Government is Taking the Region for Granted

As we await the Comprehensive Spending Review, Will Pope from EEDA points out that despite being an economic benefit to the Treasury, this region does not get a fair proportion of Government spending per head, and John Bridge from Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Chambers believes it is clearly unacceptable that vital work to upgrade the A14 trunk road is still in the balance.

17:19 13 October 2010 Drivetime BBC Radio Cambridgeshire Presenter: Andy Burrows.

AB: We’re going to hear a lot about the Comprehensive Spending Review over the next few days. And today comes a warning from the East of England Development Agency, itself set to be a victim of the Government’s planned cuts, that this part of the country receives the second lowest level of public spending per head in England. Earlier I spoke to EEDA’s Chief Executive, or Chairman rather, Will Pope, and he claims that that’s just not fair. (TAPE)
WP: I think that’s absolutely right Andy. It’s absolutely shocking when you think about it. As one of only three net contributors to the Chancellor of the Exchequer we make a profit. We’re one of only three regions in the country that make a profit. And we actually make six billion pounds a year which we send in to the Exchequer, and then we find that actually public investment in the East of England compared to the national average, five point five billion pounds less than we would have got if we got the average. That’s a thousand pounds for every person, a thousand pounds less than we would have got if we got the average. And that’s in the face of our creaking transport and our lack of affordable housing, and the availability of housing actually, for those workers of the future, skills shortages and so on.
AB: So what’s this going to mean to my daily life? How does this make any difference?
WP: Well what it means is you spend longer on the A14. You have more struggle to buy an affordable house. Your kids have got a reduced chance to gain the skills that they need for the industries of tomorrow. And that’s exactly what it does mean for the man on the street. And actually, as we’re going forward Andy, we’ve got this thing that everybody’s talking about at the moment, it’s become a bit of jargon hasn’t it, but the Comprehensive Spending Review next week, and with cuts that everybody’s talking about and forecasting there’s going to be, the Office for Budgetary Responsibility, so not us, the independent Office for Budgetary Responsibility is forecasting we’ll lose in the East of England forty six thousand jobs because of those CSR cuts next week over a period of two or three years. Now we’ve created .. we’re really proud in EEDA. We’ve worked hard for ten years. We’ve created forty five thousand new jobs as a organisation, and roughly the same number’s going to go.
AB: And some of those jobs will go from your own organisation, won’t they? Because EEDA won’t last that much longer.
WP: Absolutely. Some of them will go from EEDA of course. We will be closed by no later than April twenty twelve. And the foty five thousand jobs we have created will be our legacy, and the two hundred thousand people we’ve skilled up over the last ten years, skilled up to get new and modern jobs in the economy, the growing economy of the East of England. That’ll be gone. And it’s really important to us that the people of the East of England find their voice and fight for the resources that we need. It’s a great region, a great place to live and work and play, and a growing economy. But we can grow so much more ..
AB: So we won’t have your organisation .. sorry to interrupt .. we won’t have your organisation, but you’re encouraging us all to quote to find our voice. But in what way can we convince the Government that this is an area that’s worth it, it’s an area that is prosperous, and public money is worth spending.
WP: Absolutely. You hit on a very good point there, two issues really. One is, part of our problem is the Government says we are prosperous. So hey, we’re prosperous, so in the East of England you can ignore those guys, because we’ve got other areas which are less prosperous. Focus on those. We fundamentally disagree with that. We say, hang on a minute. Across the average we might well be prosperous. We’ve got real areas of need. And we’ve got real areas of needs which will, like transport for instance, which will choke off future growth. So if we don’t invest in the infrastructure in the East of England we won’t have those profitable businesses that are contributing tax revenue in years to come. Now I’ll tell you how businesses and people can find their voice. The businesses in the East of England have launched something called Blueprint for Growth. And it’s available on our website which I’ll give you the address now, and happy to repeat it later.
AB: Very quickly then.
WP: Now a hundred thousand businesses have read that, and already business and people have read that and already signed up to it. What we really need is people to go to that website, have a look, see if they believe this is the future for economic development in the East of England, and if they do, just sign up, and make sure we get our fair crack of the whip of investment in the East of England.
AB: OK. Will, is this one last dig at the Government, one last pop?
WP: Oh no it’s not a dig at all. What we’re fighting for here is the people and businesses of the East of England that we fundamentally believe in. And what we want is a fair crack of the whip. We want a fair slice of the cake for businesses and people in the East of England. (LIVE)
