by Steve Beasant on 21 August, 2011
There is a gap between economic growth in the North of England and the South of England and in particular the South East – that is undeniable. It is also not acceptable. For far too long the UK has been reliant on a Square Mile in the City of London to power the UK on. Pumped up on private and public debt, previous Governments pandered to an under-regulated banking sector and struggled with creaking infrastructure.
That is why Liberal Democrats put our commitment to rebalance the economy on the cover of our manifesto. That means making sure that as the economy recovers the whole country benefits, not just one corner of it. With MPs from Land’s End all the way up to John O’Groats (with My constituency of Westmorland and Lonsdale almost precisely equidistant between the two), we know only too well the sometimes stark differences that exist between different regions and nations in the UK. That is why my colleagues and I have been pushing in Government to address this.
Firstly, the Regional Growth Fund has been specifically designed to encourage and support investment away from London and the South East. The first round of £450m was allocated earlier this year and nearly £1bn will be granted to businesses in the second round. The first round alone is expected to create 32,000 jobs in Yorkshire, the North East and the North West.
This will help boost growth and jobs but Liberal Democrats believe in going further than hand-outs. Government must be more than a huge machine aimed at redistributing money made elsewhere. To move forward, we cannot rely on the benevolence of Whitehall. We must chart our own course, empower people to take charge of the communities around them and shape their futures. Only this empowerment will create sustainable growth, capable of going beyond what a Government is able or willing to spend on a particular area or industry.
Britain must learn from its past mistakes when the north suffered the consequences when Government’s retreated. I have seen that with my own eyes where I grew up, in Lancashire in the 1980s. I don’t know whether Margaret Thatcher’s policies towards the north were born of ignorance or malevolence but they amounted to the same thing.
That is why I am proud when I hear that by 2015 Lib Dem Childrens Minister Sarah Teather will be putting £2.5bn a year extra in schools for children from disadvantaged backgrounds and that Lib Dem Business Secretary Vince Cable has driven a massive expansion of apprenticeships in the last year, ensuring young people have the skills to build their own careers and giving businesses a reason to set up shop in Manchester, York, Burnley and my own constituency in Cumbria. Thanks to Liberal Democrats there will be a quarter of a million new apprenticeships by 2015, more than ever before.
Future small- and medium-sized businesses need people who understand their issues and get solutions. They need infrastructure, they need a little extra support in the first few years. The Local Enterprise Partnerships and the Enterprise Zones that have been set up will help this. With business owners and community leaders leading the way, the Government is supporting their efforts to attract hundreds of new start up firms to the Zones, through simplified planning rules, super-fast broadband and over £100m tax breaks for new businesses over the next 4 years.
At the same time, we’re supporting people who live in these areas. We’re putting a little bit extra back in the pockets of basic-rate taxpayers. The increase in the Income Tax threshold, means £200 less paid in tax this year for 3.5m people in the North East and West and has lifted nearly 150,000 people out of paying tax altogether. This is only the first step in our commitment to raise the threshold so no one pays any tax on the first £10,000 they earn. Liberal Democrats made clear at the last election that we want tax cuts for people on low and middle incomes, not the rich. Because we’re in Government, that’s what is happening.
This is what Liberal Democrats stand for in Government: supporting communities so they can shape their own futures and ensure they have the skills, the support and the money to create prosperity on their own terms – not dictated by Whitehall. That is what I will continue to fight for because it is the only way we can bridge the North-South divide in a sustainable, long-term manner.Leave a comment