It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Ghani.
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend Scott Mann for raising this critical issue. For me, there is an answer to the productivity gap, and it is technology and infrastructure, as we have heard. Even before lockdown, a quarter of the rural population worked from home. With small and medium-sized enterprises being the engine of the rural economy, digital connectivity is vital, but Somerset is sprinkled with areas that have unreliable and intermittent connectivity.
New investment in broadband in those dead zones is of course great news, and the shared rural network agreement is another step forward, but there is still a lingering belief that the rural economy is purely focused on agriculture. Of course, we have a thriving industry that is based on agriculture—in my constituency, the fabulous cheese makers of Wyke Farms, Montgomery Cheese, Godminster and Barber’s, and innumerable cider manufacturers—and they are all vital to the local economy, but it is equally important to stoke the fire of businesses such as the logistics and supply chain company Vallis Commodities in Frome, the operations of which depend on Somerset’s physical and digital infrastructure.
Investment in road—I dare not mention the A303 again —in rail and in digital infrastructure will pay dividends for decades to come. Just stick in the money and sit back and watch as the resourceful and dynamic people of the west country beaver away in effect to give it all back with interest. If the shared prosperity fund is to achieve its purpose of smoothing inequalities between different communities, let us do that within a framework that balances protecting the bucolic glory of our small towns and villages while equipping them with the tools that they need to flourish.