Quarterly reports on environmental impact, costs and progress

Part of High Speed Rail (West Midlands - Crewe) Bill – in the House of Commons at 5:00 pm on 15th July 2019.

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Photo of Laura Smith Laura Smith Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office) 5:00 pm, 15th July 2019

I personally believe that the hon. Gentleman needs to look at the benefits of HS2 for people in his constituency, such as the jobs that it will bring. I do not think that it is all doom and gloom for his constituents, and I will continue to speak positively about my own constituency.

The railway went on to open a cheese market and a clothing factory, and donated the land that would become Queens Park, which to this day attracts visitors from outside the town. At its height, Crewe Works provided employment for more than 20,000 skilled workers in a vast span of workshops stretching for nearly two and a half miles: forges, carpenters, boilermakers, machinists and apprentices. It was common for several generations of the same family to enjoy fruitful careers there, and the sense of pride in our works is still felt today.

By 2019, the workforce had fallen to fewer than 400, a fraction of its former size, and much of the former site has now been sold off. In its place stand icons of the modern economy, a supermarket and a cinema. Now the wall on its western boundary has been selected for demolition. For many local people, that will be a visual metaphor for the sense of loss and decline that has afflicted too many families.

However, it is not all bad. The railway still plays an important role in our local economy. Now owned by Bombardier, Crewe Works still offers quality employment opportunities to local people. Crewe is also home to Bentley Motors, a global success story providing thousands of skilled jobs. In addition to the large employers, we have many small and medium-sized businesses that are punching well above their weight, and a number of them are already benefiting from HS2.

I am not one for looking back on a fictional past through rose-tinted glasses. Change—for the better—is not only welcome, but must be pursued. It is in all our interests for the UK economy to produce the goods that people need and want. Nevertheless, the narrative really does matter, and the way in which our economy has changed has not benefited everyone. Decades of inaction by successive Governments have left the north to the mercy of market forces, and those forces have themselves been turbo-charged by aggressive globalisation. Many northern towns and cities are still struggling to recover from the industrial decline of the 1970s and 1980s, and the north-south divide threatens to hold back our national productivity.

The median wage in Crewe and Nantwich is literally thousands of pounds less per year than the UK average, despite the existence of well-paid jobs such as those that I mentioned earlier, which will be pushing up the average. Many workers in my constituency have seen little or no improvement in their living standards over the last decade, and some have even seen their living standards fall dramatically. Relatively high employment levels mask the reality of an increasing number of people finding themselves in precarious jobs, or working for poverty pay in low-productivity employment. As a result, more people in poverty now live in working households than in non-working households, after housing costs are taken into account. Consequently, our economy has become reliant on household debt, which has grown to worrying levels.

We have been told that inequality was the inevitable price of economic growth, but such arguments are now outdated, and a body of research now finds that economies in which income and wealth are shared more equally tend to have more stable paths of economic growth. If we are to build an economy that prioritises both sustainable growth and economic justice, addressing regional inequality must be part of that strategy.