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

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:37 pm on 5th February 2019.

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Photo of Alex Chalk Alex Chalk Conservative, Cheltenham 3:37 pm, 5th February 2019

In the three minutes available, may I say that although we rightly talk about economic growth, we need to step back and ask what we mean by that and why it matters? It matters, because it is all very well for us to say that we believe in social mobility—I dare say we all do, across the House—but we should also believe that economic growth provides opportunities for people from all walks of life, and allows people who come from deprived communities to go as far as their talents will take them. I therefore think it is incredibly important to focus on that issue, and we have a moral duty to do so.

When I was elected in Cheltenham in 2015, a lot of Members might have assumed that it was an area of great affluence, which to some extent it is. However, we also have pockets of genuine and grinding deprivation. Importantly, when I looked at the growth figures, I saw that Cheltenham’s growth rate was less than the national average. It seems to me that increasing economic growth is an important way to tackle those areas of deprivation, and I feel that very passionately. There are two elements to this. First, we must ensure that we have a supremely well-educated workforce. That is why I welcome the increased emphasis on fair funding. We have not yet completed the task, and although Cheltenham’s secondary schools get £1.2 million more a year than they did before, we need to increase that. We also need great job opportunities for people once they leave school.

I want to focus on Cheltenham’s cyber future. In November 2015, the then Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, came to GCHQ and said that an arc of cyber-prosperity could extend from Cheltenham all the way down through the south-west. That critical sector will generate £20 billion a year for the UK economy and, crucially, we can be part of that by leveraging some of our state expertise in facilities such as GCHQ to improve our local economy. There is so much more to talk about, including the A417 missing link, and I am delighted that the Government are investing more than £400 million in improving that road, because doing so will unlock that corridor of prosperity. This is a moral duty. If we want to achieve social mobility, economic prosperity and a plan for growth must be at its heart.