It is a pleasure to follow Martin Whitfield. The comments he has just made about Brexit, which is of course the most contentious issue we face, highlight the fact that these end-of-term debates, even when discussing such serious issues, are always conducted in a good-natured way. It is always a pleasure to take part in them.
My hon. Friend Bob Stewart raised a particular issue that I suspect none of us were aware of, and highlighted something that could affect any of our constituents. Others, such as John Grogan, have focused on various aspects of their constituency. My hon. Friend Sir David Amess, who is not in his place, had the temerity to suggest that Southend should have city status, when he knows full well that Cleethorpes is the premier resort of the east coast. He suggested that the Taiwanese representative to the UK would have said that Southend beats Cleethorpes, but I know the Taiwanese representative could not possibly have said that. He is too much of a diplomat, and he will also know that his opposite number in Taipei spent part of her childhood in Cleethorpes, so he would be on dangerous ground if he were to make such an outrageous comment.
Sporting themes have been touched on, so it would be remiss of me not to mention Grimsby Town Football Club. Many perhaps do not know that they play in Cleethorpes; Blundell Park, their home ground where they have played since 1898, is indeed in Cleethorpes. Another anomaly is that Cleethorpes Town Football Club, who play in the northern premier league, actually play in Grimsby. Such are the oddities that surround Grimsby and Cleethorpes, where the only recognition that there is a border is when you come to passport control.
More seriously, there are a number of issues I particularly wanted to raise that affect the local area. I think my hon. Friend Bob Blackman mentioned the role of local authorities, and of course he is a long-serving local authority leader. I have two local authorities serving my area, both unitary councils—North Lincolnshire and North East Lincolnshire. As an aside, I hope some future Government will consider imposing unitary authorities across the country, because I think they are far more efficient and would lead to more resources being made available to provide frontline services.
I recognise the continuing constraints on Government budgets, but I will repeat what I have said on a number of occasions: local authorities need additional resources, and the cuts that have been made to them, although necessary, have probably gone as far as most authorities can manage. It is not just the essential services that those authorities provide, such as adult care, dealing with looked-after children, waste collection and so on, but those things that, while perhaps not essential, improve our quality of life—libraries, parks, open spaces and the like. The feel-good factor plays a part; if we have a nice environment to live in, the reality is that antisocial behaviour is reduced and we all enjoy the facilities provided.
North Lincolnshire Council has the advantage of the business rate pilot, which was introduced last year with the 75% deal. Unfortunately, North East Lincolnshire Council, which applied for it this year, was not given the go-ahead. I have not yet had any feedback on the reasoning for that, but I will put on the record my hope that that will be rectified in future.
Mr Laurence Robertson in the Chair
Local enterprise partnerships also affect local economic policy. Both my local authorities are members of the Humber LEP and also the Greater Lincolnshire LEP. As a result of the review currently taking place, there is a possibility that local councils will be able to have membership of only one LEP. I can understand the logic of that. It tidies things up from a purely administrative point of view, but I hope the Government will focus their attention on the LEPs that are less successful. In our area, the Humber LEP focuses on the offshore renewables sector and skills that are vital to our local area, and the Greater Lincolnshire LEP focuses on food and seafood processing in the Grimsby/Cleethorpes area. The industry employs more than 5,000 people and works very closely with the Greater Lincolnshire LEP on several projects.
I am pleased that both the Business Secretary and the Local Government Secretary have given me and council leaders the opportunity of putting our case personally to them, but I hope they will take note of what was said, and, where there is a successful operation of local enterprise partnerships, support it and allow it to continue. I am sure the administrative ease of being a member of only one can be overcome.
I also draw attention to another aspect of the local economy: our successful designation earlier this year as a part of the Greater Grimsby town deal, which was the first town deal that the Government agreed to. Previously we were familiar with city deals. Under both Labour and Conservative Governments, the focus on cities has been quite successful with city regions and the like, and there has been a boost to many of our cities as a result. However, in recent years many of our provincial towns have fallen behind and they need additional support if they are to revive their local economies. The town deal for Greater Grimsby—this is crucial—is private sector led and involves the whole community. We have representatives from the LEPs, the universities and English Heritage, or whatever it calls itself now, as well as from the local authorities, both Members of Parliament and so on. It is wide-ranging and there are large employers in the area. I thank the Government for the designation and for the support that they have given subsequently. The local authorities are extremely pleased and they will of course be a key part of the town deal.
The Humber ports are another important part of our local economy, particularly Immingham in my constituency and neighbouring Grimsby. The Grimsby and Immingham port complex, measured by tonnage, is the largest port in the country. It is absolutely crucial, as Members will appreciate, to the local economy. I hope that in the post-Brexit world, we will seriously consider free port status, which I have raised with various Ministers. Indeed, I am fortunate enough to have been elected chairman of the all-party group on free ports. It is a concept that needs serious consideration and could give a real boost to northern coastal economies.
A recent report published by the Mace consultancy talks about superports in the north of England that could increase employment opportunities considerably. I hope that that is given serious consideration. We had a debate in this Chamber about two months ago when the Exchequer Secretary was reasonably supportive of the project, given the constraints of Government policy at the moment. He said it is technically possible to create free ports and free zones while we are members of the EU, but port operators and businesses have pointed out to me that there are far too many hoops to get through and hurdles to get over to make it a sensible project.
I will conclude by mentioning direct rail services. The Minister who will respond to this debate is a former Rail Minister who took a great interest in this project and a similar service to his own constituency. He also represents a coastal community and will be aware of the great opportunities that open up if we can get direct services, particularly to London. On the “Today” programme yesterday, John Larkinson, the interim chief executive of the Office of Rail and Road, hinted that he was rather enthusiastic about increasing open-access operators on the network. That might be possible. As the Minister knows, there were previous applications from an open-access operator to operate services up the mainline and then from Doncaster through Scunthorpe to Grimsby and Cleethorpes. The operator withdrew an application that was going to be submitted earlier this year because of the review that is taking place.
I now hope that the Government will enthusiastically support open-access operations, including on Boxing day, which the hon. Member for Keighley mentioned in his early-day motion and which he will be pleased to know I have already supported. I hope the Minister and shadow Minister will take on board the need to get to Cleethorpes more easily from London, York and Blackpool, and from all parts of the nation because, as I said in my opening remarks, it is the premier resort of the east coast.
Finally, Mr Robertson, I wish you, everyone in this Chamber and the House, and all our constituents a happy Christmas. I should acknowledge, as other Members have, all those who play such an important part in our local communities, running charities, voluntary groups and so on. Without them, our communities would be much the poorer. Happy Christmas to one and all.