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I welcome the Queen’s Speech. It is wide-ranging and relevant and it has ambition for the country and the regions.
As a Greater Manchester MP, I understand the importance of ensuring that the benefits of a prospering economy reach every corner of the UK. For decades, the north of England has lagged behind the rest of the UK, especially London, economically, but the devolution agenda, in the guise of the northern powerhouse, set in motion by the Conservatives in government, has changed and empowered the ambition of the northern city regions and Greater Manchester has been at the forefront. The plans for a national infrastructure strategy are timely and I welcome its two key aims.
Investment in vital infrastructure and improving living standards are principal drivers of change, and the ability to deliver better jobs and opportunities is the foundation of a healthy and productive local economy. Opportunity begins with education. Because of the historically low levels of funding in Stockport our schools have received significantly less per pupil than other areas, so I welcome the recent increase in funding, with all but three of the schools in Cheadle benefiting, in some cases by almost £500 extra per pupil.
When we properly fund our children’s education we are investing in their future and expanding their opportunities in employment. Low unemployment in Cheadle indicates a strong economy, but the ambition across our region is also for greater employment opportunities, particularly in developing a high-tech, digital and biotech business environment that will see the Cheshire-Manchester science corridor rival that of Cambridge. The first industrial revolution began in Manchester, and this national infrastructure strategy heralds the emergence of the fourth industrial revolution in the north.
Delivering higher-quality, better-paid jobs is not simply an end in itself, but links to a healthier population and a more productive workforce and economy. We can close the productivity gap between London and the north more easily with a healthier workforce. Health is a driver of a strong economy. Recently, the Northern Health Science Alliance highlighted the link between increased health spending in the north and productivity. Its “Health for Wealth” report indicated a strong link between health spending and the boost in productivity that we can expect. That is why the increased funding package for the NHS and the £30.6 million for Stepping Hill Hospital in my constituency are most welcome.
Transport is also devolved in Greater Manchester, and while I await the Mayor’s plans for the implementation of measures made possible through the Bus Services Act 2017, I ask the Government to consider how they can support any changes that may be implemented. My constituents should not have to endure an undue financial burden in order to accommodate the Mayor’s franchising proposals.
A national infrastructure strategy needs a national infrastructure project. I was initially pleased to hear the Prime Minister’s commitment to Northern Powerhouse Rail between Manchester and Leeds, and I, along with other northern MPs, will continue to press for its full completion. Delivering on the Northern Powerhouse Rail proposals would mean that businesses and commuters will be within 90 minutes by train of four or more of our largest cities. I have also made representations to the Oakervee review, stressing the importance of HS2 to the north and to my constituents. Rail projects between north and south and east and west should be delivered from the north and delivered as one national infrastructure project.
The second key strand to the strategy is addressing the critical challenges posed by climate change, building on the UK’s world-leading commitment to achieve net zero emissions. I therefore welcome the Environment Bill. However, I urge the Government to consider what more can be done about flooding, because homes and livelihoods in my constituency have been put at risk. Repeated flooding has caused many people to be out of their homes for some time, and yet they are unable to access resilience funding, so I ask the Government to consider a permanent resilience fund.