Osborne identifies region’s key role in driving British recovery

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CHANCELLOR George Osborne has said Yorkshire has a key role to play in driving Britain’s economic recovery, as his Government plans to move away from Labour’s “mistake” of relying too heavily on the City of London and international finance.

On a visit to the Humber Bridge yesterday, where tolls are to be halved following the Autumn Statement announcement on slashing the bridge debt, Mr Osborne claimed the Government had shown its commitment to the region through a range of recent policy initiatives.

He said: “Cutting the tolls on the Humber Bridge, committing to local transport schemes, new enterprise zones and helping to develop the renewables industry; all this is about trying to make sure Britain is no longer dependent on the City of London a couple of hundred miles to the south.

“That’s what went wrong. The last Government put all our eggs in one basket and we are paying the price with the country’s debts and a weak economy. This Government is trying to put right those mistakes and whether it’s Transpennine electrification, or enterprise zones in Hull, Sheffield and Leeds, what you see is a real commitment to this part of England.”

The Chancellor said he hoped the benefits of enterprise zones – which are intended to kick-start local economies by attracting new businesses through a range of discounts and incentives – would be felt “as soon as possible”, although it was now up to local companies and councils to take advantage of them.

“We have got every reason to be optimistic, we have got city councils and town councils who want to make them a real success,” he said.

He added: “I hope we start to see results pretty quickly, but these are long-term investments. I have tried to do some things that will work in the short-term; the tolls on the Humber Bridge should come down in the next couple of months, hopefully by April next year, and the enterprise zones will be up and running in the next few months.

“We have also got medium-term action and longer term projects like transport. We are not waiting around, we are rolling our sleeves up and getting on with it.”

Mr Osborne said he believed he was responding to the region’s needs and was always willing to listen to ideas that would help to deliver growth.

He said: “Whenever I’ve been asked to respond to local initiatives, local people and local businesses I’ve done that. In the space of 18 months I think people can see that this new Government has delivered a huge amount of what people have been asking.”

He added: “My door is always open to businesses, local MPs and people from Yorkshire who have got good ideas on how to get the private sector growing.”

Asked about the plight of almost 900 workers at the BAE Systems plant at Brough, near Hull, who are facing redundancy as part of widespread cuts to the company’s military aircraft division, Mr Osborne said talks were ongoing but he did not want to create “false hope”.

He said: “We are in discussions with British Aerospace about what we can do to protect jobs. I don’t want to create false hope and they have been hit by the decision by the American Government to cut its defence budget.

“What I think the Government has been able to do is respond very quickly by setting up an enterprise zone at Brough and so we will absolutely continue our discussions with British Aerospace but we are not relying solely on the success of those discussions. The fact we were able to respond within a week or two weeks shows we will act on local problems and respond as quickly as we can.”