and jam on to scones the wrong way. However, that amazing quality of life is no good unless it is built on a strong economic foundation. We need profitable, expanding, forward-looking businesses, to create value that earns profits and pays taxes. To support those businesses we need to be able to provide smart investment funds where they are most needed.
The LEP does a great job, but there are headwinds. For example, when we leave the European Union we can redirect the shared prosperity fund. I, like others, am keen to hear details of how that will be spent in a way that is tailored to suit the needs of Cornwall, instead of dictated by the European Commission. The most important thing is for funds to be directed to where they can most affect productivity. If productivity in the south-west matched current levels in the south-east, the region would add about £18 billion a year to the UK economy. In that regard I want to mention the farming industry, which I am sure my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton will be pleased about. It is one of the most productive sectors in the south-west. Farming brings a lot of money into the region, most of which stays in the local economy. It is vital that farming should be given prominence in the industrial strategy.
My hon. Friend is making a good case. Does she agree that if we combined agriculture with the food manufacturing and processing industries that would represent the largest economy in the south-west region? We could make a good case for its being a major plank of the industrial strategy. I see that the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, my hon. Friend the Member for Camborne and Redruth (George Eustice) is in the Chamber, so perhaps he and the Minister who is responding to the debate will take notes.
I completely concur with my hon. Friend.
As hon. Members know, I am passionate about our highly professional fishing industry and determined that our fishermen should reap the benefits of Brexit. I urge the Government to do everything they can to protect fishermen and ensure that British fishermen get the best from our highly productive fishing grounds. We all know that infrastructure investment is key to the region’s success. We have some superb schemes well under way. The Looe flood protection project will protect the fishing industry’s future and stimulate the local economy and tourism in the area surrounding the town.
Improvements to the A38 are vital. Thousands of people use it every day, and 1.2 million vehicle hours are wasted every year due to delays. Think of the environmental impact. We all know about the safety concerns. Finally, a few improvements to the railway line could make a big impact. I, too, am looking forward to next week’s announcement. I would like more frequent services, a move towards clock-face timetables, early adoption of a free 5G network for travellers and, of course, better integration with local bus services—especially in rural constituencies such as mine.
I could go on with a shopping list of superb investment opportunities, but I will simply reiterate what a fantastic quality of life we have in south-east Cornwall and the rest of the south-west. Let us see what we can do to create the economic growth that is needed to support that quality of life.
I warmly congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for South West Devon (Sir Gary Streeter) on securing the debate and publicly congratulate him—I think this is the first time I have been able to do so—on his well deserved knighthood.
I know that several organisations in the south-west are watching our debate with keen interest. My hon. Friend the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, the Member for Camborne and Redruth (George Eustice), who is also a south-west MP, is also with us. I think that he is one of the longest-serving farming Ministers ever, and we are grateful to have him sitting in on these deliberations. I am sure that my hon. Friends will have enjoyed reading the briefings from the National Farmers Union, the Devon chamber of commerce, the Federation of Small Businesses and the Heart of the South West local enterprise partnership, which conveyed a passion for expanding the region’s potential.
The key question is how we can attract high-value, non-seasonally dependent jobs, enhance our productivity and secure clean economic growth for the region. Admittedly, we have perhaps grown too accustomed to using terms such as “productivity”, “growth” and “connectivity”. A notable example is the Government’s flagship industrial strategy. Its four grand challenges put the UK at the forefront of the industries of the future: artificial intelligence and data, ageing society, clean growth, and the future of mobility. As many hon. Members would no doubt agree, its comprehensive scope marks out the Conservatives as the party with the long-term plan for our country. No Government or multinational corporation is free from the risk of descending into obfuscation when talking about economic growth, but let us step out of Whitehall-speak and the lexicon of glossy masterplans. When we talk to our constituents in our email bulletins, meeting halls, surgeries and correspondence, we must tell them how investment will increase the number of jobs and improve living standards.
