Only a few days to go: We’re raising £25,000 to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can hold their elected representatives to account.Donate to our crowdfunder
We are, I think, drawing to the end of maiden speech season. Over the past few weeks, I have heard, and seen, many hon. Friends give very moving speeches, speaking with incredible passion for their constituencies. Indeed, I have learned much about the lives and places across these isles. I congratulate my hon. Friend Sally-Ann Hart, who talked so warmly about her constituency.
I wish to begin by paying tribute to my predecessor, Faisal Rashid, who represented Warrington South for only a short period, arriving in this place in 2017. Before becoming a Member of Parliament, Faisal made history in Warrington by becoming the borough’s first Muslim mayor, and I thank him for the work he did to forge relationships between different communities in Warrington.
I am the third Member of Parliament since 2010 for Warrington South, and, if I may, I would also like to pay a brief tribute to David Mowat, who represented the area for seven years from 2010. David was an excellent constituency MP who did many things in this place to change the lives of Warringtonians. I really saw that when I was campaigning. During the election, I was knocking on people’s doors and they told me that they would like to vote for him. Fortunately, I was able to convince them that it was me they needed to vote for. David was also a very effective Health Minister, and I thank him for the advice and guidance he has offered. I also wish to express my thanks to the Warrington Conservative Association for all its support in getting me to this place.
Having thanked my political predecessors, I want to show my love and appreciation to my family for giving me the space and opportunity to turn a political interest into a fully-fledged obsession: to my wife Aggie, who keeps me grounded with questions as challenging as any I hear on the doorstep; to my son Harry, who this season gave me permission to miss the occasional Saturday morning under-12 Appleton boys football match so that I could go knocking on doors; and to my mum and my brother Richard—thank you for your love and support. By the way, I checked this morning and the Appleton FC U12 Pythons are at the top of their league. They are having a pretty impressive season and promotion beckons, and I thank the parent coaches for the work they do to support the boys and girls at Appleton football club.
I may not have been born there but I am really proud to say that Warrington is my hometown. We are at the very centre of the north-west, both geographically and economically. When I am describing where my constituency is, I say, “Well it is in the golden triangle of the M6, M60 and M56 motorways, equidistant between Manchester and Liverpool, on the route of the west coast main line.” We hope it will be on the route of the new Northern Powerhouse Rail line. Warrington Bank Quay station would be a fantastic hub for rail in the north-west—something that I look forward to discussing with the Minister of State, Department for Transport, my hon. Friend Andrew Stephenson, in the coming weeks.
It is not just roads and rail in Warrington—we have got water too. We are on the banks of the Mersey and crossed by the country’s first canal, the Bridgewater, and we have the engineering miracle that is the Manchester ship canal. Anyone who lives in Stockton Heath, Walton or Latchford will tell you how gracefully, and slowly, a fully-loaded cargo ship passes through the swing bridges, as traffic comes to a halt and we all gaze at the ocean-bound vessel as it moves through the town centre, a good 20 miles from the sea.
We are incredibly lucky to have lovely Cheshire villages: Grappenhall, with its stone cobbled streets, and the original Cheshire cat carved into the stone on St Wilfrid’s church tower; and tranquil Lymm Dam, home of “The Bongs”—wooded banks, in Cheshire dialect—a favourite for dog walkers and nature lovers. We have our famous golden gates, recently given a new lease of life and looking splendid in front of the town hall. We have Great Sankey and Penketh, once part of Lancashire, to the west of the town, with the latter home to the dominating, but soon to be demolished, Fiddlers Ferry power station.
One thing people notice when they step off the train at Warrington Bank Quay is a smell; for 136 years, Warrington has been home to washing powder. We have produced the powder that keeps the country’s clothes clean. Soap-making history dates back to the 1750s, when Joseph Crossfield and Son opened a small works. Sadly, that is coming to an end, as Unilever has just announced the closure of its plant, bringing an end to manufacturing in the town, and I offer my thoughts and support to the 123 people who, this week, have found out that they are losing their jobs.
That said, Warrington South is seeing tremendous renewal. It is an area that has changed, in some cases beyond all recognition, with new homes built. We have Chapelford, a new urban village, which was once RAF Burtonwood. We have business parks such as Lingley Mere, home to big employers who are making the most of our fantastic location. For some, the prospect of too much change is a genuine concern, and I share the view of many of my constituents on the need to maintain the green space while taking every opportunity to regenerate areas of our town centre.
I have had a few weeks to think about what I might like to mention in my maiden speech, and being able to take this opportunity to do so during the Budget debate gives me great scope to talk about the role that small business plays in our economy and the impact that some of the decisions the Chancellor made yesterday will have on families in my constituency and across the country. Before I do that, I want to briefly mention an area in which I have been involved and that I hope I can champion here, too.
The UK needs advanced technical skills at all levels if we are to prosper in the 21st century. We need a workforce that can develop new products, stretch and reuse existing resources, and meet the challenges of the future. Through creativity and innovation, investing in our schools and developing better links with employers, we need to generate the skills for the future. That must be part of our thinking.
Let me turn to the Budget. As someone who was, until recently, running a small family business, many of the announcements made yesterday resonated with me greatly. My constituency has some of the highest levels of new start-ups anywhere in the UK—successful businessmen and women who are willing to go it alone, working to support not only their own family but the families of their employees.
Small and medium-sized enterprises account for three fifths of all employment and around half of turnover in the UK private sector, so getting the landscape right is vital. Increasing the business rate retail discount to 100% for the next year, and its expansion to the leisure and hospitality sectors, will benefit our town centres.
For many self-employed homeworkers, the delivery of the next generation of broadband cannot come soon enough. I welcome the record £5 billion funding commitment to support gigabit-capable broadband.
I conclude by mentioning an area that is on the fringes of Warrington but offers much employment to my constituents: Daresbury science park, which has developed into a brilliantly innovative campus with an incredibly bright future. As the Secretary of State said earlier, the Budget promises more investment into high-risk and high-reward science. At Daresbury, they are pioneering big-data analytics and artificial intelligence, with the potential to create a further 9,000 jobs over the next 15 years. I am particularly pleased to see the additional £400 million promised for the forthcoming year for research, infrastructure and equipment.
I urge Ministers to look at the golden triangle of Warrington as a place to invest. When Warrington wins, we all triumph. When our nation climbs, as it will with this Budget, we all soar.