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Amendment of the Law

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 8:42 pm on 24th March 2014.

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Photo of Paul Blomfield Paul Blomfield Labour, Sheffield Central 8:42 pm, 24th March 2014

I would cite the extremely successful advanced manufacturing research centre, which is a pioneering collaboration between the university of Sheffield, Boeing and Rolls-Royce. It has been highlighted by the Government as a model of industrial innovation. However, it simply would not be there if it had not been for RDA investment.

London also thrives in arts and culture funding, with subsidies worth £68.99 per head, while the rest of England gets just £4.58 per head.

The Budget does not just ignore those issues; it is making them worse. Research by Sheffield political economy research institute has exposed the Chancellor’s flagship increase in the income tax personal allowance as not benefiting the lowest paid and not addressing regional inequality. In many ways, it has made that inequality worse.

This situation is not inevitable. We simply need the political will and the policies to reverse the trend. Let us build on our regional assets, such as our universities, which are uniquely positioned around the country to drive growth through innovation. Let us ensure that there is effective investment in research and development across the higher education sector.

We need an active industrial strategy that does not simply pick winners but supports growth in key sectors across the country, such as the nuclear sector. Of course, one of the early actions of the Government was to undermine that sector in my city by scrapping the loan to Sheffield Forgemasters.

We need a fairer distribution of public funding that puts need at the heart of funding allocation and that recognises the role of public investment in stimulating local economies. The Government should use the levers of public sector employment to address the regional imbalance. They should move Departments, not just minor agencies, out of London. Why cannot the Department for Education move lock, stock and barrel to Sheffield? Let us move the Department of Health to Leeds. Let us take the Department for Work and Pensions to Hull.

Government Members have raised concerns about the impact of what they describe as “generous public sector pay” on private sector employers in the regions. However, we cannot accept the argument that there must be a race to the bottom on pay and conditions for there to be regional growth outside London. All regions benefit from decent, well-paid jobs. They fuel our local economies and put money in people’s pockets that will be spent in local businesses. Moving Departments out of London would be good not only for the regions, but for London. For evidence of that, we need only ask those who are struggling to rent or buy in the overheated housing market in the capital.

Moving Departments of State to the regions would not just provide economic benefits, but would ensure that policies were no longer shaped by people who live and work in London, and who see everything through the prism of the metropolis. One of my constituents, Amy Hall, who is a biophysicist, wrote to me last week and said:

“We need to be less London-centric as this seems to be blinding some of the key policy makers to the situation elsewhere.”

Amy was right. There are things that we can do to make that happen.

Moving Departments out of London is not a new idea. It was pioneered by the Labour Government in the ’70s. I remember the Manpower Services Commission coming to Sheffield as a result of a Government decision in 1976. More progress was made under the last Labour

Government in moving civil service jobs out of London. According to the information I have been given by the House of Commons Library, that progress has halted under this Government.

We need to take action to achieve a one nation economy, not a one city economy.