East Midlands Economy — [Sir David Amess in the Chair]

– in Westminster Hall at 9:30 am on 7th September 2021.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Sir David Amess Sir David Amess Conservative, Southend West 9:30 am, 7th September 2021

Colleagues, I realise that we have not done things in person for a very long time, so everyone is rusty and not everyone will be aware of the procedures. This is not a pointed dig at the proposer of the debate, but please do ensure that you get here in good time. There are no longer any call lists; if you want to speak in a debate, drop the Chair a note beforehand. However, I will still call those who have not done so today. We are juggling with the time limits, but everyone will be called, so please do not be selfish and take other people’s time.

To return to my script, Members still have to wear masks when they are not speaking, I am afraid. That is still the rule. Members should send their speaking notes by email to Hansard at hansardnotes@parliament.uk.

Photo of Ben Bradley Ben Bradley Conservative, Mansfield 9:31 am, 7th September 2021

I beg to move,

That this House
has considered the future of the East Midlands economy.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir David, to be just on time and to bring this important debate to the House about the economy of the east midlands, which follows on from the Adjournment debate I held in July about devolution for our area. It has been a busy summer and lots of progress has been made on the proposals and on wider developments and major projects that I hope to put across to the Minister this morning.

It is clear that the east midlands has huge untapped potential and must be at the heart of the Government’s levelling-up plans in the spending review and the levelling-up White Paper this autumn. I hope to take the Minister through some of those developments this morning. As Members might imagine, as a Notts MP and the Nottinghamshire County Council leader, I will have more to say on Nottinghamshire, but I trust and hope that colleagues will chip in about the proposals and opportunities across their constituencies.

For context, the east midlands is home to over 5 million people and over 175,000 businesses. We have a diverse mix of counties and cities, with market towns, countryside, and distinct cultures and communities. It contains world-class business, innovation and manufacturing excellence, and the region’s economy of £99 billion has untapped potential for growth. Despite that critical mass and potential, the east midlands has received some of the lowest levels of Government investment and private investment over many years compared with other parts of the country.

Back in July, I met the Prime Minister and laid out four huge opportunities for the east midlands that can create jobs, unlock housing and growth, and get the region up to a level of support and investment that is in line with other parts of the country. Those major interventions are all coming together this autumn, with a number of key decisions on which the Government need to come down on the side of investment and development in our region.

First, the East Midlands Development Corporation—the devco—represents a major opportunity to regenerate and to create jobs and homes on key sites. It gives us the opportunity to masterplan our area to ensure that we are bringing forward the very best employment opportunities; that we are leading the way on green growth and environmental policy; and that we are offering investors a very attractive opportunity to simplify the planning process to get things done at pace. It currently sits over three sites, but in the future, with the right democratic oversight, it could be used to bring forward further sites across our region.

This development vehicle could be a major weapon in our armoury, with the right Government backing. If we can utilise it effectively into the future rather than continuing to adopt a piecemeal approach, with all sorts of different vehicles and delivery mechanisms popping up all over the place, we can take a long-term strategic approach to our region’s growth. Therefore, key decision No. 1 is to back the development corporation in the planning legislation this autumn, and give it the powers and guarantees it needs.

Secondly, there is the east midlands freeport. Colleagues lobbied hard last year to secure the east midlands as one of the key sites for a freeport to take advantage of our post-Brexit trading opportunities and to boost business and jobs in our region with a unique proposition: the only inland freeport in the UK, built around an airport rather than on the coast. This has the potential to act as a hub and as the heart of the wider freeport network, as well as the logistical centre of the UK, with its key geographical location and proximity to major road, rail and air connections.

The outline business case will be submitted this week. Once again, I and MPs across the region call on the Government to back us to help deliver this freeport, along with the council and business partners; to support our vision to level up the east midlands; to create jobs and opportunities for people in our region; and to maximise the potential of this package of projects I am going through today. The whole will be bigger than the sum of the parts if these actions can be taken in unison.

Photo of Toby Perkins Toby Perkins Shadow Minister (Education)

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing the debate. He is making a powerful case about the need for investment, but that case is fundamentally undermined by the Government’s constant dithering on the eastern leg of HS2. I have never known a Government to spend so much money on a project so unenthusiastically. Over the summer, we have again seen the suggestion that the eastern leg will be cancelled. Does the fact that the Government will not once and for all commit to the eastern leg of HS2 not fundamentally undermine the case he is making?

Photo of Ben Bradley Ben Bradley Conservative, Mansfield

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention; he has neatly predicted my next paragraph, which is about the integrated rail plan and Toton. All sorts of rumours have gone around over the summer. As the chair of the east midlands HS2 delivery board, I have had a lot of conversations with Ministers and officials about this matter and have pushed for the certainty that he asks for. HS2 is a major opportunity for the east midlands. I recognise that it is not universally popular, so I am not going to go on about the benefits of the eastern leg in full or the wider project, but this is a debate on the east midlands, so I will focus on the local part.

The key, for us, is that Toton is a major centre for our future growth. It is a site where we have invested almost a decade of work and planning, and tens of millions in infrastructure and preparation, including direct tram connections to Nottingham city, where there is huge interest in investing in skills, research and innovation, as well as in commercial and residential development. Success for Toton could unlock plans to the north, around Chesterfield and Bolsover, for a major engineering centre built around HS2, which has the potential to create 2,500 jobs in an area of north Nottinghamshire and north Derbyshire that should be at the heart of the levelling-up agenda. Those are former coalfield, post-industrial towns—the epitome of the kind of red wall areas that need support and to which we made big promises of support at the last election.

Photo of Lilian Greenwood Lilian Greenwood Opposition Deputy Chief Whip (Commons)

I have to confess that I am a little confused by the hon. Gentleman’s reaction to the intervention by my hon. Friend Mr Perkins. Is he suggesting that the connectivity that the HS2 eastern leg would provide—not just a station at Toton, but the fast connections to Leeds, York, the north-east and Scotland, as well as the connection to the west midlands—somehow does not matter and is not essential to the future success of our region?

Photo of Ben Bradley Ben Bradley Conservative, Mansfield

I thank the hon. Lady for that. She knows that that is not what I am suggesting, and she will no doubt have seen over the summer that few have been as vocal as I have been in their public advocacy for HS2 and the eastern leg. The key thing for the region is that, whatever HS2 looks like, it involves that key investment at our Toton site, unlocking opportunities for jobs and growth in the north of the county, and tying together our local transport network and connectivity across the east midlands to boost our economy. There is huge potential: I believe that the eastern leg in full would create enough jobs, investment and economic opportunity up the length of the route to pay for itself and to be of huge benefit to the country. I am just focusing on the key priorities for us from the east midlands perspective. Whatever the IRP looks like, those are things that must be in it to benefit our region.

Whatever anyone’s view on HS2 as a whole, given that the PM has committed to delivering it in some shape or form, the key for our region is Toton, and the surrounding plans and projects form a big part of the IRP decision. Whatever the Government decide and whatever form it ultimately takes, the Department for Transport and other Departments must work with us, the region, Midlands Connect and other local stakeholders to include the Toton plans and make the most of that investment.

I know that decisions on the IRP are to be taken soon. As the chair of the HS2 strategy board, I would welcome a conversation with the Secretary of State for Transport ahead of that decision about what is possible and about ensuring that key local priorities are part of that decision. I know the headlines will be about how much track is going down and whether HS2 goes from place A to place B, so there is a risk that our local requirements will be lost. That cannot be allowed to happen. For us, whether it is a win for the area and whether we can support the decision as local stakeholders ultimately depends on the details. Does it deliver growth, and where? What is the impact on our regional connectivity? Will it help to deliver projects like the Robin Hood line, access to Toton and the midlands rail hub? Those are key questions that need to be answered in the IRP. I trust that the Minister will pass on my request for that conversation with the DFT.

