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Local Infrastructure (East Midlands)

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:33 am on 20th March 2018.

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Photo of Tony Lloyd Tony Lloyd Shadow Minister (Housing, Communities and Local Government) (Housing) 10:33 am, 20th March 2018

Today’s debate is not about the north of England, but clearly I welcome what the right hon. Gentleman has mentioned. However, I do not just live in the Greater Manchester area; as I travel around, I recognise that we have a long way to go. I recently travelled between Manchester and Nottingham, and the journey was frankly worse than many decades ago, when I lived in Nottingham as a young man. We have to do better. [Interruption.] It was many decades ago—hon. Members can check the record. The investment in St Pancras is welcome, but it has not been mirrored by the same kind of investment in Nottingham station. It is not of the same quality as our London stations.

Another issue is the atomisation of local government. I was talking to the deputy leader of Derby City Council recently, and he made the point that the building control and planning departments in his city council have been eroded over recent years, and that is typical of every local authority across the country. I welcome the fact that there will now be an increase in fees in this area, but the skills infrastructure in our local authorities has declined, and it will take time to rebuild that. We need to recognise that if infrastructure is destroyed, it takes time to rebuild it.

My hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield made the point that we have the same issue with the skills mix in the construction industry. In the east midlands, we simply do not have the skilled workers for the great leap forward that we need. Those are major issues that we have to look at. Another issue that the Government have to address on infrastructure investment—this is another point that the deputy leader in Derby made to me—is that when Derby, for example, is trying to match its schools with its housing developments, because all new schools have to be academies and therefore delivered outside the local authority framework, a much more complicated balancing act is now needed to incentivise local people to look at section 106 funding to erect the structure for a new school to be built. That is not the right way to plan. We need better mechanics for our planning.

Statistics on the level of infrastructure may be misleading, but they are an important comparator. As a nation, we do not invest in our infrastructure. The World Economic Forum said recently that when it comes to infrastructure quality we have slipped from 16th place to 24th between 2006 and today. That is a major issue if we are to attract the inward investment into the east midlands and other parts of the country. Even the Government’s present plans for infrastructure spending—about 2.8% of GDP—are below the OECD’s recommended level of 3.5% internationally. We are falling behind even now, as the economic tide has changed after the global crisis. We are still lagging behind the levels of infrastructure spending that we need.

Within that, the east midlands does badly. Hon. Members on both sides of the Chamber representing communities in the east midlands should be jumping up and down on that issue. The spend on transport infrastructure in the east midlands is some 49% of the national average. That is a long way short of what the east midlands needs for the local schemes that Government Members have talked about. The spend on health is only 79% of the national average; on schools, it is some 78%. At important levels, the east midlands is sliding behind what the nation as a whole can deliver. Hon. Members ought to be concerned about that.

East Midlands Councils, in its committee report, said:

“The recent trend has worsened…and in summary, Government statistics demonstrate that in 2015-16, the East Midlands has…The lowest level of public expenditure on ‘economic affairs’…The lowest level of public expenditure on transport, in total and per head…The lowest level of public expenditure on rail per head…The 3rd lowest on health care…The 3rd lowest on education…The 3rd lowest total of public expenditure on services, in total and per head.”

Frankly, if I were an east midlands MP I would be saying to the Minister, “It’s not good enough. What are you going to do about it?”

The fundamental issue, which comes back to the important speech made by the hon. Member for Northampton South, is that central Government will never provide the joined-up structures that we need to deliver the infrastructure development that will liberate the houses of the future. With no disrespect to the Minister, he covers a huge range of issues. A Treasury Minister probably ought to be responding to today’s debate, if we are to see real join-up in central Government. We also have to give our local communities, through their local elected representatives, the capacity for strategic planning both to build housing consistent with local communities, and to plan public infrastructure, so that schools, hospitals, health services, roads, and transport systems are provided for those houses and those communities.

This is a very important debate, and I congratulate the hon. Member for North East Derbyshire on securing it.