It wasn’t that long ago that our glorious MP Damian Collins was advocating using the M26 as a lorry park. We applauded dear Damian for speaking sense and saving the UK taxpayer a minimum of a quarter of a billion pounds. It now seems that dear Damian is still stuck, like a stuck record, still wiping the egg off his face, and still smarting from his arrogance and incompetence in pushing for a Lorry park at pace, thereby skipping procedure in terms of producing an Environmental Impact Assessment, blaming the DfT. Did we expect anything less? He then has the temerity to pass comment on GP services when he has done NOTHING to attract GP’s to the Shepway area. For the past 7 years, Damian has never considered lobbying the Heath Secretary for Carr-Hill formula parity with our neighbouring Districts, leaving funding at appallingly low levels in the Shepway area. The result: Very few GP’s with Practice’s closing.
Yesterday in the House of Commons dear Damian was still spouting the same old story, even though we’re £15,000.000 down, lost on Lorry Park developers and sham consultations, that incidentally could have gone towards attracting more GP’s, purely due to his arrogance. When will he ever learn?
Anyhow, this is what dear Damian had to say. Oh, and don’t overlook how Damian paved the way to get in the one about the Otterpool (drought stricken) Park Commuter Housing Estate.
I rise to speak in support of the Budget and, in particular, the key strategic priority it places on the housing market and increasing housing supply. The Chancellor was right to say that we should have a national target for new home completions of 300,000 a year, but that number should not be a mere aspiration; it is an absolute necessity.
For many people in this country, getting on the housing ladder is becoming increasingly difficult. The prices of new homes to buy are rising much faster than people’s earnings. That has been the case for a long time. It is therefore no surprise that the percentage of people who are able to own their own home has declined. We are not looking at investment in the housing market just for homes to purchase. We need to build a lot more units that are affordable to buy and to rent, and we need a much more active strategy to do that. I was pleased that the Government announced that as part of the Budget.
I have supported the proposed development of the Otterpool Park garden town in my constituency, which would create up to 12,000 new homes. Any planning decision involves a degree of difficulty and it is important that we get the local consultation right, but we do need to prioritise building a lot more homes.
Building creates not only new places for people to live, but a considerable number of jobs in the construction sector. Many people who work in construction say that even now, it is difficult to find the people to do the work that is available. Therefore, it was right that a strong priority was placed on training people to work in the construction sector.
I welcome the Chancellor’s announcement of the £3 billion resilience fund to be spent over the next two years on preparations for Britain leaving the European Union. My constituency of Folkestone and Hythe contains the channel tunnel. Investing in preparedness to manage cross-border trade is a necessity. Anything that, for whatever reason, slows the progress of road freight in and out of the country will cause congestion and delay. That is bad for the economy and has a detrimental impact on people’s quality of life and the businesses in my constituency and elsewhere in Kent.
For me, a key priority in building the physical resilience we will need is not only to manage the electronic processing of freight as it passes in and out of the country, but to ensure that we have the physical infrastructure to hold lorries if they have to queue before leaving the country or if there is any requirement for customs checks as they arrive. The delivery of the lorry park on the M20 at Stanford West that was envisaged and proposed two years ago as a relief for Operation Stack is a vital piece of national infrastructure. I was disappointed that the Government had to withdraw their planning application to build it because of a judicial review, but I know that it is being looked at again. I see that the Financial Secretary is in his place. I raised this matter with him last week and welcome the letter he sent me to confirm that the ring-fenced budget of £250 million that the Government allocated for the delivery of that lorry park is still there. It is a vital piece of infrastructure and we need to ensure that it is delivered.
On the other spending commitments in the Budget, I welcome the additional £2 billion this year and into next year for the national health service. It is important that that reaches the places that need it most. The Health Secretaryis not here, but I believe that greater consideration needs to be given to GP services and primary care in coastal communities, where the often complex, unique and challenging requirements have led to the average number of patients per GP being much higher than the national average. We are struggling to recruit GPs in such areas. I have spoken to the Health Secretary about that issue on numerous occasions and know that it is a priority for him. However, we need to ensure that the extra money for the health service goes to the parts of the country where it will make the biggest difference.
There has been a lot of talk about increasing investment in research and development and about increasing the research and development credit. That is incredibly important for the future of the economy, and I want to touch on artificial intelligence, which will be an important driver of growth in the future, as the Secretary of State set out in his remarks. Effectively, artificial intelligence is the robotic harvesting of the data footprint that we leave as we increasingly conduct our lives online, and the designing of new products and technologies around that to meet people’s needs. That throws up a number of ethical issues.
Algorithms that run programmes are private property—they are copyrighted, they are not shared, and many platforms, such as Google and Facebook, fiercely guard the information—but we need to make sure that, when new services are designed based on our data footprint, companies behave ethically and responsibly and that we are able to check they are safeguarding the interests of the people they seek to serve through that technology. That is why the announcement of the creation of the centre for data ethics and innovation is incredibly important. The Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee, which I chair, will be looking at the distribution of disinformation and how companies’ algorithms either support or could act against it. There is, however, an important ethical question about the right of third-party organisations to check the work being done. Innovation through AI can, then, transform the economy, but it throws up some ethical issues that we have to get right.
The Government have taken an interest in driverless cars, but driverless cars, though an exciting technology, do not work without a signal to allow them to receive the information they need, which is why the creation of the national 5G network is so important. Without a signal, a driverless car would suddenly stop in the middle of the road. The investment in the 5G network requires investment not just in poles and masts but in fibre infrastructure. A key part of the industrial strategy has to be the move to a full fibre economy as quickly as possible. We simply cannot deliver on massively important new technologies such as 5G for the whole nation without that infrastructure to support it.
As an adjunct to that, I know that the Minister for Digital, my right hon. Friend Matt Hancock, has talked about whether there should be a universal service obligation for 3G mobile signal. In many parts of the country, including Elham valley in my constituency, the 3G signal is weak. Ofcom will shortly be publishing a study on the real level of service delivery by mobile phone operators and whether it falls below the requirement stated in their licences. If it does, there will have to be some further inducement to act to make sure that basic coverage is better than it is. In the longer term, however, we need investment in a 5G network.
Finally, the joint working between the Government, the CBI and the TUC on retraining is crucial. Technology means that people’s jobs will change faster and faster throughout their lives, and people need the ability to retrain throughout their working careers to take advantage of this.