It is worth saying that these sites—Toton and the related freeport—could all benefit from partnership with the devco, combining the existing opportunities and incentives with a master-planning element and simplified processes for the development corporation to deliver bigger, better and faster. It is important that it has the right oversight, and I will get on to that, but bringing key sites together under this delivery mechanism could supercharge the whole package. As I said, the whole can be greater than the sum of the parts. This is a package of interventions, with key decisions to be taken in the coming months.

Point No. 4 is about devolution. I held an Adjournment debate on this topic in the summer before we went into recess, in which I laid out the potential benefit of devolved powers for our region and the impact we could make on our communities if we could make bespoke local interventions. We could improve our skills offer, intervene where there are health inequalities, improve and join up our transport network, boost economic development, collaborate more effectively across different authorities, and plan for housing in a more strategic and joined-up way. There is a lot we could do with the right powers and budget devolved to a local level. The Government have asked for proposals, and in Nottinghamshire at least—clearly, I cannot speak for other areas—we are extremely interested in that conversation. We have spoken with Ministers and officials. We have a clear idea of what we want to achieve and we want to be out there, leading the way.

Following all those conversations with local and national stakeholders in Notts, we agree with the Government that the best way to deliver devolution in areas such as ours is through the mechanism of county deals. We want to bring forward deals for Nottinghamshire and Nottingham, using our existing legal framework for collaboration—our economic prosperity committee—to manage a joined-up approach to delivery, working with our districts and boroughs. In return, we are offering a package of local public service reform, bringing both tiers together under the EPC to deliver more efficient and effective local services. We have agreed to that across all the Nottinghamshire local authorities; we have done much of the work and planning in the background already; and my chief executive and I will camp on the lawn outside the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government until we get the thing done. The Minister just needs to say the word and set us up a pitch in an appropriate place.

Although I am not party to all the local discussions, I hope that colleagues across the region will be able to put forward similar deals for Derbyshire, Leicestershire and Lincolnshire in due course, giving us all access to the huge potential of those devolved powers and offering us the opportunity to work together across the region on delivery. That could also give us the ability to work together on the oversight of these projects—the development corporation, the freeport, HS2 and others—and allow us to steer the ship for future sites and projects. I recognise from the Prime Minister’s speech that he clearly sees devolution as a mechanism for delivering the levelling-up agenda. We want to be at the heart of that; I certainly want Nottinghamshire to lead the way, and to be among the early adopters of this project.

As you can see, Sir David, the four projects as a package are linked and interdependent, and if delivered together could be much more than the sum of their parts. As a region, the east midlands does come together already, so we have strong foundations on which to build. Under the leadership of Sir John Peace, chairman of the midlands engine, public and private sector partners from across the region have been working on HS2, the development corporation and our freeport ambitions. That has led to a strong sense of trust and confidence among senior stakeholders, and we know that we have the good will and the momentum to do more. Currently, we are working with Sir John on plans to capitalise on that good will by strengthening our regional partnership. We call that partnership the alchemy board, and I am confident that it can provide us with an effective east midlands partnership umbrella, so that local devolution efforts have a place to share and develop significant opportunities on a regional level. There is work to do to make changes to bring that together, but we have the building blocks in place, and I think it is an attractive proposition.

I hope it is clear that on a regional level, we have some key projects and a vision for the future that can create wealth across the east midlands. Those four things are already under way and are coming together this autumn for decisions. With Government support, they can create tens of thousands of jobs and thousands of homes, and change the life chances of people in the east midlands. If the Government deliver the powers for the devco in their planning legislation; if they back our freeport bid and support us through the full business case to reach delivery stage; if they ensure that whatever the bigger picture on HS2, Toton forms a big part of the IRP, and that our local connectivity and economic growth also form a big part of that plan; and if they agree to get us on track for early devolution packages, in line with their own policy goals to be announced in the White Paper this autumn, we will be well placed to level up the east midlands and to deliver on the Government’s own promises. All of this is already under way, and all of it fits with the Government’s own plans and priorities, so we should get on with it. I hope the Minister will be able to give us some positive soundings on that today.

We can add to that list a ton of other projects, including growth corridors, midlands engine rail, the midlands rail hub, Spherical Tokamak for Energy Production fusion energy, Space Park Leicester and Infinity Park Derby. My colleagues will no doubt add many more projects to that list, but it is an exciting time in the east midlands, and this autumn is a particularly exciting time, with key things coming together.

Photo of Lilian Greenwood Lilian Greenwood Opposition Deputy Chief Whip (Commons)

The hon. Gentleman is making a powerful argument for more powers and more funding for the region. I know that there is an appetite for people to have more control over those sorts of investments, but this happens in a context of national policy. In his own constituency, more than 10,000 families will lose £20 a week when the universal credit cut kicks in next year. What impact does he think that will have on the local economy in his constituency, and what is he planning to do about it?

Photo of Ben Bradley Ben Bradley Conservative, Mansfield

I thank the hon. Lady for that intervention. It is hugely important that we support people in my constituency and around the east midlands to meet their basic needs from day to day. Off the back of the covid recovery, we need to ensure that we put people in the best possible place. Vitally, we are helping people to get by and to get back into work. We are helping people to interact with our economy, to get out there and to overcome their fears. We are working with businesses to reopen and grow. At the county council, we are absolutely invested in supporting vulnerable people, as we have done successfully throughout the pandemic, and I pay tribute to the many thousands of staff who have been working incredibly hard to do that. Regardless of national decisions, we will work hard at the local level to support everyone across Mansfield and Nottinghamshire over the coming months and years.

The key point is that we need Government support on some key decisions this autumn in order to back the east midlands, which has consistently been bottom of the tables for public and private sector investment, and which should therefore be top of the levelling-up agenda. We have a package that already exists and that could boost our economy and improve the life chances of the local people whom Lilian Greenwood mentioned. I therefore call on the Minister and the Government to back the plans to make these four key decisions in favour of the east midlands this autumn.

Photo of Sir David Amess Sir David Amess Conservative, Southend West

Colleagues, if you want to make a speech, keep bobbing up and down as we once did. If you came here only to make an intervention, that is fine, but you must stay until the end of the debate at 11 o’clock. There is no Scottish National party contribution today. The Minister and the shadow Minister will take about 10 minutes each. We have worked out that if everyone speaks for four or five minutes, you will all have a say.

Photo of Margaret Beckett Margaret Beckett Labour, Derby South 9:46 am, 7th September 2021

I apologise for having been slightly late into the room. The security door worked all too effectively: it kept me out.

I am mindful of your remarks, Sir David, and I want to leave enough time for everybody else. I have slightly mixed feelings about taking part in the debate, because I agree with much of what Ben Bradley said, to a degree. For example, he talked about the freeport, which I think most of us support and hope will be successful. However, I must admit that I am a little sceptical. We have had freeports before, without their bringing about a massive transformation. As he rightly identified, it will all depend on whether the Government are enthusiastic and willing to come forward with investment. When looking at any of the statistics about the east midlands, one thing that is crystal clear is how frequently we are at the bottom of the heap for Government investment, particularly in transport.

I want to pick up on something that the hon. Member for Mansfield said about prosperity and the wellbeing of families. My hon. Friend Lilian Greenwood identified the number of people who are in financial difficulty and who will be affected worse if the Chancellor follows through and withdraws the universal credit uplift. I notice how often Conservative Members talk about the best way out of poverty. Whenever they talk about people who are in poverty or who are having difficulties—not necessarily those in dire poverty—they say that the way out of poverty is through work. That is true, but only if the work is sufficiently well paid to enable people to survive, to put food on the table and to support their families. Something like 76,000 people in the east midlands are in zero-hours contract jobs.

Photo of Ben Bradley Ben Bradley Conservative, Mansfield

I actually agree with that. The projects that I have talked about today represent a huge opportunity, because the joy of master planning and things such as the development corporation and the freeport is that we as public stakeholders can interact with business and the market. We can lay out the kinds of jobs and sectors that we would like to see, and ensure that those jobs are better paid than those that already exist. Rather than having logistics sheds on the side of the M1, we can get jobs in clean tech and green energy and ensure that there are better opportunities for people in our communities.

