Below is the text of the speech made by Dan Jarvis, the Labour MP for Barnsley Central, in the House of Commons on 20 January 2020.
It is a huge pleasure to follow the outstanding maiden speech by the hon. Member for Kensington (Felicity Buchan). To have delivered it without notes is incredibly impressive, and she has laid a powerful marker for what an articulate champion she will be for her constituents.
I should declare an interest as a metro Mayor. I want to say at the outset that, as we prepare for the future and for life beyond Brexit, our priority must be to build a collaborative, sustainable and inclusive economy where everyone shares in the benefits of growth. We have one of the world’s largest economies, worth $2.38 trillion, accounting for 3.3% of the global economy. That is an important achievement, but for too long the size of our economy has been the overriding measure of success, the overriding driver of investment decisions and the overriding focus in public policy, and that has masked a failure to focus on what matters most.
It is our people and their communities who matter most. We fail in our mission to improve the lives of all if that connection between people, place and prosperity remains broken. Given that we have five of the economically worst performing regions in northern Europe, that has been the case for too long. It also costs us billions. It must therefore be our collective endeavour to fundamentally rewrite the rules of engagement in how the Treasury decides where and in what we invest, how policy is made in Whitehall rather than in the regions and how people and their communities must be at the heart of our economic model.
In September, the Prime Minister was in South Yorkshire, where he said that
“there is no limit to the imagination, innovation, ingenuity and leadership in the North.”
I do not always agree with the Prime Minister, obviously, but on this we are as one. However, those words mean nothing until we see meaningful action. No amount of imagination, innovation, ingenuity or leadership can offset under-investment or a system that is skewed in favour of already prosperous areas. We need a fiscal programme that delivers transformational levels of resourcing, tackles poverty and inequality, helps us build the homes people need in the places where they want to live, grows an economy that exploits the opportunities of the green revolution, and helps us to build new infrastructure.
That will not be cheap, and in South Yorkshire hundreds of millions of pounds of investment are needed. That is why I welcome the Government’s commitment to changing the way they make investment decisions through the Green Book methodology. That is something I have long called for, and the Financial Secretary to the Treasury may recall that I have raised the issue with him—I badgered him on a number of occasions when he was a Transport Minister. That change must happen to ensure that we get the additional investment in the north that we need and deserve.
However, fundamental to all of this is that the Government must make sure that it is local people, empowered through devolution, who join all this up locally, and that means devolution right across our country. I am pleased at the progress we made in Yorkshire just last week, but we must remember that devolution is a process, not an event, so I would like to see the Government commit to working with metro Mayors—obviously—council leaders and communities right across the country to explore the full extent of the powers and resources that currently reside in Whitehall and Westminster that could and should be devolved further. The Government’s first principle in designing their approach must be that it is not in the halls of Westminster or the corridors of Whitehall that decisions over many of the issues that affect our communities are best made.
I think there is agreement that we are at a critical political and economic juncture. We must work to build an economy that works for all— an economy in which all our communities feel they have a stake. The anger that many of our communities feel at being left behind should serve as a warning to the Government that they will be judged on what they do, not on what they say.