I heartily congratulate you, Mr Deputy Speaker, on your re-election today. I am delighted to make this contribution thanks to my electors in Blackpool South, who returned me as their MP with an increased majority for the fifth successive time. It is a huge privilege to be a Member of Parliament for a town that is loved by millions of visitors every year, and that has played a huge part in the social, leisure and cultural life of this country for well over 100 years. It has stamped its mark on Britain as firmly as the lettering that goes through Blackpool rock.
Blackpool has many hard-working small businesses and enterprises. But, like many other seaside towns, it is a town that continues to face great challenges in housing, low part-time pay, significant pockets of deprivation, health, education and a highly transient population. Bread-and-butter questions are what matter to the people of Blackpool: how do we ensure that devolution delivers and fuels growth properly; and how does it strengthen our town’s social cohesion?
I warmly congratulate the Secretary of State on his new post. I do so not out of convention but because of the respect that I hold for him personally. He has already shown in discussions about Blackpool an empathy for our needs in terms of our local enterprise partnership and the local growth programmes. The challenge is to recognise that, for structures that work with the grain of local need, it is a question not just of expanding economic growth in the region but rebalancing it. We need strategies that do not exacerbate divisions within and between regions. Where the best laid plans or structures are based is important, as is the way in which change is delivered. The coalition Government did us no favours with the big-bang abolition of regional development agencies and the setting up of a regional development fund, which has had little local input. As shadow regional growth Minister, with my hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Mr Umunna) and his predecessor, the former Member for Southampton, Itchen, I saw that at first hand.
Some degree of humility is needed from the new Government over conduits for further change. Rhetoric about a so-called northern powerhouse can seem very thin in a town such as Blackpool where we have endured funding cuts of nearly 40% over the past four years. This Government must tell us how their devolution plans will deliver not just for big cities but for the smaller towns and the seaside and coastal towns. I am talking here about towns such as Blackpool, Bradford, Swindon and Stevenage. This is not just a north-south issue.
As someone who grew up in and around Manchester, I yield to no one in admiration for what has been done there through enlightened local government and business. But the Chancellor has been insisting that powers—even lesser powers—can be delivered only if a directly elected mayor is accepted. That is despite the fact that some of those areas have previously elected not to have such a role.
The Chancellor seems to be adopting the approach of Henry Ford, who, when asked about his cars said, “You can have any colour you want as long as it’s black.” Perhaps he is beginning to recognise that plurality is important, because I saw a picture in the Financial Times ofhim in Derby talking about a poster that said that the midlands was the business engine of Britain. It reminds me of the old story about the American politician who praised a city—let us say St Louis—and then said, “Why do I say this?” only to receive the reply, “Because you are in St Louis.”
We know that the RDAs delivered £4.50 of long-term benefits for every £1 spent. The LEPs were intended to work with the new structures, but LEP members are entitled —we all are—to know what their future will be if their remit is not dovetailed properly with local authorities or elected mayors.
As a Blackpool MP and a shadow transport Minister, I know that there are potentially many areas for greater collaboration. Transport is one such area. It is essential that there is legitimate democratic oversight of spending. Some time ago, I wrote in a Smith Institute pamphlet that the art of localism is getting the balance right between the maximum amount of democratic accountability and the maximum amount of entrepreneurship. People’s aspirations in the 21st century are more complex than they were in the past, so local needs must be addressed by local communities. Devolution will only produce good growth if the interests of communities are supported. Spending on and investment in sustainable housing is an issue that this Government need to address.
Those are the challenges on which the Chancellor needs to be held to account. If we are to have sustainable growth, this Government will not be forgiven if they simply devolve money to cities.