Photo of Margaret Beckett Margaret Beckett Labour, Derby South

I am certainly in favour of all those things and very much hope to see them happen.

However, my hon. Friend Mr Perkins put his finger on a very real difficulty. I have been involved with the business community in a variety of ways for many years, and one thing I know above anything else is that what the business community values above everything is stability and certainty. My hon. Friend referred to the uncertainty that continues to hang around the HS2 project. Whatever the degree of enthusiasm for it, I think most of us here today support it and feel that, if it is going to happen, we certainly do not want the east midlands to be left out, or the eastern leg not to be continued, or the Toton project to fall through, because of all the potential opportunities that would be created by those developments. I therefore accept the value of what the hon. Member for Mansfield says could happen; it is just that, as I have already said, I have a degree of scepticism about whether, under this Government, it actually will happen. It is delivery that matters, as he himself said in his closing remarks.

I am very conscious of the need to leave enough time for the many colleagues who are here to contribute; indeed, I am pleased to see how many are here to participate in this debate. I am extremely fortunate, in that some of the industrial jewels of the east midlands are not only in my city of Derby but in my constituencyRolls-Royce and Alstom, to name but two, with Toyota just outside the city. We are blessed in having world-beating manufacturing success and world-beating opportunity. Nevertheless, like the rest of the east midlands, we are bedevilled by insufficient investment, training and skills. So often, what the business community complains about more than almost anything else is insufficient skills—well, it is a lack of certainty, usually followed by a lack of skills, that it complains about most. I am therefore mindful of the difficulties and the way in which the east midlands needs Government investment and support in order to prosper.

I will pick out—I suspect that Mrs Latham will wish to do the same—the project that is potentially available. One of the many other ways in which the east midlands has lost out is in—I am not quite sure what to call it—this contest for Government Departments or agencies that are being dispersed from London or set up afresh. As you will know, Sir David, there is in the pipeline a new headquarters for the future of Great British rail, and all of us in Derby, across the parties and universally across the business community and other communities, absolutely believe that the best possible place for that investment—apologies to anybody who has a competing interest—would be Derby.

In Derby, there remains a tremendous concentration of rail companies and other companies associated with the rail supply chain and so on, which we believe is the greatest such concentration anywhere in the world. We believe that to be true, and as nobody has ever contradicted us or found another example of such concentration, we are fairly confident in that assertion.

I share the hopes and aspirations of the hon. Member for Mansfield for the east midlands and its future, and I passionately hope that some of the promises that the Government are making will indeed be delivered. However, I share the doubts expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield, which I suspect will be expressed by other Labour Members, about how much faith we can place in the prospect of the Government really delivering on their promises. I very much hope that the Minister will say enthusiastic things about such expensive and comprehensive projects that I will be satisfied, and I look forward to hearing his speech.

Photo of Lee Rowley Lee Rowley Conservative, North East Derbyshire 9:53 am, 7th September 2021

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir David.

I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute to this debate. It is great to be both back in the Chamber and able to speak about the east midlands, which is a region that we do not speak of enough in this place. I look forward to the Minister getting a clear message from all of us here about how important a focus on the east midlands will be in the coming months and years.

Although those of us here today will probably not agree on absolutely everything—I am sorry to say to Margaret Beckett that in a moment I may just pick up on one or two points she made—in general, the combined and aggregate view of the people in this room, and indeed in the east midlands, is that we of course want to see our area doing better, and we also want Government support for it in the right places and having the right, effective outcomes. Overall, that will help us all across the east midlands, from the very north, where I am, to the very south, where some of my colleagues in this debate are.

We have much to celebrate. It is important to understand the achievements that we have made, or are in the process of making, to recognise the importance of where we need to go forward. I was pleased to see the freeport, which I am sure colleagues will talk about in a moment. It will be transformational for the region, especially for particular parts of it, but even those of us who are a little further away from it are glad that it has come.

There are also the things that my hon. Friend Ben Bradley talked about—the longer-term and more strategic issues that we need to tackle in the east midlands. They are also positive. I look forward to working with him and other colleagues on those in the years ahead.

Everyone in the next hour will make the case for individual areas, I am sure, and I want to make the case for my area. We have already achieved good progress on broadband, which is hugely important for rural areas in particular, in constituencies such as mine on the edge of the Peak, in places such as Barlow and Spinkhill.

We have successfully convinced the Government to spend a lot of money in Staveley and in Clay Cross through the town deals. We are one of only a handful of places to get two town deals in close proximity, and we are very grateful for that. It is now the responsibility of the local councils, which we are working well with, to ensure that the money is delivered effectively into projects that change our area for the long term.

Only a few months ago, we had the very good news that we were going to get a new free school in our area on the old Avenue regeneration site. That is another example of where, after a decade of aspirations but being unable to deliver them, we are now plugging the gaps in funding and finding ways to deliver the things we need for local communities.

We have great opportunities, some of which I share with Mr Perkins. I look forward to, and will continue to support, opportunities such as the long-awaited Staveley bypass, which is now moving to the next level, which is positive; the work on the A61, which is being led by Derbyshire County Council, to try to secure long-term improvements there; the possibility of reopening rail along the Barrow Hill line; regeneration for towns such as Dronfield, Killamarsh and Eckington in my patch; and the actual physicality of what the integrated rail plan—when we see it—does for my constituency. Everyone, whatever their view of High Speed 2 or other aspects of train policy, wants to see an outcome to the integrated rail plan and what it means for individual constituencies.

In the couple of seconds I have left, I want to say one thing. Infrastructure is vital to our area, just as it is to every other area around the country. However, infrastructure is not everything. That does not mean that the primary message from this debate to the Government and the Minister should not be that we want more infrastructure—we want the ability to build a more successful east midlands over the long term—but there are many other elements of Government policy where the state can help that we also need to consider.

We need to ensure that we are levelling up across education. One of the things that I completely agree with Lilian Greenwood about is the need to level up on skills. We also need to level up on aspiration, opportunities and ensuring that people in our areas know that they can achieve things in a way that, when I came out of school in Chesterfield 20 years ago, we did not used to be sure of. If we do that, combined with the infrastructure improvements that I am sure will be talked about for the next hour and have already been articulated, we will have a great case to make for our region in the coming decades.

Photo of Lilian Greenwood Lilian Greenwood Opposition Deputy Chief Whip (Commons) 9:58 am, 7th September 2021

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir David.

I congratulate Ben Bradley on securing this debate. I am pleased to see that so many colleagues wish to take part. My hon. Friend Alex Norris was disappointed not to be available this morning, because he is serving on a Bill Committee.

Over the past 18 months, my constituents—all our constituents—have faced the most incredible challenges as a result of the pandemic. Far too many people have lost their lives, or lost loved ones, and many people have lost incomes, jobs and businesses. No one knew that we would face a pandemic, but some of the weaknesses in our economy, which covid has only made deeper, were known. I am afraid that the Government have consistently failed to address those and, more than that, have wilfully made them worse. They have failed to take the action that we all know is necessary to ensure that the east midlands can grow strongly in the future.

For many people in my constituency and our region, making ends meet, keeping a roof over their head and putting food on the table is a constant worry. That is not news; for far too many constituents, economic insecurity has become the norm. As my right hon. Friend Margaret Beckett highlighted, 76,000 workers are on zero-hour contracts. If they get sick, they do not get paid. If they challenge their employer, they face losing their job. They cannot plan for the future, and they cannot imagine how they could ever own their own home.

Even those with regular employment feel uncertain about the future. That insecurity has taken its toll. Over the last decade, wages in the east midlands have fallen by more than £10 per week in real terms. Homelessness has increased by 55% since 2010. In 2019-20, before the pandemic hit, there were 101,534 food bank referrals in our region.

We can do better and be better—we all want that—but it requires Government action: not words about addressing regional imbalance, not promises about new investment, but action. We need promises to be kept and we need investment to be delivered.

