9 March 2021
Treasury Questions

Jesse Norman, Financial Secretary to the Treasury, answers MPs’ questions.

Regional Equity of Infrastructure Investment

Geraint Davies (Swansea West) (Lab/Co-op)

What assessment he has made of the regional equity of infrastructure investment (a) in Wales and (b) throughout the UK. (913156)

The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Jesse Norman)

Once in every Parliament, the National Infrastructure Commission publishes a national infrastructure assessment. The first assessment was launched in July 2018, and the commission operates UK-wide.

Geraint Davies [V] 

Wales has 5% of the population but it has had only 2% of the railway enhancement investment over decades, and it has the lowest household income. Given that HS2 will not pass through Wales, will the Minister and the Treasury look very carefully at providing a high-speed rail link between Bristol, Cardiff, Swansea and beyond—over 3 million people live there—in line with the Burns review, to help the agenda for levelling up and connecting the Union, and to give us our fair share of rail investment based on need?

Jesse Norman 

I thank the hon. Member for his question. Of course, he will be aware that the benefits of HS2 are not, by any means, just restricted to the cities that are on its route; it is a national project of significance. More widely, Wales has done very well in the last Budget, if I might remind him more generally, with accelerated funding for the Swansea bay, north Wales and mid-Wales city growth deals, money for the hydrogen hub and, of course, £30 million towards the global centre of rail excellence in Neath Port Talbot. What I would say, though, is that of course we do now have a UK infrastructure bank, which will be looking at issues of infrastructure across the country, including in the devolved Administrations.



Transport Connectivity

Robert Largan (High Peak) (Con)

What fiscal steps his Department is taking to improve transport connectivity across the UK. (913161)

Sally-Ann Hart (Hastings and Rye) (Con)

What fiscal steps his Department is taking to improve transport connectivity across the UK. (913165)

Simon Jupp (East Devon) (Con)

What fiscal steps his Department is taking to improve transport connectivity across the UK. (913168)

Alexander Stafford (Rother Valley) (Con)

What fiscal steps his Department is taking to improve transport connectivity across the UK. (913176)

The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Jesse Norman)

Improving transport connectivity across the UK is central to the Government’s levelling up agenda, and local residents across the UK will benefit from upgrades to infrastructure that improve everyday life as a result of the launch of the £4.8 billion levelling up fund. The Government have also maintained their commitment to already announced transport investment through the transforming cities fund and the roads investment strategy, and Budget 2021 confirmed capacity funding allocations for the £4.2 billion of intra-city transport settlements, so that the city regions receiving settlements can develop investment-ready transport plans to deliver on local priorities.

Robert Largan [V] 

Politicians of all parties have been promising to build the Mottram bypass for more than 50 years. I am really pleased that Highways England and Balfour Beatty recently signed a contract to build the bypass, and a formal consultation has now been carried out on the detailed proposals, meaning that we are closer than we have ever been before to finally getting it built. Can the Minister assure me that the Government remain committed to building the bypass as soon as possible? The people of Glossop and Hadfield have waited long enough.

Jesse Norman 

I thank my hon. Friend for his question. He has been a vociferous supporter of this scheme and I can happily confirm that the Government remain committed to upgrading the A57 so as to improve connectivity between Manchester and Sheffield. The development consent order is on track to be submitted shortly and construction is expected to start in early 2023.

Sally-Ann Hart [V] 

Investing in improved transport infrastructure is well recognised by this Government as a necessity for turbocharging our economy and levelling up. Beautiful Hastings and Rye has some of the most antiquated road and rail infrastructure in the country, which discourages new businesses from locating there and inhibits economic growth. Network Rail is currently finalising a strategic business case for HS1. What steps is my right hon. Friend taking to ensure that funding will be available to finance such a vital project?

Jesse Norman 

My hon. Friend will be aware that the strategic outline business case for the Kent and East Sussex coastal connectivity scheme includes proposals to extend HS1 services from Ashford International to Hastings and Rye. It is currently being taken forward by Network Rail and is due to be submitted to the Department for Transport in April 2021. It will then be reviewed by the Department and by stakeholders in Kent and East Sussex County Councils.

Simon Jupp [V] 

Improving road and rail connections across all four nations of the UK will improve the quality of life for our communities and I am really looking forward to seeing the Hendy review this summer. However, there is no doubt that it will take the aviation sector longer than most to recover from the crisis. Taxes, including air passenger duty, need urgent reform to help the industry to get back on its feet. What plans does the Treasury have to remove the double charging of domestic air passenger duty, a call backed by regional airports including Exeter in my constituency and Newquay, which particularly rely on domestic flights to all corners of the United Kingdom?

Jesse Norman 

The Treasury is committed to consulting on aviation tax reform. As part of that, we will consider the APD treatment of domestic flights. Unfortunately, the consultation has been delayed in recognition of the rather challenging circumstances that the aviation industry is currently facing, but we will update the House on this in due course.