I recently had the pleasure of another visit to the Exeter science park in my constituency. The science park helps innovative science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine companies in a campus-style setting. It covers sectors such as cyber-security and renewable energy. The site is on track to grow, so that 200 to 700 jobs in 2020 will rise to 2,100 by 2027. The wider region is well connected, with immediate access to the M5, the nearby Exeter international airport and Exeter itself. I represent two wards in Exeter—St Loyes and Topsham—and I am pleased to say it will be one of the UK’s fastest growing cities over the next three years. A practical example of that outstanding growth is Luminous, a start-up that is designing, developing and exporting state-of-the-art special effects hardware for the global entertainment industry. Its rate of jobs growth—from one person to eight people in a mere 12 months—is a trademark of the technology industry. Yet it is not in tech-savvy Shoreditch but in the heart of our region. That is what economic growth looks like on the ground: it is new consumers, new careers, and a better quality of life.
The case for Exeter science park is strong, as it seeks to add more buildings and expand its capacity. I speak not purely as the Member for East Devon but, I am sure, on behalf of my colleagues in the south-west, who would like it to expand and thrive. That is why I urge the Minister and other interested parties who are watching today to get behind Exeter science park so that it can fulfil its potential.
The main impediment to the business growth of Exeter science park is the fact that it has to repay loans on its science park centre. The science park had to take out loans of £6.5 million—mainly from the local enterprise partnership, at a commercial rate—because grants were unavailable during its start-up phase in 2013. Private sector loans were not available because Exeter science park had no assets; they were held in trust by a local authority. Given the vast resources going to the part of the world with which the Minister—he is responsible for the northern powerhouse—deals, he might find that extraordinary set of circumstances difficult to recognise, but it is yet another example of how we in the south-west feel slightly discriminated against.
My first request—this is the Minister’s road to rehabilitation—is to consider how we can use Government capital infrastructure spending to reduce, or ideally erase, those debts. Secondly, how can the Government assist in encouraging Government-backed technology and projects to locate to the science park? If the Minister were able to assist with both those matters, it would provide a huge endorsement for our often-overlooked region. Why, for instance, would an engineering giant such as Rolls-Royce, or a defence contractor such as Babcock—it is already strong in Plymouth, as we have heard—not expand alongside the innovative tech start-ups that are already located there?
Members often lament how our neglected south-west gets limited airtime compared with other UK regions. Local authorities, LEPs and businesses up and down the land compete vociferously for a pool of Government investment. However, we should talk up areas where our regional economy is doing well, and talk practically about how we can do even better. That is surely the way to sell the benefits of economic growth to the public, and attract new jobs and companies to our south-west.
I call Peter Heaton-Jones. There are approximately eight minutes remaining and two Members who wish to speak.
Thank you, Mr Owen, I shall not take up too much time, because I want my hon. Friend from that south-west central city of Cheltenham to get in—
Oh, it is a town—well, there we are; even less of a reason.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Owen, and to speak in this debate initiated by my hon. Friend the Member for South West Devon (Sir Gary Streeter). I thank him for his kind words about the campaign to get funds for the north Devon link road. Yes, that is something I have gone on about. As a relatively new Member, my name popped up on the Order Paper to ask a question of the Prime Minister. The then Prime Minister, David Cameron, approached me in the Lobby and said, “I bet you’re going to bang on about the north Devon link road.” I said, “Absolutely, Prime Minister, I am.” When he said that to me, I thought, “Well, we’ve won this battle, and I am proud to be banging on about it.” We made that happen with the success that comes with £83 million of Government funding, plus £10 million from Devon County Council. The north Devon link road is a vital bit of our infrastructure and part of the connectivity that my hon. Friend and other colleagues so correctly identified.
Connectivity is a vital driver of the economy not only in north Devon, but in the entire south-west. That includes roads such as the A361, the A303, the A30 and the A358, but it is also about railways, which have been mentioned at some length. I echo what has been said to the Minister. This is not his Department, but perhaps he could have a quiet word in the ears of his hon. Friends in the Department for Transport and ensure that when we have an announcement, it will be the news that we need about long-overdue investment in the resilience of the vital route that connects the south-west peninsula with the rest of the country. I look forward to that happening; I hope it will be in the next couple of weeks.
