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

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:43 am on 9th May 2018.

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Photo of Robert Jenrick Robert Jenrick The Exchequer Secretary 10:43 am, 9th May 2018

I thank my hon. Friend for his constructive approach. I suggest that he engage with the CMA if he wishes to take anything forward.

Schools do not fall directly within my remit at the Treasury, but in advance of the debate I reviewed the performance of Isle of Wight schools. I appreciate that in some cases there are some long-standing difficulties. The new national funding formula will help to address that challenge. Under the new formula, the Isle of Wight stands to gain up to 3.2% for its schools, which represents an increase of £2.2 million, or £140 per pupil. Clearly the new formula’s interest in sparsity of population will help in some island cases, but not in all because some islands are relatively densely populated. In certain parts of the Isle of Wight, however, that sparsity provision will help—I believe two primary schools will be eligible for funding in that respect. Certainly the specific challenges of the Isle of Wight need to be considered in future funding formulations.

I shall turn briefly to the comments of the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland and to those islands that fall into the category of remote, or very remote, and without any of the direct transport links of a road bridge. Clearly, such islands require careful consideration by central Government. We shall work as constructively as possible with the Scottish Government in areas where we can collaborate. When the right hon. Gentleman was in Government, he created the 2014 island framework to encourage the UK Government to work closely with the islands around Scotland. We would like to see such initiatives continue.

The Government also recognise the issues with broadband, and we want to do what we can to assist in Scotland. For example, more than £50 million of the superfast broadband programme went to the Scottish highlands and islands to provide access to download speeds of at least 24 megabits per second. Recently, we announced the winners of phase 1 of the £25 million 5G testbed competition. That includes £4.3 million for the 5G RuralFirst testbed, which will be based primarily in the Orkney Islands.

As far as possible, we continue to support North sea oil and gas through continued Treasury investment, and a strong and stable fiscal framework for the oil and gas industry, most recently with the announcement of the transferable tax history, which has been widely welcomed by the industry. I take on board the comments of the right hon. Gentleman with respect to renewables and the essential role that they play, and will continue to play, in the future of islands such as the Orkneys and Shetlands. I shall take away his suggestion about wave and tidal funding.

Finally, on islands connected to the mainland by road, the most prominent one we heard about today was Hayling Island, which sounded like a wonderful place. I would love to visit the bookshop or the ferry and, on a day like today, we would all like to be on an island such as Hayling. Many of the issues raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Havant are common in other rural areas elsewhere in the United Kingdom, and we are concerned about them. We are, for example, making further investment in roads. We have launched the large local majors programme, which is potentially transformative for market towns and smaller communities that require significant road investment projects. I encourage my hon. Friend to take that up with the Department for Transport, if applicable.

We are also aware of bank closures, which have been widely debated in the House and are common to a number of communities throughout the United Kingdom, although I appreciate that in islands the effect can be greater than elsewhere. The schools funding formula will help many island communities, as it will in my hon. Friend’s constituency, and we would like to see that taken forward. Since 2012 the coastal communities fund has invested £174 million in projects focused on economic development, growing and regenerating coastal areas. The Isles of Scilly have benefited from the fund, as did the Hayling coastal community team in 2015, from £10,000. Funding round 5 is now open, with £40 million available to spend from April 2019 until the end of March 2021.