Alexander Stafford [V] 

Car ownership in Maltby in Rother Valley is lower than the national average and buses provide a vital lifeline. However, our services are severely lacking. You cannot get a direct bus between Maltby, my largest town, and Dinnington, my second largest town and, if you do take public transport, that five-mile journey takes almost an hour. What fiscal steps is my right hon. Friend taking to ensure that communities in Rother Valley are linked up, so that those without cars have the same opportunities to be economically active, to get to and from jobs and even to go shopping as those with cars?

Jesse Norman 

It is no secret that bus services are close to the Prime Minister’s heart. The Government have committed to improving bus services and since the start of the pandemic have supported operators with more than £1 billion of funding, as well as with £120 million at the spending review for the delivery of new zero emission buses. The national bus strategy is due to be published soon and will start to set out this wider ambition. I am also pleased to note that Budget 2020 allocated £166 million to the Sheffield city region from the transforming cities fund to support local transport investment, including bus infrastructure.

Abena Oppong-Asare (Erith and Thamesmead) (Lab) [V]

To deliver transport connectivity in every part of the United Kingdom, we need long-term investment in infrastructure but, staggeringly, the OBR analysis reveals that the Chancellor has cut capital investment plans by half a billion pounds since last March. The Budget also made no mention of Northern Powerhouse Rail and slashed the Transport for the North budget by 40%. Can the Minister explain why the reality of the Budget on infrastructure investment is so far from this Government’s rhetoric?

Jesse Norman 

I do not recognise the figures the hon. Lady has used at all. The facts are that this Government published the “National Infrastructure Strategy” in November, which set out plans for £300 billion-worth of public investment over the next few years, as well as supporting £300 billion of private investment. Since then, the Chancellor has announced the new UK infrastructure bank, which will further support the development of infrastructure and levelling up, and the development of our green infrastructure across the UK.



Covid-19: Support for the Self-Employed

Andrew Gwynne (Denton and Reddish) (Lab)

What assessment he has made of the potential merits of continuing support for the self-employed as covid-19 public health restrictions are lifted; and if he will make a statement. (913171)

Yasmin Qureshi (Bolton South East) (Lab)

What assessment he has made of the potential merits of continuing support for the self-employed as covid-19 public health restrictions are lifted; and if he will make a statement. (913185)

The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Jesse Norman)

The Government have announced that the self-employment income support scheme will continue until September, with a fourth and a fifth grant. This provides certainty to business as the economy reopens and it means that the self-employment income support scheme continues to be one of the most generous covid-19 support schemes for self-employment income around the world.

Andrew Gwynne [V] 

That is welcome for those who qualify for it, but a year ago it was the Chancellor who said that he would do “whatever it takes” to protect people. There are still millions of self-employed people without any support since this crisis started and they will not forget that either. It is untenable. Why will Ministers not finally act and do whatever it takes to ensure that this important sector of the economy also has the chance to succeed post the pandemic?

Jesse Norman 

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. Of course, we have put in place £407 billion-worth of support across the whole of the pandemic, which is an astonishing level of support for a very wide range of businesses and people across the country. In relation to the self-employed, he may not be aware, but I have bent over backwards to engage with different groups of the self-employed. Repeatedly, across different meetings, we have looked with the greatest care at the proposals that they have put forward to bring in people who may not be able to qualify at the moment. As the Chancellor mentioned, 600,000 people previously ineligible may now be eligible, including those newly self-employed in 2019-20.

Yasmin Qureshi [V] 

The Government may well throw these figures about, but we know that 3.8 million self-employed people have had no financial support throughout this whole pandemic. Freelancers, small companies and other people across Bolton and this country want the Chancellor to recognise the fact that his continued silence is just not good enough.

Jesse Norman 

In mentioning Bolton, the hon. Lady somehow neglected to mention the £22.9 million-worth of towns funding that Bolton has recently received. I thought that she might kick off with that. The answer that I gave was perfectly clear about the matter: we are bending over backwards to support people. We have leant into this issue as hard as we can and we will continue to do so.



Topical Questions

Greg Smith (Buckingham) (Con)

My right hon. Friend has rightly been open with the House and the public about the scale of the challenge to the public finances, but on a point of detail, further to the assumptions in the Red Book, does his Department plan to undertake dynamic scoring of the changes to corporation akin to the previous detailed CGE—computable general equilibrium —modelling since 2010, and will this be published in full? (913128)

The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Jesse Norman)

What a fantastically niche question from my hon. Friend, and how delighted I am to be able to answer it. He will know that scoring is a matter for the OBR. As the Budget policy costings in the Budget 2021 document set out, the costing for corporation tax has been adjusted to reflect behavioural responses to an increase in the rate of corporation tax. It is important to be clear that dynamic scoring can include a number of potential behavioural responses, such as adjustments to reflect the impact on the incentive to incorporate, on profit shifting, and on investment. If he is so minded, he can find further detail on page 196 of the OBR’s “Economic and fiscal outlook”.