AB: That was Will Pope. He’s the Chairman of the East of England Development Agency, which in itself will be disbanded in twenty twelve, as he was saying. Well let’s stay with the talk about the Spending Review, which is coming up next week. We’ll have more details here on BBC Radio Cambridgeshire during the announcements next week. Because there are now fears over the future funding of the A14. John Bridge is the Chief Exective of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Chambers of Commerce. Good evening to you John.
JB: Yes good afternoon Andy.
AB: The A14. Just remind me exactly where we stand as far as the funding of a potential upgrade of the A14 is at the moment. Is it going to happen or not?
JB: No. It looks to us unfortunately very unlikely that it’s going to happen. The Government stopped the public enquiry going ahead, until the Spending Review, which is being announced next week, has been completed, saying that they didn’t want to spend any more money until they knew whether they could fund the upgrading of the road. Our grave concern is that Mike Penning, who is the Roads Minister, actually at a Conservative Party Conference event last week said that he can’t find the money for the upgrading of the A14. Which means to us that they’re going to tell us next week that regretfully the money is not going to be found. And we find that totally and utterly unacceptable.
AB: Well it is maddening, isn’t it? Because the Government certainly has transport plans doesn’t it? You think of the West Coast rail link. There’s massive multi-million pound plans to upgrade the line effectively between London through Birmingham and then up towards Scotland.
JB: Yes it certainly looks as though they’re going to put the major investment into high-speed rail, which means then there’s going to be less money left for other road upgrade schemes. And we think that this could well impact on the A14. And one of the difficulties we find is that there have been recent studies which have shown that for economic benefit, particularly in the short term, you get much more economic benefit for your money by investing in roads than you do in railways. Because with railways it costs a lot to develop, and you end up subsidising them, whereas with roads, you actually get benefit and increased taxation through the use of them.
AB: People will say though won’t they John who are listening to this, look, we’re doing all right at the moment, with the A14 the way it is. Bear with me here. There might not be many people saying that after today, but look at the development of logistics companies in Peterborough over the last few years. And without exception, all the companies that have come into Peterborough over the last few years, and filled those giant warehouses, no matter how ugly they are on the outskirts of the city, they’ve all said without exception it’s the great transport links. To me, the great transport links are already there, why do they need to be improved?
JB: Well the key thing is that we have one small piece of road between Huntingdon and Cambridge, which is not fit for purpose. It is actually an international route, as well as being of national and regional significance. And clearly we need to ensure that the road is fit for purpose, and that the volume of traffic on it can actually go about its business in a timely manner. And if you look at it, out of the last seven working days, six days there have been major problems. Been talking to people today that took over three hours to get from Cambridge to Peterborough. Businesses and poeple can’t operate in that kind of circumstance.
AB: The Greens will be saying that companies, and when I say companies I mean their employees as well, have to think differently, and use public transport, use the great rail links that we’ve got at the moment. Is that a solution? Is that an answer?
JB: The reality of it is that we have to compete on an international basis if we want inward investment. And the fact is the only way we’re going to get out of the current economic difficulties is to ensure our companies can actually invest their money, create wealth, create jobs. And in order to do that we’ve got to ensure that we’ve got infrastructure and roads in particular, that can cope with that growth, and compete on an international basis, for the businesses that want to come here.
AB: Is there a danger that Peterborough, if you see Peterborough as the gateway to the east, and Cambridge as well in many senses, because people will head to Peterborough primarily, and then maybe head towards Norwich and stuff like that. I’m thinking Peterborough, if you think about the kind of tip of the East Anglian triangle, if you like. Is there a danger that this part of the world could become forgotten about, do you feel? Because if you think it’s bad here, you try and get to Norwich. That takes even longer, doesn’t it?
JB: It is. And the difficulty is because we’ve actually done well, there is a view that we don’t need the investment, and that it should go elsewhere where there are more difficulties. What you have to understand, as any sensible businessman understands, that if you want to continue to succeed, then you have to invest in your success. And we have to ensure that we do invest in our infrastructure, and particularly in our roads, to enable them to be fit for purpose, and not actually end up strangling ourselves because no-one can move.
AB: It’s a very persuasive plea, but is anybody from the Government listening?
JB: Well I very much hope so. And one of the key things is the viaduct at Huntingdon, which is really on it’s last legs, and isn’t going to last many more years. And the fact, if that actually gets in a situation where it cannot be used, we’re going to move into a real catastrophic situation, which is totally unacceptable, with an international route which can’t have vehicles travelling along it. And really someone somewhere has got to understand this has got to be done.
AB: John Bridge. Thank you very much for joining us.

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