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Infrastructure

Part of Opposition Day — [17th( )Allotted Day] — Horsemeat – in the House of Commons at 6:28 pm on 12th February 2013.

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Photo of Sheila Gilmore Sheila Gilmore Labour, Edinburgh East 6:28 pm, 12th February 2013

My right hon. Friend makes an important point. The spending in Scotland enabled the Scottish Government to announce that unemployment was not rising as fast as in the rest of the UK, and they took great pleasure in that. Sadly, the situation has not been maintained, and we are hearing less of how wonderful the Scottish Government are at dealing with unemployment; at present, the opposite is happening. I would argue that one of the reasons is that the investment in infrastructure, particularly in housing, has not been sustained. The figures are stark. In Scotland, there were 7,915 new affordable housing starts in 2009-10; in 2010-11, the figure fell slightly to 6,460; and in 2011-12, it fell to 3,405—a halving in less than two years.

There is a consequence for the construction industry, its employees and unemployment in Scotland. The Scottish Government showed that such investment worked, but they have not been able to sustain it. They would probably argue that that is solely because of what has been happening at the UK level—investment in housing and in capital has been falling. They would be right to some extent, although I would add that they are not particularly interested in showing that the situation can be overcome. I suggest two ways in which they could overcome it.

First, the Scottish Government could use the tax-raising powers given in 1999 as part of devolution. They have not chosen to use those, although I think people in Scotland would be prepared for them to be used if they thought that the money could be invested as it was previously. They have also put a stranglehold on local government by having a five-year council tax freeze, which has meant that local government cannot make the choice to say to its local population, “We desperately need more housing. We will put up council tax so that we can borrow”—that is perfectly possible—“and build that much-needed housing.”

So there are ways in which the Scottish Government could continue with policies that for a brief period showed that investment in infrastructure boosts the economy and employment. I urge them to go back to doing that, rather than allowing things to deteriorate so that they can always blame London; that, I am afraid, is what they tend to do.

Some of the discussion is fascinating. If someone had fallen asleep in 1997 and woken up watching this debate, they would have wondered which party was talking. Government Members want to argue, “The last Government didn’t do anything on infrastructure and when they did, it was all this horrible PFI.” I seem to recall that PFI was not a Labour Government invention, but was enthusiastically put forward by the preceding Conservative Government. I am interested to know when that conversion happened. We can get that sort of investment better, but my city is a lot better for some of the public-private partnerships that we put in place—the schools that were built and the investment that was taking place.

A lot of things seem to happen in Scotland first these days, which are then followed, not always for the better, here. In 2007 a Scottish Government of a nationalist persuasion took over, and in my city a Lib Dem-Scottish National party council took over. They both decided that they did not like public-private partnerships and so would instead come up with some magic way of creating these investments. As a result, not one new school was started in the five years of that Lib Dem-SNP administration—not one. Several were finished, and councillors were very pleased to go and open them and have their name put on the opening plaque, but those schools had been planned and funded through PPPs. We seem to have undergone a miraculous conversion at some point—I am not quite sure when—but we have not come with anything that really works in its place.

I call in support of this argument none other than the Mayor of London, who is quoted in tonight’s edition of The Evening Standard as calling for a £1.3 billion investment in housing in London. Perhaps the Government would like to listen to a mayor of their own political persuasion.