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Budget is missed opportunity for Hull

Hull North MP Diana Johnson gave the speech below in the Budget Debate in the House of Commons on 18 March 2015.


Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab): When the Chancellor stood up this afternoon, one of his opening remarks was that his Government chose the whole nation. He talked about us all being in this together, which he has said on many occasions. But he did not talk about the 1 million people who use food banks, the 1 million people on zero-hours contracts, or the tax breaks that he gave to millionaires. He did not really talk about the widening regional inequalities in this country, which we are seeing more starkly than for many, many decades.

For my constituents in Hull, there was no mention of the disproportionate cuts to local authority funding—25% of Hull city council’s budget has gone, although it is in the top 10 most disadvantaged communities in this country. The Chancellor did not talk about the Centre for Cities report, which said that 13,300 private sector jobs had been lost in my city over the past decade. I want to talk a little about the regional nature of the inequalities in this country; and how the Budget that has been set out today will not tackle those growing divides.

The Chancellor talks a lot about the northern powerhouse. I had a look at page 43 of the Red Book to see what he was saying. I was very disappointed to find very little mention of great cities such as Hull. The little that there is is about the electrification of the rail line between Hull and Selby. Unfortunately, the Government and the civil servants forgot that the rail line across the Pennines stretches from Liverpool all the way to Hull. They decided, for reasons unknown to me or to many of my colleagues, that they were going to stop the electrification in this round at Selby.

To put matters right, Hull Trains has put together an excellent package of private finance to complete the electrification all the way to Hull. In fact, a strong cross-party delegation went to meet the Secretary of State for Transport to press for that to be done as soon as possible, particularly given that Hull will be the city of culture in 2017 and is expecting many more visitors. However, the Red Book states that electrification of the line to Hull will go ahead in the period from 2019 to 2024. The impetus for doing something very positive, using private sector money and doing it quickly, seems to have been completely lost.

I stress that if electrification to Hull does not happen, that will put in doubt the direct train services that currently operate between Manchester and Hull, because of the new franchise going through at the moment and the new rolling stock that will be required for the electrified line. Again, it is pie in the sky when it comes to investing in local rail services. There is talk here of High Speed 3, but I would like to get High Speed 1 to Hull in the first instance. I am still very conscious that £22 billion was spent on transport infrastructure in London in 2013, but in Yorkshire the figure was £1.1 billion. There is real discrepancy.

I mentioned Hull being the city of culture in 2017 because I was looking out for additional support for the city, given that special status. I note that paragraph 1.148 of the Red Book, which relates to the northern powerhouse, states that

“the government is already… investing in the vibrant cultural life of the north, including £78 million for the Factory Manchester.”

Well, good luck to the Factory Manchester, but what about the 2017 city of culture? I also note—this is on page 73 of the Red Book—that money is being provided to the Muni theatre in Pendle, but again there is no mention of Hull.

I want to move on to businesses. Hull had one of the lowest rates of business start-ups in 2013, according to the Centre for Cities report, so I welcome the extension of the Humber enterprise zone. It is just a shame that the Humber local enterprise partnership has had much less to spend than Yorkshire Forward did.

On digital matters, unfortunately only 22% of postcodes in Hull currently have access to high-speed broadband, which is one of the lowest rates in the country, al though KC Communications tells me that we are future-proofed because our high-speed broadband goes to the property and not the cabinet, which is what happens across the rest of the country. For reasons I do not understand, Hull was excluded from the first tranche of the SuperConnected Cities voucher scheme, which local businesses have been complaining about. We are told that there are 50 cities in the next tranche, but we do not know whether Hull will be included—I hope that it is.

The Red Book also refers to a northern hub within the northern powerhouse, with £11 million to develop the digital industries in Leeds, Sheffield and Manchester—the Deputy Prime Minister’s golden triangle—but again Hull seems to have been excluded from that. May we have some clarification on that?

On jobs and growth, of course it is good to see more people in work, but in Hull 1,000 people applied for the 14 Siemens jobs that were advertised, which shows the lack of good-quality, full-time, permanent, skilled jobs in the area and how there is much more to do.

We know from today’s Budget that there are cuts ahead if the Conservatives win the general election. We already know that there have been massive cuts to policing, to council services and to the local NHS. In Hull we know that Humberside already has the lowest police numbers since 1979, that a quarter of our council budget has gone—£278 per person—and that our local NHS is really suffering, with our A and E department in crisis. I shall wait to see whether the money that has been announced for mental health services for children and young people comes Hull’s way, because many of our young people are having to travel hundreds of miles to get treatment.

Hull people know from our experiences since 2010 that a Tory-led Government would certainly direct the deepest cuts identified in this Budget at our city. Hull needs a Government who really have chosen to stand up for the whole nation, are on our side in Hull and not on our back. We need the economics of hope and investment in all parts of all regions. We need a Government looking to the 2030s, not the 1930s. Hull desperately needs a Labour Government.

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