We face a unique economic challenge that requires bold action, and that is exactly what we have seen from the Chancellor today. It is important to recognise that we are able to take such measures to save jobs now only because of the difficult decisions that have been made over the past 10 years. If we had listened to the Opposition, I dread to think what state our public finances would be in and how much more limited our room for manoeuvre would be in this crisis.
Let me be clear: this is not a choice between economic growth and public health. The two are intrinsically linked. Poverty also leads to excess deaths. Economic growth does not guarantee progress, happiness or personal fulfilment, but the absence of growth makes those things so much harder to come by, and the most vulnerable inevitably end up suffering most.
The Government are absolutely right to focus on infrastructure investment as a key part of creating jobs and stimulating economic growth across the whole country, particularly in places such as the High Peak. The truth is that over the past few decades, Governments of all parties have failed to invest properly in transport infrastructure outside London and the south-east. If we are serious about creating jobs and tackling regional inequality, we have to invest in transport infrastructure in places like the High Peak. The rest of the country is not less productive than London because the people are less intelligent or do not work as hard; it is because our public transport systems are decades behind the capital’s.
There is so much potential to be unlocked and so many projects that would make a huge difference. Let me put forward a few suggestions. Let us build the Mottram bypass and the trans-Pennine tunnel to solve the long-standing congestion problems around Glossop and remove the road bottleneck between Manchester and Sheffield. While we are at it, let us upgrade the Hope Valley line and improve the rail links between Manchester and Sheffield. These are two of our country’s major cities and the transport links are simply not good enough. I am prepared to bet that if senior civil servants were commuting to work from places such as New Mills, Chinley or Bamford, that line would have been upgraded decades ago. We badly need to upgrade Manchester Piccadilly station to remove the bottleneck that holds back the entire northern rail network.
We need to connect communities that have been effectively excluded from the public transport network. The people of Gamesley were first promised a railway station more than 50 years ago. Building Gamesley station would create jobs, get cars off the road and transform the life chances of people in one of the most deprived areas of the country.
Infrastructure is more than just transport. We need to turbocharge the roll-out of fast and reliable broadband, especially to rural areas like mine; we need to get on and build new urgent care centres at Tameside Hospital and Stepping Hill Hospital, and push ahead with plans for a new major health centre in Buxton; and we need to repair the dam at Toddbrook reservoir near Whaley Bridge, hopefully with a new hydro scheme and a circular path.
I am aware that I have just rolled off a list of ambitious projects. To deliver them, we need more than just political will; we need to get the nuts and bolts of delivery right. I have talked about bottlenecks in our transport network, but to solve them we need to address the bottlenecks in our construction industry and our planning system. It might not be as glamorous or exciting as the big money announcements, but it is just as essential. We need to make certain we have the skills and the people in place to build the infrastructure, and the supply chains to get them the materials and machinery they need. Therefore, I wholeheartedly welcome the Chancellor’s announcements on training schemes and apprenticeships, but we should be thinking more carefully about how they can be targeted to the industries that we need to build infrastructure.
To sum up, the next few months will be extremely difficult. There is no magic wand or silver bullet and we will not get everything right, but I am confident that if we work together, we will get through this.