The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. I am not saying that everything was perfect with that scheme, or with the European Community and European Union. I was merely pointing out in response to the intervention from Helen Whately that it would be remiss of us to suggest that all the funding came from central Government when it came from a variety of sources, including the European Commission, to which all those stickers are a testament.
As I have said and as the Minister has acknowledged, our rural areas need a long-term investment strategy, not just short-term subsidy, helpful though that is. I look forward to holding the Minister to account while he is in this post to ensure that he makes good on his word. The short-term subsidy will help, but we need to ensure that investment continues apace beyond the five-year deadline of this business rate relief and we need continually to update our internet connections with the latest technology.
The Opposition’s focus is to encourage investment in all communities by excluding new investment in plant and machinery from future business rates valuation, which will free up medium and large businesses to invest in any area of the country. The country needs fresh ideas to meet the emerging challenges of the new century, yet what we have seen today, in a stripped-down Bill, is the lack of a comprehensive and compelling legislative framework that supports all businesses and local authorities on business rates.
I desperately plead for the co-operation the Prime Minister has asked for. I hope that it is genuine and heartfelt, and that she looks for ideas from the Opposition, which we are more than happy to provide to the Government—ideas to improve our infrastructure in cities and in rural areas, to update our connectivity, not just physically but through the cloud and other technologies, and to use emerging technologies to benefit British business, which will be crucial if we are to keep a competitive advantage in the uncertain years ahead. As we remove ourselves from the EU and strike a new set of trade deals across the world, we must keep that competitive edge. I agree with the Minister that new and emerging technology and infrastructure is part of the mechanism to drive Britain’s economy in the face of the new challenges that lie ahead.
We will not divide the House tonight. We will look to strengthen the Bill in Committee and we will continue to challenge the Government on their wider local government finance policy until we get the answers and certainty that local government so desperately needs. Technology and infrastructure are vital to building Britain’s capacity to grow and develop in a changing world in which we look to new and emerging markets. It is incumbent on whichever party is in government in future to work constructively with others to ensure that Britain’s infrastructure is kept as up-to-date and as state-of-the-art as possible.
In that respect, we cautiously welcome the Bill. We will seek to strengthen it in Committee, but let us work together on some measures for future local government finance because, as the local government Minister knows, local government needs that certainty.