ABOVE IS A TRANSCRIPT OF THE SPEECH I GAVE IN A WESTMINSTER HALL DEBATE ON INFRASTRUCTURE SPENDING IN THE NORTH.
When we think of infrastructure spending what comes to mind are roads, trains and bridges. Infrastructure spending in the context of this debate does mean these things but also and perhaps sometimes forgotten means research and development, social infrastructure, social capital and allowing for money to be channelled not only into buildings and equipment, but also into the day-to-day needs of public services, communities and projects.
The Governments' promise of levelling up is extremely welcome in the North and in my Constituency of Sedgefield. I hope this debate is listened to very carefully by Government, because importantly many excellent ideas have been shared and debated as how to deliver this promise and level up the North. But before I give my ideas on levelling up and addressing Infrastructure spending in the North, I would like to first quote some data and give some context.
The North’s economy as recently as 2004 was the same size as London’s. London’s GDP is now a quarter bigger than the North. This may seem surprising but when you look at the 2003 Treasury Green Book edition, updated by the then Labour government it is hardly a surprise .Since 2003 when these disastrous funding decisions were put in place as a direct result of the Green Book and its skewed investment criteria the North and North East suffered. For too long the North has been taken for granted by previous governments and forgotten. December 2019 showed that the North had had enough and wanted change. The question is how do we go about setting this change in motion.
Firstly, new transport infrastructure spending in the North should focus on connectivity and capacity. The North does not share the same issues of the south when it comes to transport and a one size fits all approach will not work. What will level up the North is connecting the North’s forgotten and left behind towns, villages and communities to the employment centres and cities. This will connect people across the north to well paying jobs. It will allow people to access better education and it will be an enabler allowing people to lift themselves up.
In my constituency Ferryhill Station which has the East Coast Main Line and the Stillington Spur running through it, these rail lines are active and connect to the major conurbations and beyond. However the Stillington spur is freight only and the fantastic Azumas etc on the ECML just whizz straight through. At one point in the past this junction was one of the busiest in Europe! The problem now is Ferryhill Station has no station. It was lost in the Beeching cuts of the 1960s.
The Beeching reversal fund launched by the DFT offered the opportunity for MPs to apply for funding to reopen stations closed by Beeching. I have led an application to reopen Ferryhill station and will hopefully hear back on the decision in the spending review this week.
A key dynamic of the Beeching rail reversal fund is the need for MP's to lead. MPs have a unique perspective on the communities that we represent. We are able to look at our communities from a hyper-local perspective allowing us to see the issues and possible solutions and how the small changes can make a big difference. I would suggest that the government create a similar funding pot open to applications from MPs that will allow funding for particularly rural infrastructure projects that have been overlooked or ignored by councils and mayors. These I would suggest being at the level of sorting out a dangerous crossroads or getting broadband into a small village. The ones that are too small for national attention but never seem to quite make the lists of local councils or mayors. I am completely certain that I could ask any Honourable Member in this debate today from a non urban centre seat to name a potential infrastructure project in their constituency that has been overlooked and ignored but one which would make a huge difference to that community if it were to happen. Infrastructure should not just be big high cost projects especially if we are going to level up the North Infrastructure spending should focus on local social and physical infrastructure as well as the big regional projects.
We must also make infrastructure Investment decisions that are bias to the North to reverse the years of London bias and be less focused on overall national economic growth. We need to allocate resources on the basis of improving the wellbeing and productivity of people not just on overall UK economics.
Treasury figures project London’s per capita publicly supported infrastructure spending at around £5,426 per resident. Investment in the North West region is projected at a quarter of this at £1,248 per resident, Yorkshire and the Humber is half of that at £581 per resident and the North East, with few capital projects, at only £223 spent per resident, a mere 4% of London. The North is clearly disadvantaged, and reform is urgently required to give stronger weight to the North. There needs to be a ripping up of the Treasuries existing value for money criteria whereby currently an investment has to be shown to maximise economic return in terms of gross value added creating and contributing to a disparity between the North and the rest of the country which is extreme by the standards of most developed countries. The solution to this in reality would look like opening a Free Port in Teesside or moving parts of the civil service to the North and using the assets of the state to pump prime local economies, stimulate private investment and level up the North.
In order to level up Infrastructure spending in the North of England we must look to our communities at both macro connectivity and hyper-local level interventions and see what can be done to level up locally and regionally with equal importance. Our communities need to see both serious big schemes and immediate community level initiatives and promises that in future the decision-making field will be level.