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Connectivity and Infrastructure within Wales and Cross-border

Volume 695: debated on Wednesday 19 May 2021

What recent discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Transport on connectivity and infrastructure within Wales and cross-border. (900090)

What recent discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Transport on connectivity and infrastructure within Wales and cross-border. (900093)

My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State and I have regular discussions with ministerial colleagues about cross-border connectivity and the Union connectivity review.

From the castles of north Wales to the pleasure beach in my constituency, popular tourist attractions across north Wales and the north-west of England will host thousands of visitors this summer as people choose to holiday here in the UK rather than abroad. In order to support tourism and economic growth, it is vital that we strengthen transport links between those regions, so does my right hon. Friend agree that delivering on our manifesto pledge to upgrade the notoriously congested A55 must remain an absolute priority?

I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that question, and he is right. I have visited the area quite a bit recently and seen exactly the challenges ahead. It is a manifesto commitment. We visited with the Transport Secretary. That is very much in our sights, and we hope to have some good news about it in the foreseeable future.

My Italian forefathers always understood the importance of sunshine, sandy beaches and full-bodied, gorgeous ice cream, but for those who live in Dudley, the nearest beach is in Wales, and access is almost mission impossible. What can my right hon. Friend do to improve the wellbeing of my constituents by improving access to these basic rights?

Sadly, we cannot move Dudley, but what we can do is progress the Union connectivity review and strengthen the links. I know my hon. Friend’s part of the world very well. Of course, the cross-border holidaying and other activity between the west midlands and Wales is well known, and we want to improve it. That is exactly what the review is about, because we know that brings not only gratification to the residents of Dudley, but economic prosperity to both areas.

Diolch yn fawr, Llefarydd. The Wales Governance Centre has calculated that, were Wales to be treated like Scotland in relation to HS2 and rail funding, we would be over half a billion pounds better off. Only 1.26% of the firms in the HS2 supply chain are Welsh and we know that, when HS2 is complete, it will take £200 million out of the south Wales economy alone. In the Secretary of State’s opinion, what percentage of HS2 supply chain firms should be based in Wales—or is he happy for his Government to continue to short-change Wales?

I am glad that the right hon. Lady has recognised the relevance of HS2 in shortening journey times; indeed, the journey from her own constituency to London will benefit from the improvements that we are recommending—and that were included in the recent Queen’s Speech, for that matter. There will be shorter journey times, but there will also be numerous opportunities for businesses in Wales to be part of the supply chain, not only in the construction period but thereafter. I hope that what she has actually pointed out is how her party, in her area, is going to warmly embrace that major infrastructure scheme, which will benefit Wales, whichever part of it people live in.

A percentage would be nice, and an increase would be most welcome, given the effect that it will have.

In another area, Welsh-language TV channel S4C has seen a 36% real-terms cut since 2010, and there are now concerns that it will receive a flat cash settlement in the next licence fee round. S4C requires only a modest £10 million per annum of additional investment and the retention of CPI-linked annual increases in licence fee funding to remain competitive with the already advantaged BBC and, essentially, to reach audiences on new digital platforms. Will the Secretary of State work with the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport to ensure additional investment for S4C so that the channel is treated with equivalence to the BBC and, equally or more important, it is viable into the future?

I am grateful to the right hon. Lady for raising the cultural and linguistic significance of S4C, not least because it is headquartered in my constituency. I have a very warm relationship with all the individuals who have been making their case very powerfully to Members across the House in the last few months. I can confirm to her that the Wales Office has of course made some very strong submissions to DCMS. The decision has yet to be made, but I urge her and other colleagues to continue to do that. We recognise the importance of this and we want very much to get to a speedy and correct conclusion.

One of the ways in which the Government could improve transport connectivity is by figuring out what they are doing with their much-lauded levelling-up fund. Given the performance of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and Housing, Communities and Local Government Ministers at the BEIS Committee yesterday, which can be described as confused at best—not knowing how the fund will work, how it will be delivered or whether funding will continue into levels 2 and 3—can the Secretary of State confirm that there will be funding available for the second and third funding bids, and that it will be at the same level promised by Ministers just at the beginning of this year? Will he also commit to a further meeting with all Welsh MPs of all parties and MHCLG officials, so that they can clarify the confusing situation for those Members who have more than one county in their constituency and constituents do not lose out on this much-promised money?

Certainly as far as meetings are concerned, I am more than happy to confirm that we will put those in the diary. Whether they are with the MHCLG or others is a matter for discussion. I am very happy to do that; we have done it on a number of issues. I have found that to be quite a constructive and collaborative experience.

As far as the levelling-up fund is concerned, this is, at the end of the day, a good news story. I recognise that there are lessons to be learned from year one, but the levelling-up fund, in whatever shape or form we like to describe it, is here to stay. I am very keen to hear the lessons from the hon. Member, his local authorities and other stakeholders on how we can make it even better than it already is in years two and three.