I also wish to mention the railway line in my constituency, and I declare an interest because I am proud to be the honorary president of the Tarka Rail Association—[Hon. Members: “Hear, hear!”] Thank you. It is one of the roles that I am proudest to hold, because that organisation has done much to promote the need for investment in the line that links Exeter and Barnstaple, and will continue so to do.
In 2019, connectivity also means digital connectivity. I have had numerous meetings with Connecting Devon and Somerset, British Telecom, and Airband, which unlike in the rest of our region—it is not Gigaclear—is the contract holder to provide fast and superfast broadband in north Devon. I have had a number of meetings with Airband to try to push that agenda forward. It is vital that that continues, because although a lot of good work has been done so far, we need to do more.
Those who put together the south-west growth strategy reckon that properly investing in our region’s connectivity could produce gross value added economic benefits of more than £41 billion and create 22,000 jobs—that is how important it is to get connectivity right. Colleagues have also mentioned agriculture, which is extraordinarily important in north Devon and the greater south-west, and a great contributor to economic growth. There are excellent farming businesses in my local economy, and it is well documented that they can help to close the productivity gap.
Let me acknowledge David Ralph, who is in the Public Gallery. He is head of the Heart of the South West local enterprise partnership, and it is good to see so much support for the region as a whole. According to the excellent report by the South West Rural Productivity Commission, our rural local authority areas account for 60% of all workforce jobs—far above the figures for elsewhere in England—which shows how important it is to get growth right in our rural areas.
Let me raise a couple of other issues that I think are important. We have placed a bid for a south-west institute of technology in our area, which is vital. Petroc College and other institutions in my constituency are really pushing hard for that, and part of it will be based in Barnstaple. That could be a real driver as far as the Government’s economic and industrial strategies are concerned. I see that time is running away, so I will end with pretty much the same phrase as the one with which I ended another debate on this subject, initiated by my hon. Friend the Member for South West Devon about 18 months ago. We hear a great deal about the midlands engine and the northern powerhouse, and of course they are important. In the south-west, however, we are like a coiled spring. We have so much potential ready to be unleashed, so I say to the northern powerhouse, “You ain’t seen nothing yet!”
I call another coiled spring, Mr Chalk, who has three minutes left.
In the three minutes available, may I say that although we rightly talk about economic growth, we need to step back and ask what we mean by that and why it matters? It matters, because it is all very well for us to say that we believe in social mobility—I dare say we all do, across the House—but we should also believe that economic growth provides opportunities for people from all walks of life, and allows people who come from deprived communities to go as far as their talents will take them. I therefore think it is incredibly important to focus on that issue, and we have a moral duty to do so.
When I was elected in Cheltenham in 2015, a lot of Members might have assumed that it was an area of great affluence, which to some extent it is. However, we also have pockets of genuine and grinding deprivation. Importantly, when I looked at the growth figures, I saw that Cheltenham’s growth rate was less than the national average. It seems to me that increasing economic growth is an important way to tackle those areas of deprivation, and I feel that very passionately. There are two elements to this. First, we must ensure that we have a supremely well-educated workforce. That is why I welcome the increased emphasis on fair funding. We have not yet completed the task, and although Cheltenham’s secondary schools get £1.2 million more a year than they did before, we need to increase that. We also need great job opportunities for people once they leave school.
I want to focus on Cheltenham’s cyber future. In November 2015, the then Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, came to GCHQ and said that an arc of cyber-prosperity could extend from Cheltenham all the way down through the south-west. That critical sector will generate £20 billion a year for the UK economy and, crucially, we can be part of that by leveraging some of our state expertise in facilities such as GCHQ to improve our local economy. There is so much more to talk about, including the A417 missing link, and I am delighted that the Government are investing more than £400 million in improving that road, because doing so will unlock that corridor of prosperity. This is a moral duty. If we want to achieve social mobility, economic prosperity and a plan for growth must be at its heart.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman and to all Back-Benchers for their restraint. I will now call the Front Bench spokespeople, who I am sure will leave a few minutes for Mr Streeter to wind up. I call Chi Onwurah.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Owen. I congratulate the hon. Member for South West Devon (Sir Gary Streeter) on leading this important debate.