I want to say more about the action needed, but first I will talk about what is not needed: next month’s proposed cut to universal credit. More than 9,500 households in my constituency face losing more than £1,000 a year as a result of the Government’s plan to make the biggest ever overnight cut to social security. Not only will it be devastating for the families who need that £20 per week; it will be very bad news for our local economy—the local shops and businesses where they spend that money. Taking £20 a week away from almost 40,000 families in Nottingham is taking millions of pounds away from Nottingham businesses and struggling high streets. It comes in the middle of a jobs crisis and threatens our economic recovery.

That is not just an issue in Nottingham; across the east midlands region, 389,680 families will be hit by the cut to universal credit. A quick bit of maths: that is £400 million a year out of the east midlands economy. As has been highlighted, 40% of those low-income families in receipt of universal credit are working families. Cutting the incomes of those who are unemployed or on low pay is shocking. Cutting their spending power is economic madness. I hope MPs on all sides will stand up to the Government and do the right thing for their constituents and the east midlands. There will be an opportunity to do that tomorrow, I believe.

Government do not just need to avoid doing the wrong things; they need to start doing the right things. The east midlands has consistently lost out on Government investment, which has had a huge impact on our success. GDP growth in the east midlands over 20 years has been below the UK average. Productivity has remained below the UK average over the same period; indeed, it has been in relative decline. Doing something to turn that around and make our region more productive is essential, yet the east midlands receives the lowest public expenditure on economic affairs, on services per head, and on transport in total and per head.

Transport spend in our region declined to just 58% of the UK average in 2019-20. If it was funded at the UK average, we would have £1 billion per year to invest in improving transport networks. That really matters, because it is about investing in the future and making us a more productive region. No single issue is more important in transport investment than building the HS2 eastern leg in full, as the Government have repeatedly promised. That will benefit millions of people in our communities—even those who never set foot on a high-speed train. It will create thousands of apprenticeships for young people and skilled jobs for talented employees, and will regenerate our area, particularly around Toton. It will act as the catalyst for private sector investment to turn our great ambitions for our regions into a reality.

Of course, there are transport benefits, too. It is absolutely essential that we get more people and freight travelling on our railways if we are to hit our zero carbon target. It is essential that we improve our connectivity east to west—east midlands to west midlands—and to the north: to Sheffield, Chesterfield Leeds and further north still. We must give people a real alternative to travelling by car.

The Government have repeatedly promised investment in the east midlands transport networks and have repeatedly broken those promises. I feel like a broken record on this issue, but I have been campaigning for the electrification of the midland main line for more than a decade. It was paused, then delayed, then scrapped, in direct contravention of promises made to my and all hon. Members’ constituents in 2015, 2017 and 2019. Now I fear that exactly the same thing will happen with HS2. Well, we cannot stand for that to happen, and I hope the Minister will take the message back to the Government that the east midlands deserves better than to be left at the bottom of the pile. He must listen, and the Government must change their view.

Photo of Jane Hunt Jane Hunt Conservative, Loughborough 10:06 am, 7th September 2021

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir David.

Despite the east midlands once being one of the most prosperous areas in the UK thanks to its thriving manufacturing base, decades of underinvestment has curtailed productivity, stifled economic growth and held back social mobility. That, coupled with the Leicestershire County Council area receiving the least central Government funding, stifles our development. But that would be to look to our past, and this debate is about the future.

Recently, the region has seen a resurgence of its economic potential, which accounted for 5.9% of UK GDP in 2019, thanks to growth in a number of new and innovative sectors, such as life sciences and hydrogen technology. The latter is of particular national importance, given the push towards green technology.

Alongside the groundbreaking research from our fantastic universities such as Loughborough University, companies such as Intelligent Energy, which is looking to build a new state-of-the-art gigafactory in the region as a centre of hydrogen fuel cell manufacturing in the UK, are leading the way in this area. Such a factory would not only create hundreds of local jobs but would help establish the UK and the east midlands as a world leader in hydrogen fuel cell technology.

The Energy Research Accelerator is also bringing together local research-intensive organisations and a research community of nearly 1,500 researchers to undertake innovative research, develop the next generation of energy leaders and demonstrate low-carbon technologies that will help shape the future of the UK’s energy landscape, but if we are to harness the true potential of those sectors, we must invest further in skills, infrastructure and research and development. The Government have already committed to their levelling-up agenda by directing significant investment towards the region and stimulating business growth, following an incredibly challenging year for businesses.

The freeport at East Midlands airport will not only act as a customs hub, boosting international trade, but will create a highly skilled ecosystem, becoming a magnet for inward investment and business expansion and acting as a springboard for opportunity throughout the region, creating tens of thousands of new skilled jobs. The gravitational pull of the freeport will bring jobs and growth from across the world to the only freeport based at an airport. That is great news for the east midlands.

We already have some excellent forward-looking businesses in the Loughborough constituency, such as Morningside Pharmaceuticals, ERGO, Jayplas and JRE Precision Engineering. Each one is a global player, groundbreaking and integral to the future of our region and our country. That is not to mention the life science cluster based at Charnwood Campus—the first life science opportunity zone in the country, with superb businesses already based there and capacity for more; companies are looking to come to the region, with labs and offices ready to go.

The £16.9 million town deal funding for Loughborough will also ensure that local residents have the skills needed to support local businesses. It will fund projects such as the Loughborough College digital skills hub, and the already thriving careers and enterprise hub. With match funding, those town deal projects are worth more than £40 million.

Loughborough College in itself is a driving force for training and skills, adapted and shaped by the jobs market in which it thrives. Last week, we held a jobs market in the centre of Loughborough that offered literally hundreds of jobs. Thorn Baker, for example, had 75 jobs available. The place is really beginning to thrive. That is in addition to the huge £7.8 million investment in Loughborough from the getting building fund, which not only helped to play a role in creating a global sports hub in the town but has gone towards highways infrastructure to improve accessibility to Loughborough and Shepshed at junction 23 of the M1.

The east midlands is transforming and creating an identity for itself as a leader in innovation and cutting-edge technology. It is time to capitalise on not only our geography but our skills. Inward investors are looking for a place where their business can succeed, for the skilled workforce needed to drive their business forward, and for a great place to live, in which case the future is bright for the whole of the east midlands, but it shines like an Olympic gold medal here in Loughborough.

Photo of Toby Perkins Toby Perkins Shadow Minister (Education) 10:10 am, 7th September 2021

I congratulate Ben Bradley for securing the debate because it is an incredibly important one. I enjoyed the case he made for the need for investment and focusing that on Toton. However, there was an elephant in the room during his speech and that is HS2. I do not believe that the plans he outlined are credible without HS2. He seemed to be making the case that the infrastructure can happen with or without HS2, and I simply do not buy it. HS2 is fundamental to that investment in our region and to the interconnectivity that he and my hon. Friend Lilian Greenwood spoke about.

I came into this place in 2010 and I have been through four elections in which the Conservative party has spoken about their commitment to HS2 and the midland main line infrastructure and electrification. Throughout those four elections, the consistency of the Government’s message on investment in the east midlands has been matched only by the consistency of their failure to deliver that spending. I have been an MP for 11 years and in every term of those four Tory Governments, we have had big promises, let-downs, dither and delay.

When the Minister gets to his feet, he has an opportunity to tell us finally that the promises made in 2010, 2015, 2017 and three months after the 2019 election that the eastern leg of HS2 would be delivered is not—as the Government are constantly briefing—about to be pulled from under our feet, but that there is actually that commitment. When people look back on this era of politics, they will find it incredible that for 11 years a Government had its biggest infrastructure project yet looked so unenthusiastic about it. I cannot think of any other Government policy in history that has been supported more by the Opposition than the Government themselves. That is the reality with HS2.

It is true that our region is taken for granted and ignored. My hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham South referred to the difference in transport spending between the east and west midlands. In the east midlands, the average transport spending per head is £287.32. Just across in the west midlands, it is £489.70 per head. Almost twice as much is spent on transport in the west midlands as in the east midlands. Why is that?

