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Economies of the UK Islands — [Andrew Rosindell in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:30 am on 9th May 2018.

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Photo of Peter Dowd Peter Dowd Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury 10:30 am, 9th May 2018

I agree with the right hon. Gentleman, and his point feeds into the whole question of devolution within nations. Whether we like it or not, there is centralisation down here in Whitehall and Westminster. That is not a criticism, as it happens in all parties. In the past, I have called it—forgive the phrase, Mr Rosindell—the anal retention down here. It is not particularly helpful or productive. Local communities know their areas best and it is best for communities to get on and use their discretion, within as wide a parameter as possible, to provide services in their areas. They tend to know best.

Given how these local economies are often heavily reliant upon the public sector, following major structural changes to the economy of the last four decades, it is little surprise that some communities are under stress. The hon. Member for Havant referred to commercial practicalities. Sometimes, they will close down banks, pubs and other services. Do we permit that to happen, or do we do something to ameliorate it? It is sometimes the Government’s job to help and to intervene—not to direct or do too much, but to go in and help communities where such services are the lifeblood. In 10 or 15 years’ time, we will all be concerned that such services have de facto closed down, and we will ask what we could have done to support them.

Some islands are getting increasingly desperate about the way things are. All joking aside, some people on Canvey Island want independence because they do not feel they are getting the deal they should be getting. That underlines the point that the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland made about devolution and about local communities being able to run themselves where possible.

It is important that the Government begin to invest in the UK island economies and engage with their populations. Whether that means the Isle of Wight or a small island off the Scottish coast, that has to happen. It could mean investing to stimulate employment opportunities on UK islands, as the increasingly unpredictable cycle of seasonal work is clearly not enough to sustain island economies. Anglesey and Orkney have demonstrated that investment in renewable energy can deliver sustainable jobs and put the UK on the path to energy security, as the right hon. Gentleman said. The Government have to stop being blinkered; they must look at these issues and at how they can work with communities.

The Opposition have some transformative proposals, such as our plan for a coastal communities fund—a policy we have been consulting on since the election, and which we will begin to outline in due course. I believe it will address some of the issues that the hon. Member for Havant raised, deliver investment in a number of UK island economies and hopefully bring them back from the brink. In our grey book, “Funding Britain’s Future”, we set out an immediate increase in local government funding while we review council tax and business rates. That in itself will not prevent some communities from going over the edge, but we have to send them the message that we are here to help and support them, and that we will do everything we can to ensure they continue so that we maintain the diversity of our country. I am sure the hon. Gentleman will welcome that injection of investment into his community.

We need a radical rethink to help communities that feel under pressure, left behind and under threat. Tinkering at the edges is not good enough, and will not help island communities, in their diversity, to succeed.