Inequalities - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:55 pm on 30 November 2017.

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Photo of Lord Hunt of Chesterton Lord Hunt of Chesterton Labour 3:55, 30 November 2017

My Lords, I welcome this debate and strongly support the analysis of the UK by my noble friend Lord Liddle. As he emphasised, we have to consider issues within regions as well as between them and some of the UK’s big cities—that is critical. We must also think about different types of inequality that correlate with each other: health and mortality, the environment, economics, transport, education, tourism and culture. So I was a bit disappointed when the Library produced a document for this debate that was exclusively on economics. All those aspects are critical. We should also note the maritime aspects of the UK along our coasts.

I declare my interests as a president of ACOPS, an NGO; as having set up an SME; and as a former city councillor. The issue of mathematics has also been raised: I have been president of the Institute of Mathematics.

National and local government leaders, public bodies and the private sector play an extremely important role in trying to deal with these issues of inequality. I went to China a couple of years ago and saw how difficult it is being a mayor or local government person in that country. Ningbo is now famous in the UK for Nottingham University having a branch there. The mayor of Ningbo gets up in the morning, draws his curtains and wonders if he can see the ground, 15 storeys below, because of the pollution. He then looks to see whether he can drive because of the incredible traffic jams. He goes into his room and turns on the tap to see whether the water is brown or white. So there are big challenges in huge cities all around the world. As we deal with our own inequalities, we interact with other countries.

It is particularly important to have continuing good relations between the regions of the UK and across Europe. It is essential that these links continue. I look forward to hearing from the Minister on whether this will be a new role for the FCO or some expansion of the role of the Department for Communities and Local Government. I should like him, or one of his colleagues, to look on the DCLG website. On 29 November it recommended that local government should apply for European structural and investment funds—so I suppose that we are still being encouraged to go there. Perhaps the Minister might explain, because it sounds as if boroughs should work very fast if they are going to get in there before the witching date.

In a recent speech to the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee, the noble Lord, Lord Heseltine—who I am pleased to see in his place—emphasised the role of local initiatives, exemplified by his work in Liverpool, Docklands and elsewhere. He thought that these initiatives could be improved by reinstating the local audit commission. I was astonished to hear him say that because, when I was in local government, the commission was extremely important. It enabled local government to explore more difficult and controversial areas with a body of great experience and authority. There were many occasions when the policies and advice of the local audit commission were considered.

For example, the advice was particularly important in a controversial initiative of the early 1970s when it had to deal with the financial implications of setting up a tourist office and facility. At the time, most cities in the country did not have that controversial facility, but it was finally accepted in Cambridge. I am afraid that even the noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington, a doughty lady, opposed the radical suggestion. There is no doubt now that many new kinds of tourism initiatives and investment are now being considered, and are a most important area of development. As my noble friend Lord Prescott reminded us, you need to have planning.

Hull is an example of a city that has benefited greatly from a cultural aspect to its economic development. There has been great development in artistic tourism and the arts, all supported by local communities and councils: great sculptures and culture parks now bring many visitors to centres. I was recently in Ilfracombe and saw the large statue that Damien Hirst has loaned to Ilfracombe for 20 or 30 years, and the website for Antony Gormley’s great sculpture, the Angel of the North, states proudly that it is in conjunction with Gateshead council.

Interestingly, some centres, such as Bath, are now so popular that it is really important that the Government, through their agencies, should promote other centres of tourism and the arts, because overcrowding needs to be dealt with. So what will the Government do to support these initiatives now that we have heard the sad news that the city of culture programme, which is funded through Brussels, will be closed down? Will the Government fund our own UK cities of culture to work with our European colleagues? This is a tremendous blow to the cities and an egregious loss of regional development.

Another approach to develop less developed regions is to establish and grow science and technology centres and museums. Many of these are already very successful tourist and educational attractions, drawing in thousands of tourists, such as the Eden Project in Cornwall, Jodrell Bank, Dundee City of Design, which connects to the V&A here in London, and the National Space Centre at Leicester. We do not yet have an international mathematics museum. They have one in Toulouse, which is combined with a museum for garlic. The French have this idea that we should have centres that combine two quite different areas of intellectual or economic activity.

It is also important that some areas of the UK have particular natural scientific qualities that greatly interest schools and other educational establishments, such as the Darwin Centre in Pembrokeshire, which involves science and theatrical events. An extraordinary new example is in Lyme Bay, where economic developments, working with the local marine protected areas, have produced all sorts of activities involving geology, history and the fishing industry. Such developments are complementary to having greater industrial strength in the different regions.

Another feature I wanted to mention, which may not have been mentioned so far, or only in passing, is that we have great inequalities in health and morbidity in different towns and areas of the UK. A study by Marmot and Stafford at UCL showed differences in life expectancy, about which we have already heard, between western and eastern London boroughs and in mortality between males and females. There are comparable differences between the regions. It is a welcome fact that all socio-economic groups are living longer—but the inequality between regions and sub-regions continues. Localised air pollution is a very important cause of local mortality. These inequalities will decrease only by the application of a broad range of policies and local initiatives, such as those presented in this debate. I look forward to the Minister’s reply.