The reality is that I am a very unusual Member of Parliament. I am a Labour MP in the east midlands who is not from a city. There are 37 MPs in the east midlands who are not in Nottingham, Derby or Leicester, and 36 of them are Tories. This Government absolutely take the east midlands for granted, and why should they not when right across the east midlands they see Tory MPs elected while they fail to invest in our region? Of course they will think the voters of the east midlands will comfortably vote for them.

My party has a big responsibility to face our electoral failure over the last 11 years. I look across the hall to lots of colleagues whose constituencies were Labour for many years. They are in those seats now, and the voters of the east midlands and my party need to consider if we are going to get investment in the east midlands, it needs to be a more competitive area because this Government believe that they can take it for granted.

Lee Rowley referred to the Staveley bypass. That is something that he and I are very committed to. I did a recent survey and know that there is huge support in my constituency for that bypass; it is something that has been spoken about over many years. Derbyshire county council needs to speed up the process of delivering the bypass, as many of the projects that were announced at the same time are now much further ahead. I would like the Minister to know that there is a real cross-party commitment to going ahead with the Staveley bypass, and I hope that we will soon have good news about it.

The east midlands region is crackling with innovation and with a desire to get on and deliver, but, as Jane Hunt said, it is being held back by a failure of investment in our region. We really need to see that turned around now.

Photo of Ruth Edwards Ruth Edwards Conservative, Rushcliffe 10:15 am, 7th September 2021

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir David, and I congratulate my hon. Friend Ben Bradley on securing this debate.

I think those of us here in this room are all incredibly lucky because we represent a vibrant, dynamic and creative region. As other Members have said, we are the heart of the UK’s logistics and manufacturing industries; Margaret Beckett talked about the industrial jaws of the United Kingdom. I was fortunate to be able to visit JCB in the constituency of my hon. Friend Mrs Wheeler, and see the amazing innovation that has been taking place at its Foston plant, where it has invented the world’s first hydrogen-fuelled combustion engine.

We are leaders in food and drink; we have some fantastic companies in my constituency of Rushcliffe—perhaps too fantastic, as I do not think they did wonders for my figure over lockdown. We have fantastic stilton producers at Cropwell Bishop and Colston Bassett that, contrary to counter claims made by my hon. Friend Alicia Kearns, produce the best stilton in the world—whatever she may say. We also have wonderful wine producers such as Hanwell wine estate and Eglantine vineyard; we have a thriving farming sector across the region; and we are leaders in so many different types of green technology. I have mentioned hydrogen at JCB, but we also have the GeoPura headquarters in my constituency, whose hydrogen generators are powering everything from festivals to film sets. We are leaders in biodiversity restoration; we have BeadaMoss in East Leake, Rushcliffe, micro-propagating sphagnum moss to be used to restore peatlands and to create new growing mediums that will replace peat in several years. The statistics back up what I am saying. We have fantastic innovators across the region; 90% of manufacturers have innovated in the last two years; 96% plan to do so again in the next two years.

We do have our problems, and they have been set out very clearly by Members on both sides of the room today. Our productivity is below the national average; we have a polarised workforce with a lot of people in very highly skilled jobs—based around our universities and our tech companies—but we also have many people in much lower paid jobs. The average income in the east midlands is £70 a week below the national level. We also suffer from low public sector investment; we have the lowest levels of public expenditure and transport spending per head.

We have also suffered, perhaps, from a lower profile than other areas of the country. The west midlands, for example, has one focal point provided by the city of Birmingham and its Mayor. Its share of funding has reached parity with the average amongst English regions in the last few years; we in the east midlands still have only 75%. We hear a lot about levelling up and we see a lot of Government Ministers going to Teesside and the west midlands; we see their Departments following them there. If levelling up is going to spread opportunity over the whole country then it is going to have to involve more places than just Teesside and the west midlands—however wonderful they may be. One of the places that really needs that focus and support from Government is the east midlands.

Photo of Toby Perkins Toby Perkins Shadow Minister (Education)

I totally agree with what the hon. Lady is saying. Is not the point I just made the reality? Areas such as the west midlands and the north-east are politically competitive. Here, the Tory party is able to take for granted that it is going to get Tory MPs elected and that is why we have failed to get the investments of some of those other regions. Is not electing more Labour MPs the answer?

Photo of Ruth Edwards Ruth Edwards Conservative, Rushcliffe

No, I do not agree with that. We are in a debate today that has been called by a Conservative Member and is attended by lots more Conservative than Labour Members, so I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman.

Photo of Toby Perkins Toby Perkins Shadow Minister (Education)

We haven’t got many—that is the point.

Photo of Ruth Edwards Ruth Edwards Conservative, Rushcliffe

Maybe that says something about how voters in the east midlands feel the hon. Gentleman’s party has taken them for granted. As a result, they have returned Conservative colleagues, who are here today fighting for more investment in the east midlands.

If everybody in every community having a fair chance at life is what levelling up is about, if it is about people being able to benefit from strong public services such as a great education and having the opportunity for a great career, wherever they live in the country, we have to focus on areas such as the east midlands that have, historically, been underfunded and have not had the Government focus that they should.

We have some great tangible opportunities right now in the east midlands to reverse that. The one I have been most closely involved in is the east midlands freeport, which would cover three sites: one in Leicestershire, one in Derbyshire and one in Nottinghamshire in my constituency of Rushcliffe, based at the Ratcliffe-on-Soar power station site, which is being decommissioned in a few years’ time. The east midlands freeport would create more than 58,000 jobs and would see investment in skills, research and development. It would see Ratcliffe-on-Soar transformed into a centre for new energy technologies and a zero carbon academy, creating those high-skilled jobs and fantastic careers that we have been discussing this morning. It will also enhance and build on existing partnerships between academia and business across the region, which we need to capitalise on. It will be the best connected freeport in the country: it will connect East Midlands airport to global markets and, in doing so, will connect the companies at the heart of our manufacturing and logistics industries to it too. It will also connect the east midlands via road and rail to the wider network of freeports across the country and, in that way, offer us a national as well as a regional opportunity.

The second opportunity is HS2. I appreciate that it is not the responsibility of the Minister’s Department, but I hope he takes away the message of frustration from colleagues on both sides of the House at the length of time it is taking to get a decision about the eastern leg. We have seen a vaccine created and rolled out across the United Kingdom in less time than it has taken to make a decision about the form in which HS2 is going to come to the east midlands, if it comes at all. I hope the rumours that it is going to be axed are not true.

HS2 has great potential. It would add £28 billion to the region’s economy every year. It would increase east-west—a well as north-south—connectivity, which is vital. Today, we talked about how connectivity and trains are important, but it is about more than trains. It is about massive redevelopment at Toton. It is about improving local transport connectivity across the region. It would send a clear signal from Government that we are investing in the east midlands, that the east midlands is not the poor cousin of the west midlands, that it will not be left behind and that we are committed to making sure that the east midlands shares in the levelling-up agenda. I hope the Minister can give us some assurance that that will be the case. I certainly hope that he will take the message back from the debate to his colleagues in the Department for Transport and I also hope that we can hear something about his support for the east midlands freeport, which is something that he knows Members on both sides have been working hard to support. We have an excellent bid now—one that capitalises on our net zero potential, our connectivity and creating highly skilled jobs and training across the region, which is much needed.

Photo of Nadia Whittome Nadia Whittome Labour, Nottingham East 10:24 am, 7th September 2021

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir David. I thank Ben Bradley for securing the debate.

As my right hon. and hon. Friends have already detailed, a decade of cuts has devastated our communities and people’s lives. People have been pushed into poverty, there is a homelessness epidemic, bus routes have closed and schools are falling apart. As my hon. Friend Lilian Greenwood said earlier, in 2019, the east midlands had the lowest public spend on economic development and transport and the third lowest on public services.

