Levelling-up Agenda — [Mrs Maria Miller in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 2:57 pm on 15th June 2021.

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Photo of Jamie Stone Jamie Stone Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Armed Forces), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Defence), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport) 2:57 pm, 15th June 2021

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Edward. My warmest congratulations to Bob Seely on securing the debate. We in the highlands were disappointed to be put in level 3; the leader of the Highland Council, Margaret Davidson, and I said as much. However, we are where we are.

One of the best ways to level up in the highlands and the islands—the remotest parts of Britain—is through tourism, so I want to speak in support of a bid that will be put to the Treasury in the next couple of days by the Highland Council. The hon. Member for Isle of Wight briefly touched on harbours, and I will as well. Wick harbour was once the herring capital of the UK. When the swell or the wind is in the wrong direction, it can make the harbour unsafe, so the bid is to build a new sea gate to increase the marina potential of the area.

I have often talked about a string of pearls. If we can take rich people who own boats—we call them yachties—up the east coast from the south-east, all the way up to the top of Scotland, and then get them to turn left, go along the top and go down again, not only will they have a great journey but we in the highlands, being canny Scots, would aim to lighten their wallets and their bank accounts on the way round. Doing up Wick would be a major step in that direction. It would accompany improvements to the town centre and to the industrial units next to the harbour.

The second part of the bid that the Highland Council is putting in is related to this. We have a very successful tourism enterprise, of which some hon. Members will have heard, called the North Coast 500. It is a brilliant idea supported by His Royal Highness Prince Charles, or the Duke of Rothesay as we call him in Scotland, and various local businesses. In the last few years it has been a tremendous success and an enormous number of visitors have come north. They have really enjoyed this truly scenic and amazing way around the top of Scotland. However, this has brought infrastructure challenges. One thinks of not enough car parking facilities, the structure of bridges that are starting to fall apart or congestion. If an ambulance in north-west Sutherland has to get in a hurry to the hospital at Wick, it can end up behind a lot of camper vans.

The bid is “Please, help us to finance improvements that are much needed”. I say again, that sort of enterprise will take money from the south-east and the richer parts of the UK to the poorer parts. That is levelling up without the Government having to do much more than putting their hands in their pockets to help finance the initial capital expenditure. That will include electrical charging points and other improvements.

An example of the success of the North Coast 500, the former Member for South Ribble, who was in her time the parliamentary private secretary to the Prime Minister, and her partner are going to come and stay with me in August. I warmly encourage the Minister and his colleagues at the Treasury; they would have the most enjoyable time coming up north to see where their money would be wisely spent. Of course, I would offer them bed and breakfast—what is more, it would be free bed and breakfast, which for a Scot is pretty astonishing.