Priti makes economic case for Essex
Priti Patel has been pressing the Government to invest in key infrastructure and support for businesses during a debate on the economy of the East of England. The debate took place three weeks before the Government announces its next Budget and Priti pressed Ministers to invest in key infrastructure in Essex and cut taxes to support economic growth, job creation and increased prosperity. Priti said:
“The East of England and Essex is a dynamic and vibrant economy which makes an enormous contribution to job creation and prosperity for the whole country. Despite the hard work and efforts of local businesses, our future prospects are currently being held back by historic under-investment in infrastructure. We are now at a tipping point and to achieve further growth to meet the needs of our growing population we need clear commitments to invest in the A120 dualling scheme, the delivery of the A12 widening scheme and action to improve rail services.”
“Businesses in Essex also need the Government to cut the tax burden. Corporation tax and air passenger duty can act as a barrier to investment and business rates in particular are having a severe impact on our town centres and high streets. Cutting the tax burden in the forthcoming budget would give businesses in Essex a boast and help create more jobs.”
Hansard extract of Priti’s speech:
Priti Patel (Witham) (Con)
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies, and to join the debate. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous) and all colleagues who have spoken on being strong advocates for the east of England. In so many areas, we have common ground. I agree 100% with many of the comments and points that have been made today.
We have heard that the economy of the east of England is vibrant and dynamic. It is an engine of economic growth that contributes enormously to the Exchequer. It delivers on housing and jobs, and we have pioneering industries and manufacturing bases, and quality research and innovation throughout the region, with global connections through ports and airports. We have a world-class array of institutions ranging from Cambridge University to Essex University and many other educational establishments, as well as our traditional industries, in particular agriculture, which we have heard about.
Cumulative economic growth figures for 2010 to 2016 show that, in terms of gross value added, the east of England region hit 13%, behind only London at 22% and the west midlands at 15%. In 2016, our region’s total GVA was £147 billion. The regional population of more than 6 million is also growing fast, at 8.9% for the decade to 2024—the fastest rate after London’s.
In the county that I represent as the Member of Parliament for Witham in Essex, we have first-class airports at Stansted and Southend, and the London Gateway, Tilbury and Harwich ports, which all offer world-class global trading connections. They are keen to expand and grow, not only as we leave the European Union, but to diversify what they do to boost global trade and to secure future growth and job creation.
Since 2010, the number of enterprises in Essex has risen by 25% from 52,000 to 64,000. The county now contributes around £40 billion in GVA to the UK economy. Essex is highly aspirational and ambitious, and that is shown by the jobs being created. We have heard plenty about infrastructure today, and I want to touch on how vital it is not only to economic development, but to economic prosperity and growth in the region—that cannot be taken for granted. We have heard about public expenditure in the region, which is £1,000 per capita less than the UK average, and our infrastructure has suffered severe historic underfunding. That has to change. My hon. Friend the Member for Clacton (Giles Watling) touched on the issue of the A120. I agree with him 100%—we need that road investment to come fast.
On top of that is another awful conundrum. I have spent many debates in this Chamber talking about the A12, which we also heard about today, but the development scheme for that road is being delayed. Any delay costs money and jobs, while the congestion and extra business costs continue. The Government committed to widening the road between the Boreham and Marks Tey interchanges, but Colchester Borough Council caused delay by changing its housing and development proposals. That scheme needs to be actioned quickly, as does further widening up to the junctions north of Marks Tey.
We have touched on rail. The Great Eastern main line taskforce, which I chair, is all about a key infrastructure route that we absolutely need to invest in. A few years ago we proposed a package that could deliver £4.5 billion in economic benefits to the region, unlocking 50,000 new jobs. We need those urgent improvements.
Sandy Martin (Ipswich) (Lab)
We all welcome the new trains on the region’s railways, but they will clearly not be able to perform as well as they might unless we also get infrastructure investment in the track itself. Furthermore, does the right hon. Lady agree that one of the things holding back parts of our region is the extraordinary and anomalous cost of our rail tickets? Some parts of the region are some of the most expensive places anywhere in the country to get to by train per mile.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. Our constituents as rail passengers are paying some of the highest fares in the country, which also means that we are cross-subsidising other railway networks elsewhere, without reaping money that should be coming back into our own rail lines. That is exactly the purpose of the taskforce—to argue for that infrastructure investment.
Greater investment in digital and broadband has been touched on, so I will not cover that, but it is essential, in particular for connectivity in the rural economy. Instead, I shall end with some comments on fiscal measures, because the debate has come about as a pre-Budget discussion. We want to invest in key infrastructure to boost productivity and jobs, but the Government should also look at fiscal measures to support the economy not only in our region but throughout the economy. That means cutting the tax burden to unleash more job creation and to give entrepreneurs and investors more scope to invest.
More than 80% of my constituents work for SMEs. A worrying trend is politicians constantly looking to introduce tax rises to solve the country’s problems. The Government need to use the tax system to encourage and nurture the entrepreneurial spirit, instead of punishing entrepreneurs. We need to be much more dynamic about addressing that issue, as well as looking at business rate reform and support for our high streets and town centres—frankly, we are seeing their death. In a county that has two airports, we need to look at slashing air passenger duty; it is a cost that affects passengers as well as businesses. We could develop many more flight routes as we trade our way around the world post-Brexit.
Fundamentally, when we get to the Budget and the comprehensive spending review, we must review the tax burden on businesses and do everything possible to ensure that we support enterprise and growth across the east of England.