When Parliamentary questions are being directed at matters that are of concern to local residents, it is inevitable that people will listen to every word and want the MP concerned to squeeze every last drop of value out of the interaction. In reality this depends on pushing the Minister on the other side of the exchange to offer more than they initially intend to, giving local residents more value than would have been the case if the question had not been asked. On Tuesday lunchtime as MPs were awaiting the debate and vote the following day to know whether there would be a General Election, the questions were being directed to the Treasury and the Minister in the hot seat at this point was Simon Kirby who is currently MP for Brighton Kemptown. This question came from one of Simon’s neigbouring MPs.
Maria Caulfield (Conservative, Lewes): What steps he is taking to support economic growth on the south-east coast of England.
Simon Kirby (Economic Secretary to the Treasury): Would you mind, Mr Speaker, if I started by sending my congratulations to Brighton & Hove Albion on their promotion to the premier league? They are an important part of the south-east economy. At the autumn statement, we allocated £351 million to the south-east from the local growth fund, and the south-east will also benefit from more than £21 million from the coastal communities fund.
So at this point the Treasury has offered or stated no more than they promised on 23rd November 2016 although of course the football result was a good call out to many of his constituents, bearing in mind that Simon (and Maria) are MPs of marginal seats. Hardly much value for this question though, but this gave Maria her opportunity to get some value out of the follow up question. All ears were twitching.
Maria Caulfield (Conservative, Lewes): I thank the Minister for his response and I, too, congratulate Brighton & Hove Albion. We have just under six miles of motorway in Sussex, and the Brighton & Hove Albion stadium is on one of our motorway junctions. Does he agree that we need to dual the A27 to make the south coast more economically viable? Will he join me in meeting other Sussex MPs to discuss how we can take that forward?
The campaign to widen and improve the A27 has been a campaign which Maria Caulfield has been involved in throughout her time as an MP since 2015. It is clear that this is what she was angling for in her follow up and perhaps the mention of the Albion is what threw her. However it is vital to get your facts right, even when caught on the hop. We do only have around 6 miles of motorway in Sussex but they are all in West Sussex as part of the M23. The A27 junction on which the Amex Stadium sits is part of a dual carriageway which extends from Beddingham to Sompting but the junction itself regularly gets congested at peak periods which includes when football matches are taking place as well as when commuters are travelling to work and back. This junction in particular does need greater investment and one imagines that as Albion prepare for the Premier Division this will be one of the issues that they will need to address, along with the other two main users of the junction, the two Universities. However major infrastructure projects demand a great deal more than a meeting of 16 MPs as valuable as that might be, particularly when one of them is a Minister in the Treasury.
The truth is that infrastructure projects such as roads or railways in Sussex are something that take decades not years to achieve and whilst they can deliver great value, this is always a matter of jam next half century. The much easier to secure solutions are just as important and in the interests of how Sussex will cope with the UK’s imminent departure from the EU (something that Maria supports) we need a lot more than the promise of a few wider roads in the far distance. As someone involved in a small business in Sussex, we will have enormous challenges if trade barriers are raised between our economy and that of our numerous European suppliers. The need for training which is currently being promised by the Government through the apprenticeship levy which is due to start on 1st May is clearly not going to be delivered any time soon is something that the Treasury could certainly help with. We also need much greater focus on Small and Micro Businesses in the Governments own procurement structures. Nearly all of the contracts directed at SME’s is passed to Medium Sized businesses which is not terribly helpful in an area where over 95% of businesses are small or micro enterprises.
However perhaps in the light of the impending election a meeting of MPs to talk about roads is more politically helpful to the party that Maria and Simon belong to than opening up some of these issues which could show the party in a poor light. Let us hope if they do meet, that they manage to sort out the confusion between dual carriageways and Motorways!