There is no hiding under a bushel the importance of the south-west. Its economy is bigger than that of Greater Manchester and twice that of Birmingham, contributing £127 billion per year to the UK economy. It is a diverse region, with great cities such as Exeter, Bristol and Plymouth, great agriculture and one of the highest rates of tourism outside London. However, as the hon. Members for St Ives (Derek Thomas) and for Cheltenham (Alex Chalk) emphasised, the benefits of that are not shared equally by all.
The south-west evokes cream teas and coastline pleasures. Rodda’s renowned clotted cream, with the jam above or below it, is of course manufactured in Cornwall, along with Ginsters famous pasties. However, we must not forget the industrial heritage that the region shares with the north-east. It was Dartmouth’s Thomas Newcomen who invented the steam engine, perfected by Richard Trevithick, although it took a Geordie, George Stephenson, to bring about the first commercial train journeys. Happily, we can take joint credit for the renowned Peter Higgs, of Higgs boson fame, who was born in Newcastle but went to school in west Bristol.
The bedrock of industry in the south-west lies in food, farming, fisheries and tourism—sectors that are due to be disproportionately affected by Brexit. Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, Torbay and Devon are all in the top 20 areas where people work in tourism for their first or second job. Some 32% of marine fishing occurs in the south-west, meaning that, if a bad Brexit deal affects the Budget promise of £10 million for fisheries, that will be of great significance to the area.
The Government’s strategy on Brexit does nothing to protect small-scale farmers in Devon and Somerset against the massive American agro-industrial machine. May I ask the Minister how the Government expect those small farmers to compete with American wheat farms the size of small counties and pig farms the size of small towns, without ruining the glorious beauty of the south-west countryside?
Bristol is home to the largest aerospace cluster in the UK, with firms such as Airbus and Rolls-Royce having to stockpile parts in the face of Brexit uncertainty. In the last month, Airbus has warned once again of the impact of a no-deal Brexit. Its supply chain crosses the channel several times, meaning that any friction at the border will cause substantial problems for the company, which employs 3,000 people in Filton in high-skilled, high-paid jobs that are key to future economic growth. How does the Minister plan to protect those jobs?
I apologise for not being present earlier; I have been on a Delegated Legislation Committee—some of us spend a lot of time on those. Does my hon. Friend accept that Airbus is to the south-west, particularly my part of the south-west, what Nissan is to the north-east?
I thank my hon. Friend for emphasising the importance of Airbus to the south-west; I absolutely accept that point. The warnings of industry leaders and companies such as Airbus and Nissan need to be taken seriously by the Government, and listened to.
As the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish) emphasised, the south-west has one of the highest skills gaps in the UK, with a third of all small and medium-sized businesses having difficulty hiring people with specialist skills. That will only worsen after Brexit, if the Government press ahead with plans to slash so-called low-skilled immigration. Businesses will be even harder pressed to find and retain labour, as we have heard.
More than that, the south-west has been a major beneficiary of EU funding, receiving the second largest share of regional development funding and social funding. The key economic hubs of Bristol and Swindon are among the largest UK recipients of Horizon 2020 research grants, from which we get more back than we put in. After the UK leaves the EU, that hole will be filled by the Government, but the existing institutions exhibit the kind of south-eastern bias that means that, for example, the south-west receives half the per capita UK Research and Innovation funding that London got in 2016-17. How will the Government ensure that funding is replaced in a way that does not exacerbate regional inequalities?
At the heart of all those challenges is the need for a strong, positive industrial strategy, capable of building and rebuilding the economy to meet the challenges of the future and of Brexit. Unfortunately, we have seen no evidence of one. Labour has the answer. [Laughter.] Hon. Members should listen. We are committed to raising spending on research and development to 3% of GDP by 2030—an additional £1.3 billion in public investment. That will get us part of the way, and will certainly benefit the region’s burgeoning tech industry, which grew 47% from 2014 to 2016.
Much of that additional spend will draw on our industrial strategy, which is about investing in areas such as nuclear power as part of our commitment to low-carbon energy, ensuring that we have the skills for Somerset’s Hinkley Point.
