I spoke in the Queen’s Speech, calling for an end to government cuts for local services and for Liverpool to be properly included in the government’s concept of a ‘Northern Powerhouse’.
This is my contribution to the debate:
Mrs Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside) (Lab/Co-op): I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for Stone (Sir William Cash). I am sure that his interesting insights will lead to much discussion in the coming Session.
I thank the people of Liverpool, Riverside for returning me to this House with an increased majority and on a much-increased turnout. I value both of those achievements.
Today’s Gracious Speech has focused on jobs and opportunities, and the important task of rebalancing the economy. I want to draw attention to some aspects of that, particularly transport. I am pleased that transport featured in the Gracious Speech, but a little disappointed that it did not take a higher profile. It is essential that we remember that transport is integral to having a successful economy, and to the mobility and movement across the whole of the United Kingdom that is required to achieve that.
Transport must be affordable. People have to be able to afford to get to the jobs if they are to be able to take up job opportunities. It is important that transport is accessible, including by disabled people. That has been ignored too much in the past. There has to be sufficient capacity for both passengers and freight, so that businesses can develop and goods can get to their destinations efficiently and effectively.
The Gracious Speech contained some proposals for devolution, and I note in particular the proposal on devolution to cities. I welcome the proposal in the cities Bill to give local authorities in devolved city areas more control over bus services. Buses are the form of transport used by most people, although they are too often ignored in discussions about transport. I hope that my city of Liverpool will, in due course, benefit from that devolution Bill.
The financial provisions in that Bill must be adequate. Cities receiving important devolved powers must have a proper financial settlement, so that those powers are meaningful and able to bring greater prosperity to people in their area. Certainly in the case of Liverpool, I hope that the strong, incessant and unacceptable cuts in funding for local services will cease. Although devolution is very much to be welcomed, the constant cutting of funding for essential local services such as social care is doing deep damage and is unacceptable. I hope that that will end.
I note too the mention in the Gracious Speech of the important proposal for the northern powerhouse—an interesting concept that draws attention to the north. It is an interesting combination of proposals for transport and business development.
Sammy Wilson: Before the hon. Lady moves away from the subject of transport, may I ask whether she agrees that, especially for regions such as Northern Ireland and for connectivity with the rest of the world, the development of Heathrow airport, or at least the expansion of a hub airport, is very important?
Mrs Ellman: I agree that connectivity with the rest of the world is extremely important. I note that that was omitted from the Gracious Speech—perhaps it is the question that dare not be asked, even in this Chamber. However, when the day comes that the Davies commission reports, that will be decision time, and it will be a decision that cannot be shirked any longer. Essentially, I agree with the hon. Gentleman.
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The proposals for the northern powerhouse are very important, but it is essential that the northern powerhouse is indeed about the north. In the last Parliament, Ministers talking about the northern powerhouse constantly spoke about Manchester and Leeds. It is equally important that places such as Liverpool, Sheffield, Newcastle and Hull benefit from the northern powerhouse. When I raised that point, I was told that the reference to Manchester and Leeds was shorthand for the northern powerhouse, which I found rather disconcerting. I hope that that will be corrected in this Parliament. The northern powerhouse is an important concept, but it must be backed up by resources and it must apply to “the north”, not just to some cities of the north.
Although devolution is important, it should not be confined to cities. The whole of the United Kingdom is not concentrated solely on cities. There are towns that are on the fringes of cities; there are county areas. If we want economic prosperity for all and to rebalance the economy, all those areas have to be considered. Let us consider one example of disparity between regions. Rail investment per head in London is £294; I am sure it is greatly needed and the case is constantly being made for more investment, but let us look at the amount of rail investment per head in other regions. The figure for the east of England is £58; for south-west England, £41; for the east midlands, £37; for the west midlands, £50; for the north-west, £89; for Yorkshire and Humberside, £101; and for the south-east, £69. Surely that cannot reflect needs and opportunities. If the Government are seriously interested in rebalancing the economy, they have to look at where investment goes and where investment in transport goes, so that opportunities are opened up in all part of the United Kingdom.
I was pleased to see reference in the Gracious Speech to High Speed 2 and confirmation that proposals for High Speed 2 will continue. I welcome that. The extra capacity that will come with High Speed 2 is essential and is much needed, particularly in relation to the economy. It is needed for freight as well as for passenger services. The high-speed line will not be designed for freight, but it is essential that as the high-speed lines develop, the capacity left on the existing line is used for additional passenger services and also for freight services. That means that this development must be planned as part of an integrated approach to rail.
There must be more connectivity with High Speed 2, and High Speed 2 investment must be seen as part of regeneration, with support for business and enterprise alongside those lines so that the regions served by High Speed 2 benefit, and also to ensure that as many other parts of the country as possible benefit. During the previous Parliament I was pleased to see how the High Speed 2 proposals changed from proposals simply for a new line to proposals for a new line backed by regeneration and as part of improved connectivity with the entire country.
It is important, too, that the development is seen as an opportunity for people to acquire new skills and additional jobs. That must be part of the concept of taking the line further. Development in high speed must not be at the expense of investing in the existing classic line. I am pleased that we made some progress on this in the previous Parliament and it is essential that this is taken forward. It is about capacity, regeneration and opportunities.
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I listened carefully to the comments of the right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs Gillan) on compensation. When such a scheme goes forward, there will inevitably be people who lose out. Compensation should be given fairly. I agree with the right hon. Lady’s comments in that respect.
I make these remarks today to draw the attention of the House to the importance of transport in the context of the key objectives of supporting jobs and opening up opportunity, as set out in the Gracious Speech. Transport is rarely a high-profile issue, but it is essential to making our society work, so I hope that as this Parliament proceeds, the measures set out in relation to further transport investment proceed and other important measures are considered too. Transport must be accessible, it must have sufficient investment, and it must be closely linked to business, enterprise, skills and opportunities. It must be approached in that light.