No low-tax investment zones in Wales would be a ‘disaster’ says new Levelling Up Secretary
It would be a “disaster” if the Welsh Government does not agree with the setting up of low-tax investment zones in Wales, the new Secretary of State for Levelling Up has said.
Speaking in the House of Commons, Greg Clarke said that he was currently in discussions with the Welsh Government about setting up the zones there.
Labour has urged the UK Government to show its evidence for how proposed investment zones will actually boost economic growth across the UK.
But Welsh Conservative MPs James Davies and David Jones called on the UK Government to ensure they were implemented in Wales.
“Friend will know that north Wales is part of the same economic region as the north-west of England, and it is therefore essential that it should have the same economic advantages,” Clwyd West MP David Jones said.
Greg Clarke responded that “we need to avoid there being a hard border between England and Wales, and indeed between Scotland and England, on these questions”.
“It is vital that we make sure that we listen to the voice of business and local government as well as to MPs—my hon. Friends the Members for Clwyd South (Simon Baynes), for Ynys Môn (Virginia Crosbie), for Vale of Clwyd (Dr Davies) and for Aberconwy (Robin Millar) have already met me about this issue—to make sure that we avoid the disaster for north Wales of England proceeding with these zones and Wales not choosing to do so.”
Shadow communities secretary Lisa Nandy meanwhile accused ministers of not checking whether the the low-tax, low regulation zones will “work or not”, as Labour urged ministers to “come clean” about the future of the levelling up agenda.
But Simon Clarke told the Commons that Labour’s understanding was “back to front” as bids to host investment zones were still being considered and no estimate of their success was yet available.
During communities questions, Ms Nandy pressed Mr Clarke to share how bids for investment zones will create growth, describing the policy as the “only thing left of this bin fire of a budget”, following moves to scrap the Prime Minister’s tax cutting agenda.
Ms Nandy added: “Can he tell us what assessment he has made of the amount of growth they will generate by the end of 2024? And will it be enough to offset the £26 billion he and his friends have just added to people’s mortgages?”
Mr Clarke replied: “We are clear, more importantly local councils are clear, that this is a transformational programme and we are evaluating the bids which have come forward so we can actually give her an estimate as to the numbers that will be unlocked by the bids that have been received.”
“Oh my word, he hasn’t done an assessment has he?” Ms Nandy responded: “This is literally the only policy they have got left, and he hasn’t checked whether it is going to work or not.”
She added: “The truth is, isn’t it, that the only thing that is growing under this Government is the size of people’s mortgage payments?”
The Communities Secretary said: “I am afraid she is asking me to evaluate the impact of bids which we only received on Friday.
“So I am afraid that her logic is back to front.
“We are proposing investment zones because they are need to drive jobs and growth and opportunity, and councils can recognise that even if sadly the Labour frontbench cannot.”
Mr Clarke also confirmed that “new money” had been made available to fund the investment zones, telling MPs: “It is coming from Treasury’s part of the settlement.
“Clearly, the Chancellor is going to be setting out the medium term fiscal plan on October 31 and that will be the moment of confirmation.”
Elsewhere shadow communities minister Alex Norris told the Commons that the levelling up agenda had “made so little impact” that ministers “had to resort to paying local newspapers to place positive stories in their publication”.
He added: “That’s right, they are paying for positive coverage.
“Now these ads breach Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) rules and have subsequently been banned.
“This is a risible episode, will the Secretary of State come clean with the only conclusion that can be drawn from this, that levelling up is a sham.”
Mr Clarke responded: “No, I’m afraid I will not do that or accept that premise.
“With regards to these certain adverts we have apologised.
“All of them bore the HMG logo very clearly and they were marked as advertorials and we accept the decision of the ASA, but we fundamentally believe this was an appropriate thing for us to bring forward, to try and spread the message that levelling up has applicability across this country and it is doing real good….there are projects (MPs) want to see delivered, I think those show the appetite there is for this programme to succeed.”
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