On top of more than 10 years of austerity, the Government’s failure to protect lives and livelihoods during covid has caused further economic misery and injustice to our region. Businesses have folded and people have lost their jobs. Retail and hospitality sectors dominated by low-paid workers —often women—have been particularly hit hard. Many are trying to get by on furlough pay that is less than the minimum wage, or even without any financial help at all. In Nottingham East alone, more than 14,000 families are set to lose £1,000 a year when the universal credit cut comes into place. Most shameful of all is that the majority of people in poverty are in working families.

Coming out of the pandemic, we need well-paid, secure jobs that help produce the kind of society that we want to live in. It is not enough just to develop our economy; we need to decarbonise it as well. There are no jobs on a dead planet and we must invest with the future in mind, not just the present.

Booming manufacturing once dominated Nottingham’s economy and our city was renowned as the centre of textiles, but from the 1980s manufacturing declined. For my grandparents’ generation, half of Nottingham jobs were in manufacturing, compared to just 4% in 2021. There is a huge potential for a new generation of green manufacturing jobs in and around our city and region; good-quality, well-paid jobs in sectors such as recycling and reuse. Rather than exporting our recycling content abroad, where much of it ends up dumped in the ocean, when will the Government bring these jobs to Nottingham and Nottinghamshire?

Will the Government put the money where their mouth is when it comes to tackling climate change and levelling up? Can the Minister provide a figure on Government investment in green economic development in the east midlands over the last five years? Can he provide details of conversations he has had with representatives of renewable and green industries about economic investment in the east midlands? Will he agree to meet me and representatives from local green industries to discuss capital investment in our region and opportunities for support from the Government?

With the scale of the climate and ecological emergency, that demands nothing less than post-war scale investments and economic transformation—a green deal. All of us, regardless of party politics, would be letting down those we represent to demand anything less today.

The Local Government Association website provides a list of devolution deals over the last decade. As Ruth Edwards mentioned, they include deals for Cornwall, Tees Valley, the west midlands, London, south Yorkshire—the east midlands is nowhere to be seen. For how long can our region be overlooked when it comes to Government investments? We saw that the Chancellor’s constituency—among the fifth most prosperous in the country—has benefited from levelling-up money. In constituencies such as Nottingham East, more than one third of children are living in poverty. When are we going to get our fair share? Can the Minister tell us whether the east midlands will get at least the £8 billion that the west midlands received with the Conservative Mayor?

Finally, I would like to stress the importance of devolving and investing in a way that is truly transparent, democratic and empowering for our local communities, because devolution should not mean handing power and money from one man in Whitehall to one man in a region. Communities need a real say in how this money is spent, so that they can be part of building the kind of economy that works for them and creating stable, well-paid jobs in the here and now, investing in industries that will protect the environment, and ultimately giving their children the future that we all deserve.

Photo of Darren Henry Darren Henry Conservative, Broxtowe 10:30 am, 7th September 2021

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir David, and I thank my hon. Friend Ben Bradley for securing the debate. I am pleased to be here today as a proud east midlands MP to discuss the future economy of our region. With the Prime Minister’s levelling-up agenda, we will ensure that long-forgotten communities across the east midlands finally get the investment they deserve.

Recent research by the Government has shown that there is a growing gap between the east and west midlands, which is likely to widen further over the next decade as a result of the delivery of phase 1 of HS2 and associated investment. We simply cannot allow the east midlands to be left behind. Does the Minister agree that a simple way of tackling the spending imbalance for the east midlands economy is to deliver HS2 in full, including Toton, as well as Chesterfield? Given his earlier comments, I know that Mr Perkins will agree.

There have, however, been many recent funding commitments from the Government for my constituency of Broxtowe, including £21.1 million from the towns fund deal for the town of Stapleford, as well as an opportunity to bid for £20 million for the town of Kimberley as part of the levelling-up fund. Both commitments will be hugely welcome in my constituency and will have a large impact on the lives of many of my constituents. The knock-on effect of that investment will be to create new businesses, jobs and other opportunities for my constituents for years to come. It will also ensure that the local economy will not just survive after covid, but will thrive.

Transport investment is a key driver of productivity and economic growth. The fact that the east midlands has consistently delivered GDP growth close to the UK average from very low levels of transport investment is testament to the commitment and ingenuity of the thousands of small to medium-sized enterprises that are the backbone of the region’s economy. Terminating HS2 at East Midlands Parkway, or somewhere that is not Toton, will not achieve the transformational benefits for the east midlands that the full eastern leg will deliver. Toton is also ideally located to serve the wider Nottingham area, particularly the major employment opportunities to the west of the city centre.

It is my belief that connectivity is key to truly levelling up the east midlands. That does not just mean transport; it also means digital connectivity. The east midlands region has some of the worst interconnectivity within the whole of the UK. I recently heard about an individual taking business calls from his shed, as that was where he got the best reception. We simply cannot expect growth and prosperity within the region when individuals do not have the digital connectivity they deserve. In November, the midlands engine all-party parliamentary group, which I co-chair, will be holding a meeting solely on broadband and connectivity within the region. I encourage all Members present to attend, if available. I also ask the Minister to outline plans to further address the disparity in digital infrastructure within the midlands.

The future of the east midlands economy looks bright, as long as the necessary investment and infrastructure that has been promised is delivered in full. It would be a misstep not to deliver HS2’s east midlands hub at Toton. I am also keen to see expansion into green industries. The east midlands already has some fantastic local businesses, developing groundbreaking technology and ways of making society greener. In my capacity as co-chair of the midlands engine all-party parliamentary group, alongside my hon. Friend Ruth Edwards, I recently visited the businesses in her constituency that she mentioned earlier, GeoPura and BeadaMoss. Both are fantastic green businesses that are leading the way within the industry.

I would like to see the east midlands become the focal point for green energy and development in the UK. The Government have already gone some way towards doing that, by setting a clear ambition to support 2 million green jobs by 2030 through the green jobs taskforce. In order to ensure that the east midlands prospers post covid, the Government must break the long-term cycle of under-investment and provide a long-term commitment to invest in the east midlands economy.

I want to finish my remarks by making it clear that, in order for the Government to fully deliver on their promise to level up the east midlands, we must deliver the eastern leg of HS2, and it has to go through Toton.

Photo of Brendan Clarke-Smith Brendan Clarke-Smith Conservative, Bassetlaw 10:35 am, 7th September 2021

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir David. I thank my hon. Friend Ben Bradley for securing this incredibly important debate on our beloved east midlands.

My constituency of Bassetlaw, which is in the very north of the region, has had many connections, such as with Yorkshire. There has been debate over the years about whether we should have joined the Sheffield city region and so on, and perhaps we have taken our eye off the ball at times. I want to see Bassetlaw being a key player in the east midlands, which it can be, and making full use of the economic benefits.

On that subject, I would like to talk about the STEP project in Bassetlaw, which we are very keen on. It would be a major boost to the area. In the last couple of days we have seen the old West Burton A coal-fired power plant fired up again. That shows the importance of having flexible and varied supplies of energy, but we see a real opportunity to look at the next generation of energy production and green energy—for example, with fusion, as my hon. Friend Jane Hunt mentioned.

We have some excellent rail links already, but we would like to see more. We have the east coast main line and potential for more, such as the Robin Hood line, which has been mentioned. I have constituents in Retford who are very interested in being joined up to that. Of course, the A1 runs through there as well, and we would like to see some improvements to the exits. The east midlands freeport brings some great opportunities for East Midlands airport, and we have the benefit of having Doncaster Sheffield airport just over the border. The freeport is a really great benefit for local manufacturing and logistics companies, and I am a big supporter of it. I want to see it succeed.

I fully support the efforts of my colleagues to make the case for HS2 going through Toton. It would be a big boost for the region as well as Nottinghamshire. So many positive things are going on in our region, and colleagues have mentioned devolution. A strong east midlands can help to supercharge our local economy and give us all a lift.

If my hon. Friend Alicia Kearns were present today, I know that she would mention her campaign to have the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs open an office in Melton Mowbray. Unfortunately, she could not be here, but I fully support her in that and wish her luck.

