Economic Growth: East of England

Part of Asylum Accommodation Contracts – in Westminster Hall at 5:16 pm on 10th October 2018.

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Photo of Richard Harrington Richard Harrington Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) 5:16 pm, 10th October 2018

I could not quite hear what they were saying, and it is probably better that I could not.

I congratulate my hon. Friend Peter Aldous not only on calling today’s debate but on his contributions to many other debates I have taken part in. He has always contributed in a non-partisan and a very statesmanlike way, and today was absolutely no exception. I welcome the east of England APPG submission, which we have read in my Department. I hope that some of my points respond to its recommendations.

I have a bit of a strange relationship with the east of England, simply because my constituency, as mentioned by my hon. Friend, is in the east of England, but most people who live in it do not think they are in the east of England, simply because it is such a large area, as was mentioned by several hon. Members. It varies from what some people think is outer London—it is not quite, but there is a more urban type of London demographic—to areas that are geographically quite remote. My right hon. Friend Priti Patel mentioned—eloquently, as ever—that Essex is a huge county in its own right: it varies from outer London urban to quite remote country areas. It is difficult for any policy to take into consideration such a large area, and there is no simple solution. I accept the point about transport and more modern infrastructures being critical to everything, and I will come to that. It is easy for the European Union and national Government to talk of regions—as we talk about metropolitan areas—as being fairly homogenous.

I want to reiterate the Government’s commitment to promoting growth in the east of England. Any Minister would say that, and I would certainly say that to my constituents in the east of England. But the facts speak for themselves. The region is growing fast. It has seen continued growth in jobs and is one of only three regions that is a net contributor to the UK. Those are exactly the sorts of strengths the country needs to build on in securing a prosperous economic future for the UK as a whole.

As my hon. Friend Dr Poulter said, the region has not always pushed its case well, probably because of its large area and the different organisations in it. The all-party group’s report clearly reverses that, but as my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney said, it is the beginning of a process, not a one-off report—the Government certainly do not treat it as such.

Hon. Members highlighted many of the strengths of the east of England. I will not repeat the comprehensive list, but there are world-famous brands in Cambridge, which Daniel Zeichner mentioned, as there are in Milton Keynes, Hertfordshire, the coastal region and so on. However, I agree with him that the future is not guaranteed, which is why we have an industrial strategy. The shadow Minister was really quite scathing about that strategy—I hope I have time to come on to that. Governments have industrial strategies and policies because nothing in the economy is guaranteed. She mentioned the effects of our leaving the European Union. None of us knows what they will be, but whatever happens while we are in the European Union or out of it, nothing is guaranteed. It is important that the Government realise the importance of the east of England to the economy.

The shadow Minister will disagree, but since 2010 the Government have made good progress on supporting businesses and people in the east of England. Unemployment has halved, the number of small businesses has increased by more than 100,000 and, although good points were made about apprenticeships, 350,000 people have started them in the area.

The hon. Member for Cambridge mentioned the CPIER report. I welcome that and look forward to seeing how it is reflected in the local industrial strategy. He also mentioned land value capture. The Treasury and I look forward to receiving further developed proposals on land value capture in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough from the Mayor in due course. We have yet to see the full effect of Mayors, but I am positive about them and pleased that we have them.

The east of England is at the forefront of industrial strategy. We have local enterprise partnerships and, as I said, mayoral combined authorities developing and implementing industrial strategies. We are at the beginning of that road, but the east of England is in good shape. The Cambridgeshire and Peterborough combined authority and the South East Midlands LEP have been identified as trailblazer areas as part of the Oxford to Cambridge arc. Those pilot areas have made good progress and are on track to publish their strategies in March next year, with the rest of the region publishing theirs in 2020.

I reject much of what the shadow Minister said—not because she has a premier league football team in her constituency. I have made rather unpleasant comments about that, which I would like to withdraw, and I apologise for any offence caused. I am sure Newcastle United will remain in the premier league at least for this season, if not beyond. If that does not happen, at least she can blame their relegation on our leaving the European Union, since she seems to blame that for everything else.