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It is good to see you in the Chair, Ms McDonagh. I congratulate my hon. Friend Paul Blomfield on securing the debate. If we have learned anything from the past few years, it is that people feel ignored by politicians and powerless to influence decisions about the most important things in their lives, such as whether a local hospital is kept open, whether their child’s education is properly funded, whether bus services continue so that they can get to work, or even whether they can afford to buy or rent a decent home to live in. They are told that the economy is growing, but everywhere they look services are being cut. Nowhere is that more true than in the north of England. The north has a population of 15 million people, which is roughly twice that of London. It has five major cities, 265 towns—including mine—and more than 1,000 villages and small communities. Our economy is more than twice the size of Scotland’s, and if the north were a country it would be the ninth largest in the EU. We have eight major ports, 29 universities and four national parks. We produce a third of the UK’s renewable energy and are leaders in the manufacturing, scientific and high-tech sectors. That is a pretty impressive CV.
Despite that, however, and despite the introduction of the northern powerhouse five years ago, regional inequality has grown since 2010. The north has borne the brunt of the Government’s austerity drive with a £3.6 billion cut in public spending, whereas the south-east and the south-west had £4.7 billion extra in real terms. There are now 200,000 more children living in poverty in the north than there were five years ago. That is a scandal. The economy has been growing consistently throughout those five years. If such a huge number of additional children have been growing up in poverty during that period, it is ample evidence that the economy does not now work for everyone.
Why, in 2019, does London still hold all the power and the resources? The sooner we realise that business as usual is not going to cut it and that further Westminster handouts on Westminster terms will not be enough, the better. We do not need more crumbs from the table. It has been clear for a long time that people are fed up to their back teeth with the current approach. Is it any wonder, when the system clearly does not work for them, that they feel ignored, isolated and held back?
Our country will be undergoing massive changes in the next 10 or 20 years. People feel they need to see a change. The central aim of the shared prosperity fund is to reduce inequality and enable all our communities to share in the country’s economic growth. So let us really enable our communities to do that. Let us give them the responsibility, power and resources to shape their future, in line with local priorities and local need, using a bottom-up model in which decision making and accountability are at local government level, and which delivers real change whose benefits they can see.
I hope the Minister will be able to provide more detail about how the fund will be designed, and how it will work and be administered. I hope that he will also provide the guarantee that we all seek, that communities will be left no worse off. Finally, I urge him to get on and publish the consultation, so that we can address the systemic inequalities between our regions and ensure that all our communities share in the prosperity of one of the most prosperous nations in the world.