I will finish my remarks, as I know we are short of time. Once again, I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield for highlighting this issue. We have a great region in the east midlands. Let us make the most of it, and let us supercharge our economy and go forward together.

Photo of Jeff Smith Jeff Smith Shadow Minister (Housing, Communities and Local Government) 10:38 am, 7th September 2021

It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Sir David, and I thank you for the opportunity to reply to the debate on behalf of the Opposition. I congratulate Ben Bradley on securing the debate. I agree with him that the Government need to come down on the side of investment and innovation in the region.

I also thank the other speakers, who made important contributions. My right hon. Friend Margaret Beckett gave us an important reality check on the Government’s actions and made the vital point that, in order for the economy to flourish, work needs to be properly paid. We need stability and skills, without which businesses and the economy cannot thrive. My hon. Friend Lilian Greenwood made an important point about the cut to universal credit, which is taking money out of local economies. She also exposed the lack of transport investment in the region over a long period of time.

My hon. Friend Mr Perkins talked about the importance of HS2 and focused on the inequality of transport spending in the region—not just on rail, but on things such as the Staveley bypass. Road transport is important as well. My hon. Friend Nadia Whittome talked about the impact of Government policy and cuts, the vital importance for the future of green jobs, and transparent devolution deals.

We have heard lots of good words about the future of the east midlands economy. The east midlands does not operate as a single entity, with a regional centre, like my own in Greater Manchester, which is why so many Members from different parties have spoken about how vital transport links are, which I will return to shortly. It is instructive to compare the east midlands with other regions. Compared with the rest of the country, east midlands GVA growth figures are lower and there are lower levels of investment, especially Government investment. Productivity is lower, more people than average are in insecure work, a higher number on zero-hours contracts and median gross pay is lower. Of the 446,000 key workers across the east midlands, 40% are paid less than £10 an hour. There is work to do to fulfil the great potential of the region.

People in the east midlands are significantly more likely to be employed in manufacturing than in the rest of the UK. That is a distinctive, important and good feature of the region, although a number of those jobs are in lower-value manufacturing, which is more susceptible to economic shocks. With traditional manufacturing in decline, it is important to consider alternative options for the future. We have heard from several Members about good work already underway, seeking to boost jobs and prosperity in the east midlands, and release the potential of the region that we have heard about so often.

The importance of East Midlands airport, along with the rail freight terminal, is key. A number of Members talked about that and the work of the East Midlands Development Corporation in aiming to link the HS2 station at Toton with the airport. We also heard about the development at the Ratcliffe-on-Soar power station site, which is another important growth opportunity for the region. There is good partnership work going on, driven by groups such as the midlands engine partnership and Midlands Connect. We also heard about the plans for the east midlands freeport. Many might question the overall strategy of freeports creating growth across the country, but it is undoubtedly a good opportunity with potential for the east midlands region.

We have not focused so much today on the hard work carried out by local authorities, which have been at the frontline fighting the covid pandemic, and will now play a crucial role in their communities’ recovery. They need to be funded properly, so that they can play their full role as place-makers, driving growth for the region. Having imposed £15 billion cuts on local authorities over the past 10 years, unfortunately the Government recently broke their promise to compensate local authorities fully for their costs in tackling covid-19, leaving some of them with very big funding gaps and putting local services at risk.

The piecemeal funding pots that we have heard about, such as the levelling-up fund, which pit regions and nations against each other for vital funding, do not make up for a decade of cuts to local communities. We need support for people who live in the region, as we heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham East. The universal credit change will hit almost 390,000 families in the east midlands, pushing many into hardship. Cutting the budgets of those families who need it most is not only wrong, but bad economics. That £1,000 a year is money that could be spent on local high streets in the east midlands. Instead, it will be taken out of the economy just as we are trying to recover.

It is clear that East Midlands airport is key for jobs in the region and future economic ambitions but, like other regional airports, it has suffered through the lack of an adequate sectoral support package from the Government. The Labour party has advocated a sectoral deal for aviation that protects jobs and the wider supply chain, safeguards the environment, and ensures that companies benefitting from the aviation sector rebase their tax affairs in the UK. If regional airports such as East Midlands airport are not given adequate help through the challenges of covid, the local economies that depend on them will be undermined.

We have heard a number of times that a key priority for the region should be improving connectivity. The eastern leg of HS2 is vital for economic growth in the east midlands. The potential indefinite postponement would be a massive blow to the economies of the cities and counties of the region. I look forward to assurances from the Minister that the leg will go ahead as promised, as requested by many Members this morning. If this is another broken promise from the Government, it will be a betrayal of the communities in the east midlands.

Photo of Toby Perkins Toby Perkins Shadow Minister (Education)

My hon. Friend is right about the uniformity of view that the east midlands has had a poor deal from this Government. We expect, during such debates, for Labour MPs to be critical of the Government; that is the role of the Opposition. However, were we to put together a Facebook video of the criticism of the Government in the debate, it would include excellent speeches from the hon. Members for Loughborough (Jane Hunt), for Rushcliffe (Ruth Edwards) and for Broxtowe (Darren Henry) about the east midlands being left behind under a Conservative Government. Those, too, would be compelling pieces of evidence.

Photo of Jeff Smith Jeff Smith Shadow Minister (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

My hon. Friend makes an important point. I hope that the Minister is listening to his own side, not just to Labour. We have been making this case for a long time, but it has been made strongly, as my hon. Friend says, on both sides of the Chamber.

There is a strong view that the biggest single thing that the Government could do for the east midlands economy would be to improve transport and connectivity, including the full electrification of the midland main line—a continuation through Leicester up to Sheffield. Apart from the environmental benefits, that would reduce journey times north and south. There is the Robin Hood line and the restoration of direct trains from Leicester to Coventry: the only significant cities anywhere in the UK that do not have a direct rail connection. A Government commitment to those kinds of transport investment would be real evidence of levelling up for the east midlands, which has, as we have heard a number of times, the lowest transport investment in the UK.

The final issue that I will mention, though certainly not the least of them, is the emergence of new green industries, which has, again, been mentioned by those on both sides of the Chamber. Labour believes that it should be a priority of the Government to bring forward a green new deal and an ambitious package. We are proposing £30 billion of capital investment to support the creation of up to 400,000 new low-carbon jobs. There is engineering and manufacturing expertise in the east midlands that should be well placed to make the most of those new opportunities, and the east midlands should get its share of the jobs of the future.

Labour wants to see the east midlands thrive, along with our regions up and down the country. We need to address regional imbalance. The UK economy was already highly regionally imbalanced—perhaps the most regionally imbalanced major economy in Europe—well before covid hit. The pandemic restrictions have made existing inequalities worse. The uneven impact of lockdown on different sectors means that some areas have been much more affected than others, and the Government’s ill-defined levelling-up concept needs to address those inequalities. It must mean good-quality, secure work and job creation that helps us meet our climate ambitions. It has to mean a fair social security system for anyone who cannot work, whether due to economic shocks or illness.

Future economic success must mean the Government giving local areas the investment that they need to recover from the covid pandemic and rebuild strongly, with opportunities on everybody’s doorstep. We cannot afford any more broken promises from this Government. That is our challenge to the Minister.

Photo of Sir David Amess Sir David Amess Conservative, Southend West

The Minister will now respond to the debate, but please leave a couple of minutes for Mr Bradley to close proceedings.

Photo of Luke Hall Luke Hall Minister of State (Housing, Communities and Local Government) 10:48 am, 7th September 2021

Thank you, Sir David. It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, and indeed to be back in Westminster Hall. I congratulate my hon. Friend Ben Bradley on securing this important debate, and thank all right hon. and hon. Members for their contributions. The thing that has been shared universally is a passion for securing the best possible future for the region, and securing investment and the maximum support possible for everybody’s constituents. That goal is absolutely shared by the Government.

I also congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield on all the progress that he has made in his role as the leader of Nottinghamshire County Council. We all recognise that such strong local leadership is essential for securing our economic recovery and for levelling up. I join the shadow Minister, Jeff Smith, in thanking all local authorities in the east midlands for the hard work and leadership that they have provided in leading the way through the recovery.

