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Norfolk MPs propose "radical" plans to fund growth

PUBLISHED: 10:03 21 March 2011

Norfolk MPs last night said that "radical" ways to solve funding black holes for major infrastructure projects could be used locally in order to drive the county's economy.

At an MPs question time debate organised by Norfolk Chamber of Commerce, it was suggested that a bond could be issued to raise money for large scale projects.

Areas like Norfolk also needed to be able to have more control over spending to cut the “dependency culture” build up in the UK due to what had become the “most centralised” state in the European Union, the event was told.

The debate, at which questions were put to eight of Norfolk’s nine MPs by the region’s business leaders, focused on the need for infrastructure to promote growth.

Chloe Smith, Conservative MP for Norwich North, said a project like the Northern Distributor Route north of Norwich would help the economy there and help connect other areas of Norfolk, but added that democratic accountability was vital and that cash was limited.

George Freeman, Conservative MP for Mid Norfolk said the county had for too long not had enough investment in infrastructure – in road, rail and broadband. He said: “Money is one of the things the government hasn’t got. So let us do it, raise the money in a bond. Let’s be radical.”

He was backed by Norman Lamb, Lib Dem MP for North Norfolk, who said a US state had raised £29bn locally through issuing a bond to build schools. “In this country we have dependency culture and we have no power to do anything. Let Norfolk and Suffolk do its own thing.”

Speaking at the event, David Frost, director general of the British Chambers of Commerce, called for business to be optimistic.

He said having toured Britain over the past 10 days, he felt that Norfolk, compared to other places he had visited, did not have the physical signs of joblessness.

But, he said that everywhere he had been had been talking about having an economic boom through renewables and that areas had to realise that it couldn’t be taken for granted as others were thinking the same.

He said the New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), like others, would have to make sure it paid close attention to the 12 to 15 largest businesses in their areas to make sure they knew the markets and issues facing employers and react to any changes.

Other issues raised at the event, at Dunston Hall, near Norwich, included red tape and costs around employment legislation, lack of skills, particularly in engineering, planning legislation, the use of enterprise zones, the New Anglia LEP and inward investment through better use of facilities like the outer harbour.

Clarke Willis, chief executive of buying group Anglia Farmers, also called on the government to stop what another delegate called its “appalling” failure in not allowing UK farmers to use technology and innovation being created at Norwich Research Park because of EU blanket bans on use of genetically modified produce, which put UK farmers at a disadvantage.

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