Today the Chancellor has put forward another excellent set of measures to help the UK, and no more so than in West Dorset, where 97% of our businesses are small or micro-sized. We need urgent attention to our connectivity, with 1.42 megabits per second broadband speed compared with 200 megabits per second here in London, and single railway lines across the county with a three-hourly rail frequency. Our economy in West Dorset could have its sprinting potential thoroughly unleashed, not only by the measures the Chancellor has announced today but with further infrastructure investment.
The current wave of remote working presents an enormous opportunity for West Dorset. It has shown that business and commerce does not have to revolve around London, or, indeed, other cities. People can be even more productive from their kitchen table in West Dorset than in urban office blocks. Why have conditioned and recirculated air from the polluted cities when you can breathe the fresh air of West Dorset? If sustained, this shift in working habits can be the catalyst in levelling up the rural and coastal communities of this nation, creating many well-paid opportunities for local people—but we need fast and reliable broadband that is accessible at home and at work.
Local enterprise partnerships should be coming into their own at this point, but from my experience in West Dorset, LEPs vary in their capability to deliver any economic benefits through infrastructure investment. May I therefore urge the Minister, perhaps along with his colleagues in the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, to review the LEPs’ deliverability against their remit and, where necessary, drive the radical reform required to deliver the Government’s agenda?
I welcome the Chancellor’s announcements on stamp duty. However, rural economies are not well served by building enormous new housing developments like the one planned for the outskirts of Dorchester. These developments quash the economic potential of building modest numbers of new houses in our villages, which is what will ensure the future of our local schools, shops, pubs, garages and parish churches.
The economic damage inflicted by coronavirus is indeed tragic, but it now presents us with the opportunity to build back better—to stimulate the economy and to address rural isolation, social deprivation and the issues that have challenged our rural and coastal communities for many decades.