20 January 2020
Queen’s Speech Debate: Andrew Bridgen calls for infrastructure investment in East Midlands

Speaking in the debate on the Queen’s Speech, Andrew Bridgen highlights the economic growth in NW Leicestershire and calls for more infrastructure investment in the region such as the A1, A5 and reopening the Ivanhoe line for passengers and for transport decisions to be made locally with a new Mayor for Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire and Leicestershire.

Andrew Bridgen (North West Leicestershire) (Con)

It is a great honour to speak in this debate and to follow the maiden speech of the hon. Member for Nottingham East (Nadia Whittome). Nottingham is a city that I know well, having lived there for three years while I was at the excellent Nottingham University. I congratulate her on her maiden speech, and I also congratulate other colleagues who have spoken for the first time in the Chamber today. I and the rest of the House look forward to their further contributions in due course.

In common with much of the country, North West Leicestershire has certainly seen a jobs miracle since 2010, when the Conservatives came into Government and I took my seat from Labour. Over the past decade, unemployment has fallen by more than 60% in my district, and perhaps even more importantly, youth unemployment has fallen by more than 70%. That has been achieved by working with a Conservative-controlled district council and a Conservative-controlled county council, and by playing to our strengths—namely, the connectivity of the road network provided by the M42. That and the environmentally based regeneration project of the national forest are both long-term visions and legacies of previous Conservative Governments from which my constituents and visitors to my constituency continue to reap the benefits.

According to ONS figures out this year, my constituency is now rated as not only the highest on the economic prosperity index but the happiest place to live in the east midlands. The long-term regeneration in my district, together with that of our neighbours, is one that many areas of the country would do well to look at as we prepare for our post-Brexit future. My constituency benefits from being not only the UK’s centre of population, but at the centre of the golden triangle of Leicestershire, Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire—three counties all benefiting from more jobs, more economic growth and, uncoincidentally, more Conservative MPs since 2010.

The east midlands is doing well, but we could be doing much better. While the counties appear to be thriving, I am unsure whether the same could be said for our three cities, with their much higher levels of deprivation and unemployment. My constituency has thousands of jobs coming on stream—more than 10 times more jobs in the next three years than I have total unemployed in my constituency—but we do not have an extensive public transport network to get the unemployed from Nottingham, which we have just heard about, from Derby and from Leicester to the employment hub around East Midlands airport and the east midlands gateway.

My constituency does not even have a railway station, despite being this country’s centre of population, and my constituents are right to look on enviously at the investment in infrastructure in the west midlands under Mayor Andy Street. Perhaps this is a lesson that we need to take on board in the east midlands to stimulate further economic and employment growth in our region. Time has come for a three cities and three counties Mayor for Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire and Leicestershire —something I have been requesting for many years.

Local road connectivity through the M1, the M42, the A50 and the A453 has stimulated significant economic growth in my district and in our neighbours. My seat now has the highest economic growth outside London and the south-east, and the election was proof not only that the majority of the country is fed up with rich remainers telling them what is good for them, but that those outside London are fed up with the metropolitan, southern-based Department for Transport telling them that there is not enough money or a case for their local transport projects—projects that would have a genuinely transformational effect on the lives of our constituents. At the same time, however, the Department wants to commit more than £100 billion to HS2 to get a tiny proportion of our population from nearly London to nearly Birmingham, and perhaps beyond, some day in the far future.

Alicia Kearns (Rutland and Melton) (Con)

Does my hon. Friend agree that if we truly want to support the entire east midlands—particularly if we sensibly scrap the HS2 programme, which does not help or level up the entire country—we need to look at the A1, which is a key road through the east midlands that connects us up to the north and across to Peterborough. The Department for Transport needs to listen to views on the A1 and give us the transport and the roads that we deserve.

Andrew Bridgen

I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. Since a third of all private sector jobs in North West Leicestershire are distribution or logistics-based, I have a wider interest in the road network. I would support improvements not only to the A1, but to the A5, which also serves the east and west midlands.

HS2 is what happens when people in London tell the midlands and the north that they know what is best for them. To suggest that all we need to be happier and wealthier is to get to London faster is, frankly, insulting. During thousands of conversations with my constituents, not one has said to me that their transport problems will be solved by getting to London 20 minutes faster, but they do tell me that they need a train line or improved public transport to get a job and to get to work.

My constituency has no railway station, and Coalville—my major conurbation—is the fifth largest town in the country without one, but an existing railway line between Burton and Leicester that passes through Coalville, which would serve hundreds of thousands of people, cannot obtain funding for a mere fraction of the cost of HS2. I have calculated that the Ivanhoe line could be reopened for passengers for around one thousandth of the current estimated cost of HS2. To deliver for the vast majority of people in the midlands and the north, we need to scrap that white elephant project and concentrate the resources on local connectivity, which will have an impact and benefit for the many and not just for the few.

The Prime Minister rightly recognises the need to level up the regions. For example, London recorded a 1.1% annual rise in output per person to £54,700 in 2018, increasing the per capita gap to the poorest region, the north- east, where growth was only 0.4%, to £23,600 per head.

I have already spoken about connectivity, and I make the point again that the north-east will in no way be levelled up when a huge proportion of our infrastructure investment is spent on getting those who can afford it to London a few minutes quicker. Connectivity within our regions is key to levelling them up and reducing the UK’s dependence on London. We need to see investment in our regions, and that investment needs to be decided locally rather than in Whitehall.

This Government have a fine record on the economy, considering the dire position we inherited from the previous Labour Government. With the deficit at a more sustainable level of 1.8% of GDP, we need to build a country in which talented young people from constituencies such as mine do not have to go to London to progress their careers but have high-end opportunities in the midlands and the north. We need to build a country with the connectivity so that my constituents get their railway station and have the option of sustainable public transport, and so that people in our neighbouring cities can access the huge employment opportunities around East Midlands airport and the east midlands gateway. I want a future for the east midlands in which we are able to retain a larger number of the fine graduates we are getting every year from our excellent universities.

Turning to the national picture, the UK is now in a strong position to realise the benefits of Brexit, with a Prime Minister who believes in the opportunities it presents. Recent figures from the ONS show that, in the last 12 months, UK exports outside the EU grew by 6.3%, while exports to the European Union grew by only 1.3%. Those figures are being achieved before we have even negotiated our own free trade deals. We know there are huge opportunities with the USA, and those talks have already been opened up.

Optimism is also soaring among Britain’s leading companies and employers. The latest Deloitte chief finance officer survey shows that business sentiment has risen at its fastest rate for 11 years following the Conservative victory at last month’s election. Thirty-eight per cent. of CFOs expect to increase capital expenditure and 27% expect to hire more employees over the next year.

It is clear that business, freed from the shackles of the uncertainty that the previous Parliament created, is now in a position to invest in a post-Brexit Britain with a Government who believe in business and believe in our country’s future.