Will the hon. Lady give way?
I am afraid I will not; I simply do not have time.
We will improve digital infrastructure, as part of our commitment to an innovation nation. That will be complemented by the £250 billion national transformation fund, which will enable the growth of the infrastructure needed to increase productivity and investment.
Successive Tory Governments have refused to invest in transport. My hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard) highlighted that today is the fifth anniversary of the Dawlish railway line being washed away. Labour has only two Members of Parliament in the far south-west and seven in the region as a whole, yet we have committed to fund the Peninsula Rail Task Force’s recommendations. Why can the Minister not match our commitment?
Will the hon. Lady give way?
I am afraid I will not give way.
Regional disparities and the unique issues facing the south-west are the reason we need the £250 billion national investment bank. [Interruption.] May I just point out that we have heard much more from Government Members than Opposition Members so far?
Many Members mentioned the need for regional investment. Our network of regional development funds will ensure that regional needs are put first and that local decision makers decide what is right for their area. The future of the south-west, and of our country, depends on a real industrial strategy that lays a path for a high-wage, high-skill, high-productivity region. The Government should follow Labour’s example in crafting a visionary, vigorous and viable industrial strategy.
Will the hon. Lady give way?
If the hon. Gentleman insists, I will give way briefly.
Labour has obviously announced many spending commitments. Perhaps the hon. Lady could explain to the House where Labour will get an additional £1 billion to invest in water quality in the south-west when it has nationalised South West Water?
I would love to give the hon. Gentleman a basic lesson in economics and explain that the Tory Government’s economics of austerity have failed entirely to produce the productivity and rising wages that can deliver the tax base for such investments. I hope to hear from the Minister how he will address that.
It is a privilege to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Owen.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for South West Devon (Sir Gary Streeter) on securing this important debate. It is not about Brexit, but if I were channelling a famous son of Devon—Samuel Taylor Coleridge, who wrote “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”—I would say that Conservative Members believe that Brexit is full of opportunities, while the Opposition have already shot the albatross and hung it round the neck of every business in this country, because they see Brexit only as a risk.
The hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central (Chi Onwurah) said that Labour has a real industrial strategy. As Minister for local growth, I must tell her that I visit businesses all over the United Kingdom and they tell me that they have one thing on their risk register at the moment: not Brexit, but a Labour Government. Industrial strategies are not created by political parties that believe in the appropriation and removal of businesses from their owners. It is a Labour Prime Minister, not Brexit, that is the real risk.
Order. I am sure that this intervention will be on the subject of the debate.
It relates to something that the Minister has just said.
No, you are not listening. We are debating the motion before the Chamber. It has been a good-hearted debate and you have made several interventions, but they have to relate to the subject matter.
My intervention relates to the south-west. Colleagues have made a strong case for upping the productivity in the south-west region, but under this Government a great deal of funding has come to the south-west—far more than ever before. We simply want to build on that.
That is why we have heard from 10 Conservative colleagues, but only one Opposition Back Bencher. It is a sign that we are a Government who listen to colleagues in the south-west and ensure that economic growth in the south-west is at the heart of our approach.
We have had an interesting debate that has focused on three areas. The first is infrastructure, which we have to accept is one of the building blocks of any vibrant economy outside the capital. We have described this year as the year of delivery for digital, road and rail infrastructure, so it is important that our debate has addressed how we can ensure that we continue to deliver for everyone living in the south-west of England, particularly after years of under-investment. That is the real similarity between the north of England, where we have the northern powerhouse, and the south-west region: for far too long, under different Governments, the country has focused on infrastructure and industrial growth in London and its surrounding hinterland. It is about time we moved beyond that.
We have heard some good speeches today about human capital, in relation both to education and productivity. It is right to focus on how we can drive opportunity to people young and old across the south-west for a more varied educational picture, whether that is through the brilliant universities that have been mentioned or the great businesses that drive productivity. There are huge opportunities for productivity in cyber-security, spaceports, civil and nuclear developments in Hinkley, tourism, agriculture and our maritime economy.
