This is a really important debate. To provide some context, the HMRC office in my constituency closed in 2014, with staff relocated to Manchester, so I can give Stuart C. McDonald two ends of the perspective: I can tell him about the conversations that took place before the closure and about the impact on the town, after the closure.
If the plans are about value for money, we have to ask ourselves why HMRC head office still occupies some of the most expensive real estate in Europe, at the Treasury. That building would make a fantastic five-star hotel, I am sure. The plans are not about value for money but about a fixed view of government, which is, “To hell with towns!”
If all we do is focus on our city centres, we will not be able to realise the true potential of our country. If all we do is to think that what matters is to have our cities thriving, at the expense of the surrounding towns, this country will not move on and make progress—we will not address that very real anger that I felt during the Brexit campaign. People were saying that they were sick of the settlement they have been given, they are sick of industry and well-paid, decent jobs going, and they are sick of seeing their town centres in decline. Those who are in a position to do something about that seem completely indifferent to the impact on their communities.