We are committed to unlocking economic prosperity across all regions of the country. We want to address long-standing geographical inequalities, deliver economic opportunity and improve lives right across the country. As the Prime Minister announced in May, our landmark levelling up White Paper will be published later this year, and will set up bold new substantive policies that will improve opportunities, support businesses and boost livelihoods across the country, including in the east midlands. Indeed, an east midlands MP, my hon. Friend Neil O’Brien, has been appointed the Prime Minister’s adviser on levelling up. Only last week, our officials were in the east midlands to hear first-hand some of the opportunities available in the region, and some of the challenges faced.

The levelling up White Paper will be a natural continuation of our commitment to support local places. We are already backing that up with our ambitious investment programme, including the £4.8 billion levelling-up fund that was announced at the last spending review. That will be available to all parts of the country and will help improve everyday life. It will include regenerating town centres and high streets, improving connectivity—we heard about that this morning—and investing in cultural and heritage aspects. Those are exactly the kind of projects that my hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield said are so urgently needed in the region.

Photo of Lilian Greenwood Lilian Greenwood Opposition Deputy Chief Whip (Commons)

I was listening carefully to what the Minister said about levelling up. He has heard how the east midlands receives lower than average Government investment in a whole range of areas, including transport. Is it his Government’s intention to address that shortfall? When he talks about the levelling-up fund being available to the whole country, does he not envisage priority being given to an area such as the east midlands, which historically has missed out, to level us up? Is that his intention?

Photo of Luke Hall Luke Hall Minister of State (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

We have been clear about the areas of the country that are in the highest categories of need. The levelling-up fund is based on the fund’s priority themes of economic recovery, transport connectivity and regeneration. We have recognised that need in three districts in Nottinghamshire: Bassetlaw, Mansfield and Newark and Sherwood, as well as the city of Nottingham, which has been identified as a category 1 priority. In Derbyshire, Derby and the districts of Chesterfield, Derbyshire Dales, Erewash and High Peak have been identified as category 1, as has the city of Leicester. Those bids are being assessed and an announcement will be made later this year.

Photo of Nadia Whittome Nadia Whittome Labour, Nottingham East

Will the Minister publish the metric by which those calculations are made? I do not understand why the Chancellor’s constituency, which is among the top five most prosperous in the country, has been considered a priority for levelling up, but not constituencies such as ours, where the Minister has heard that over a third of children live in poverty.

Photo of Luke Hall Luke Hall Minister of State (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

I just outlined the numerous places in the east midlands that are in category 1. Significant information about the indexation is published on the Government’s website. I urge the hon. Lady to look at that.

There is an important role here for the Members of Parliament. We recognise that formally in the levelling-up fund and we encourage the hon. Lady to make a case through that. We recognise the significant number of category 1 places in the east midlands. We have heard significant pleas for extra investment in the east midlands. A number of Members have talked about making sure we deliver that on the ground. We have made significant investments in the region in recent years, including committing £212 million for nine town deals: two in north-east Derbyshire, one for Loughborough and one for Stapleford. We are investing £49 million in five high streets in the east midlands, over £370 million in the local growth fund and £64.5 million in getting building funding. That will help to drive local growth and economic recovery in the region. Some of those are already bearing fruit at a local level. The £2.6 million local growth funding we awarded for the Vision University Centre Mansfield is helping West Nottinghamshire College to address the skills gaps in the area. The £3.7 million of local growth funding has supported the opening of the Museum of Making in Derby in May 2021, as part of the redevelopment of the historic silk mill. There is £9.5 million of local growth funding supporting the opening of a technology institute—a new build that provides facilities for skills development, to meet the needs of the automotive industry in Leicestershire. The east midlands has received over £3 billion in covid recovery grants, including small business and retail, hospitality and leisure grants, local restriction grants, support payments and restart grants.

We think partnership working will be key to levelling up. On the proposed East Midlands Development Corporation, we are already engaged in some excellent joint working with local partners. My hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield highlighted the key intervention in the four opportunities that he spoke about. We are currently considering the draft business case with propositions at Ratcliffe-on-Soar, East Midlands airport and Toton. I commend the councils involved, including Nottinghamshire County Council, for maintaining that momentum by setting up a company as an interim vehicle in establishing a locally led urban development corporation. That really shows the intent and local leadership. As set out in the Queen’s Speech, we intend to reform the development corporation legislative framework through the Planning Bill to ensure local areas have access to the appropriate delivery vehicles to support growth and regeneration.

This partnership approach will be crucial in developing plans for another significant opportunity in the east midlands. I was of course pleased to see that the east midlands freeport was selected early this year as one of eight new prospective freeports, subject to business case approval. Of course, East Midlands airport—the largest dedicated cargo operation in the country—is based in the prospective freeport. It will be a key economic asset in the east midlands. Margaret Beckett said that will happen only if the Government share the enthusiasm to deliver those projects—we absolutely do.

I particularly want to put on the record my thanks to my hon. Friend Ruth Edwards for all her work in driving the project forward, and my hon. Friend Brendan Clarke-Smith for his support. We recognise the scale of the opportunity that the project presents for the east midlands. The region’s connectivity to other freeports and the combination of airport and rail port create a distinctive offer for the region. We are keen to see all partners working together to deliver this for the east midlands and build a strong outline business case, due for submission very shortly. We will continue to work with colleagues across the east midlands to develop robust plans to capitalise on the local growth agenda that can be delivered here.

We heard a lot about HS2. We absolutely recognise the good work done by local partners, including Sir John Peace, Midlands Engine and Midlands Connect to identify the potential impact of HS2 on Toton and the wider east midlands. The IRP will be published soon and will outline exactly how major rail projects, including future HS2 phases, will work together to deliver the reliable train services that passengers in the midlands need and deserve.

I certainly heard the passion and the unanimous voice from hon. Members about providing certainty on the project. Of course, we will take that back to colleagues at DFT and ensure that their voice is heard. I particularly want to thank my hon. Friend Darren Henry and Mr Perkins for making the point clearly that certainty is required. Given the long-term significance of decisions within the IRP, it is of course right that we carefully consider those priorities and take on board evidence from a wide range of stakeholders before making the final decisions.

My hon. Friend Jane Hunt talked about the importance of delivering fairer council funding. She is aware that we had to postpone the review of relative needs and resources due to the pressures on councils getting involved in that conversation during covid. We think that was the right path, but we made some changes this year, including extending the rural services delivery grant and providing £240 million of equalisation. I look forward to working with her as we continue to have a conversation about how to ensure councils are funded fairly. Of course, there was a 4.5% rise in core spending power for the east midlands this year, which she welcomed and supported at the time.

On devolution, I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield for his contribution, and I listened carefully to the arguments that he made. I am very grateful for the comments from Nadia Whittome and for her support for securing a devolution deal. I recognise that it is a complicated picture across the region, but we certainly look forward to having the discussion.

There is so much more that could be said. I thank hon. Members for their contributions to the debate. I will certainly reflect on the points that have been made. I will take back to colleagues at the DFT and my Department the points about providing certainty, and we look forward to continuing to work with colleagues as we invest in this hugely important region and this important part of our agenda.

Photo of Ben Bradley Ben Bradley Conservative, Mansfield 10:59 am, 7th September 2021

I thank all colleagues who contributed to this very important debate and, as well as raising their local concerns, backed these key regional economic projects that will create jobs and growth and support our residents in all our constituencies across the area. I welcome the positive words from the Minister on those key projects, and the point he made about the significant investment through the towns fund and the levelling-up fund. I look forward to seeing a longer-term proposal for levelling up and what it means for our communities in the White Paper this autumn. Perhaps we can have some long-term certainty about funding in the spending review. I am sure we will all continue to fight for these key projects for growth and the benefit of our constituents over the coming months and years.

Motion lapsed (Standing Order No. 10(6)).