Economic Growth: South-west — [Albert Owen in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:11 pm on 5th February 2019.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Neil Parish Neil Parish Chair, Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee 3:11 pm, 5th February 2019

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Owen. It is also a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend Steve Double and I thank my hon. Friend Sir Gary Streeter for initiating the debate. As we speak here in Westminster Hall, in the main Chamber there is a debate on the police grant report. It is welcome to see the extra grant for the police forces across the country. It is very much needed.

The south-west is a great place to live, work and do business, as my hon. Friend the Member for South West Devon has said, but more needs to be done to attract and retain the high-skilled jobs that we need to boost wage growth and offer opportunities for young people. Hinkley Point will play a useful role in that. The availability of labour and skills continues to be a significant challenge to many south-west businesses affected by factors such as transport, housing affordability and an ageing population. It is great that we have several speakers here from Cornwall, but I remind them that they have to go through Devon, Somerset and many other counties before they can get to Cornwall. I remind the Minister that we are debating what has happened in the south-west peninsula. Bristol is a great city, but there is an awful lot of land between Bristol and Penzance. We want our fair share of resources, which we are getting more of, but we need even more.

In areas such as agriculture, hospitality and tourism, we continue to rely on a high proportion of migrant labour. We need a system in which we have control over migrant labour and have enough migrant workers in future. As we leave the EU, not only do we need to ensure that we can still get access to EU migrant labour to fill the jobs but we need to devise a south-west strategy to retain graduates and skilled labour, boost investment in our infrastructure and grow business in our region.

Improving transport in the region and around the south-west is vital. There are two strategic transport corridors for rail and road into the peninsula, which means that the south-west lacks resilience. We welcome the development of the A303, but it will be dualled all the way to Ilminster and then out through the A358 to Taunton. A little bit of the A303 from Ilminster to Honiton needs a little bit more done to it. Much as I welcome and support what is happening to the north Devon link road, we also need that last little bit of road to make sure that we get a second arterial road.

We are improving resilience on the Dawlish railway line. Not only have we got the mainline from Paddington to Penzance but we have a great line from Waterloo to Exeter, which goes through the south of my constituency and runs through the constituency of my right hon. Friend Sir Hugo Swire. We could do a lot more to invest in loops and other things to make sure that we get more trains through the second route. It is essential to have a second railway link into the south-west. Along with my hon. Friend Rebecca Pow, I am interested in the Devon Metro coming through Somerset and creating more resilience on our existing lines so that we can have smaller trains as well as the large commuter trains. That will be a great improvement.

Improving transport will improve education accessibility, so that students can choose whether to do A-levels, apprenticeships or technical education. Not only do we have the great universities of Exeter and Plymouth, and of course Bristol, but we have Petroc, Axe Valley and many other colleges across our region. Apprenticeships are so useful because not everybody wants to go to university, and it is a great bonus to have that provision.

Improving transport will mean that tourists can get around the whole of the south-west, from the Jurassic coast to Exeter Cathedral, and even down to Cornwall, as well as to great towns such as Seaton, Axminster and many others in my constituency.

Broadband and mobile connection is hugely important. As many colleagues have said, it is a huge driver of the economy. Superfast broadband is absolutely essential.