Stirling and Clackmannanshire City Region Deal

Part of Finance Committee – in the House of Commons at 10:00 pm on 18th February 2019.

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Photo of Stephen Kerr Stephen Kerr Conservative, Stirling 10:00 pm, 18th February 2019

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for his work in securing that unprecedented amount of money for an untagged project. He and I have had long discussions about the importance of the UK Government being active in the Scottish economic scene. I will come on to say something more about that, with which I hope he will agree.

We need to make sure that all parts of Stirling, whether geographic or social, can benefit from this deal. In rural Stirling, we want to see financial and other practical support for rural business hubs. Some of these are already delivering for their communities, and the businesses that will be located there will grow and diversify the local economy—that is badly needed. We need them in other areas of Stirling, especially in the eastern villages of Cowie, Plean and Fallin.

Digital connectivity was mentioned earlier by my hon. Friend Kirstene Hair and it is important, and our bid should be to ensure there is digital connection that these villages in rural areas can benefit from. No area should be left behind. We need to build a digitally connected district beyond the city centre. Local full fibre networks are a great way to do this, and we have commercial investment happening in Stirling though CityFibre. This fantastic investment will make Stirling truly a digital city, but in rural areas, including the eastern villages, we need this investment. I call on the Government, who have responsibility for connectivity, to make direct investment in these areas and make that a reality.

We need government, especially the Scottish Government, to get serious about rural infrastructure. Whether we are talking about getting a new bridge for Callander, which would transform the economy there, or turning the A811 Stirling to Balloch road into a trunk road, the needs are there to be seen. I would like to see these projects treated as major upgrades to the national infrastructure, because of the positive economic benefit they would bring far beyond the communities where those items of infrastructure would be constructed. These benefits would be real, impactful and immediate. It is imperative that all levels of government pull together in such areas.

Today, I ask the Minister to comment on what additional support could be given. We have the commitment for funding on the projects, but what I feel is lacking is a stronger overall commitment from the UK Government to get more heavily involved in promoting and investing in the Scottish economy; I am concerned about a lasting thought of “devolve and forget” in the UK Government. I want to hear assurances from Ministers that the UK shared prosperity fund will be used for this purpose by the UK Government in Scotland.

There are very few UK Government departmental offices in Scotland, with the only significant presence of any Department being that of the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy in Aberdeen, where an office is dedicated to promoting the oil and gas industry. The Scottish economy is more varied than that, and the case for a UK Government presence in central Scotland is compelling.