The Economy and Work

Part of Debate on the Address – in the House of Commons at 2:05 pm on 26th May 2016.

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Photo of Alan Haselhurst Alan Haselhurst Conservative, Saffron Walden 2:05 pm, 26th May 2016

The Gracious Speech tells us that

“legislation will be introduced to ensure Britain has the infrastructure that businesses need to grow.”

In the next sentence, we are promised measures to improve access to high-speed broadband. Both those commitments are of huge importance to my constituency, and to the wider Anglian region of which it forms part.

The region is badly served by transport infrastructure. It has two railway lines, both of which are inadequate. My hon. Friend Chloe Smith has chaired a great eastern main line taskforce, and I have been charged with chairing a west Anglia main line taskforce. We have both illustrated the weaknesses in the present system and the importance of those lines to the development of business in our areas, but— understandably, given the short time that is available—I will concentrate on the west Anglia line taskforce. We have noted that, given Cambridge, Stansted, greater Harlow and the upper Lee valley opportunity area in Greater London, there is huge potential for growth, and jobs and housing will multiply over the next few years. That is a stark contrast with some of the tales of woe that we have been hearing so far during this debate.

One thing that is not mentioned in the Gracious Speech is the decision on where extra runway capacity will be provided in the London area, although one suspects that that decision will come quite soon. However, no choice will enable the capacity to be used other than, in the interim, at Stansted, and that brings into focus the inadequacy of the railway line that connects London with Stansted. It is not just a matter of getting passengers there; it is also a matter of getting the workforce there. I am proud to say that, for reasons related to the policies of the Government whom I support, the unemployment rate in my constituency has now fallen to 0.6%. Clearly, if job vacancies are to be filled, people must be conveyed to those jobs, and the railway is one of the most efficient ways of doing that. We must press on. Now that the Chancellor has made the imaginative decision to back the Crossrail 2 project, it is essential for the work in preparation for that project to begin with the four-tracking of the west Anglia main line. I hope there will soon be decisions that ensure that we do not wait beyond 2025 for the line to improve, because otherwise the date might slip to 2033, which would be unthinkable.

Broadband offers new methods of working, which may help some people to travel slightly less often than they have had to up to now. The face of rural England is changing: people are being dispersed, and some small businesses exist at the high-technology end. Superfast broadband is essential to those people and businesses, and they need clarity about what is available, whether from BT or from the other commercial providers. I hope that local authorities will be encouraged to show everyone what is available, so that implementation can take place more quickly. There must be equality of provision, so that everyone can expect the same standard.

My constituents commend the priority that has been given to those matters in the Gracious Speech.