I applaud the south-west local enterprise partnerships for their creation of the Heart of the South West economic co-operation and growth area. I hope that that combined effort will be reflected in their local industrial strategy, because this year needs to be the year of our regions, not just of our capital city. As Minister for local growth, I firmly believe that our biggest opportunity after leaving the European Union will be regional, and that is what the Government should be measured on.
In the limited time available, I will attempt to deal with the questions raised by hon. Members. First, my hon. Friend the Member for South West Devon spoke about tourism’s value to the economy. The Government continue to invest in tourism, particularly through the “Great” campaign to attract overseas visitors to this country. I encourage him and his LEP to engage with BEIS to discuss the developing potential of the tourism sector deal and pursue the idea of putting natural capital—the beauty that exists across the whole south-west—at the heart of their local industrial strategy.
Many hon. Members raised transport, particularly the Dawlish line. Colleagues will acknowledge that the Government have already invested £70 million in the line to date. I have heard the calls from Members across the parties to use whatever influence I may have over the Department for Transport to get it to fast-track its announcement about the line and ensure that we complete our commitment to making sure that it remains a robust and reliable connection for their constituents.
Hon. Members also raised the transforming cities fund, which we announced in the Budget. Some of that £2.5 billion fund has already been devolved to areas with Mayors, such as the Bristol city region, and the remaining £1.2 billion in the pot is subject to the competitive bidding process. The results of that process will be announced after the assessment of the bids; the Department for Transport tells me that that announcement will be made shortly.
My hon. Friend the Member for Taunton Deane (Rebecca Pow) raised geothermal energy, which the Government recognise as a large opportunity. I encourage her to ensure that clean growth continues to be a priority, not just for the Government but for her area’s local industrial strategy.
The hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard), who made the only speech from the Opposition Back Benches, spoke with real passion and in a very non-partisan way about the opportunity for a marine park in Plymouth Sound, which takes me back to the point that we need to ensure that local industrial strategies and our national industrial strategy accurately reflect the value of natural capital. When we talk about things like productivity, it is all too easy to ignore what may be on our doorstep.
I hope that in 2018, when the landscapes review undertaken by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs consulted on whether the current network of national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty should extend out to sea, partners in Plymouth and Devonport made a strong case for that marine park. There is no update from DEFRA yet, but I will continue to watch developments with interest because the marine park is an important idea that could be rolled out across the country—not least in your Anglesey constituency of Ynys Môn, Mr Owen. The hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport is right that we need to be bold and clear about our passion to grow the south-west’s economy; his speech made that point very well.
My hon. Friend the Member for St Ives (Derek Thomas) spoke well about the UK shared prosperity fund. He will be aware of the Government commitment to ensure that the current round of EU structural funding has the benefit of a Treasury guarantee until March 2021, but our specific aim in introducing the UK shared prosperity fund is to provide a single domestic local growth fund without the bureaucracy of EU funds. As my hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall (Mrs Murray) noted, we need to ensure that our UK growth funds concentrate on what we need to grow in this country. That is one of the opportunities that leaving the European Union will bring.
My hon. Friend the Member for St Austell and Newquay (Steve Double) spoke about the desired growth of the Cornish economy. Of course the spaceport has already received funding of £2 million from the Government, and the Space Industry Act 2018 will enable spaceships—I guess—to take off by 2020.
I want to give my hon. Friend the Member for South West Devon an opportunity to wind up, so I do not have time to answer all the questions asked by hon. Members, but I will write to them about any outstanding issues. This has been a wonderful debate. This is the year of regional growth, and the south-west must be at the heart of it.
I thank the Minister for his speech. It is good to know that the Government are listening, that they are supportive and that they are committed to regional growth, especially in the south-west.
I thank all colleagues for taking part in this debate; we have heard some very powerful speeches today. Collectively, we are a good team for our region—we are all committed to working across the parties and to doing the best for our constituents. We already represent a wonderful region. If we can just get our infrastructure right, my firm hope and belief is that our best is yet to come.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered economic growth in the South West.
Order. Would those who are inexplicably not staying to hear about the Red Arrows please be kind enough to leave quickly and quietly?