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North of England: Economic Support

Volume 683: debated on Wednesday 11 November 2020

I am sure that hon. Members are familiar with the new rules regarding Westminster Hall debates, so please respect social distancing and clean your microphones before and after you use them. Only Members on the call list may be here. This is an over-subscribed debate, so will those due to speak in the latter stages please use the seats at the back?

Bear in mind that, if you are sitting at a microphone and you have spoken, you can move. You are not required to stay for the winding-up speeches, so you can leave if you wish; you do not have to come back for the winding-up speeches, but if there is space, you are welcome to do so.

The House will observe a two-minute silence at 11 am in remembrance of those killed in conflict. The beginning and end of the silence will be marked by the Division bells. I will suspend the sitting before 11 am so that Members can leave the Chamber to observe the silence.

I beg to move,

That this House has considered support for the economy in the north of England.

It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairship, Mr Efford. I declare an interest as a metro Mayor.

Today’s debate takes place amid an unprecedented economic crisis affecting the whole country, but covid has only reinforced an argument that was already undeniable. We need to level up the north—not by tinkering at the margins, but through a full-scale transformation; not just for the sake of the north, but for the sake of the whole country. The question is, of course, whether the Government will make it happen.

Covid has hit the north hard. We have a disproportionate number of cases and hospitalisations, and the pandemic has affected deprived areas more—and the north still has far too many deprived areas. Our economy has been equally exposed. In South Yorkshire, the level of people claiming unemployment-related benefits is now higher than at any time since the mid-1990s, when we were in the aftermath of the pit closures. We risk undoing a quarter of a century of painful progress. The brutal reality is that the north is now on course for levelling down, not levelling up.

Meanwhile, the issues that made the case for levelling up in the first place have not gone away. The UK has the worst regional inequality of any comparable nation. We have unacceptably unequal education and health outcomes. Many northern council areas are among the most left behind in the UK. In the five years following the launch of the northern powerhouse, the number of our children living in poverty went up by one third, to 800,000.

Policy choices have made, or threaten to make, the situation worse. Planned cuts to universal credit could leave one in three working-age households in the north £1,000 a year worse off. Under austerity, public spending fell by £3.6 billion in the north, even as it rose by £4.7 billion in the south-east and the south-west.

Therefore the need for levelling up is clear, but there is a flipside to all this—the great potential and the strengths that make the positive argument for levelling up. We are still the heartland of British industry. South Yorkshire, for example, has amazing companies such as ITM Power, helping to build a hydrogen-fuelled clean energy revolution, and Magtec, developing contactless magnetic gears for wind turbines. Those enterprises reflect the north’s storied history of manufacturing prowess, but we also have huge strengths in culture, sport and tourism; incredible natural beauty; and world-class universities with fantastic strengths in research and skills. Together, we really can create a better economy, not just for our regions but for the whole UK, and help to drive the transformations that we all badly want to see. It is estimated that if we do rebalance national investment, that could add £97 billion to our economy by 2050.

However, we have not just shown our potential; we have also shown that we can use it. We can do our bit if we are given the tools; as the only MP with the somewhat unusual privilege of also being a metro Mayor, I know that at first hand. Since I became the Mayor in 2018, we have created or protected 15,000 jobs in South Yorkshire; our pioneering Working Win programme has helped 6,000 people with health conditions who want to get back to work; we have leveraged £319 million of investment and awarded more than £100 million for regeneration and redevelopment; and we have just committed £5.5 million of our own funds to kickstart nine flood prevention projects. We are putting our skin in the game and laying down a challenge for the Government to do their part, rather than waiting for them to take the initiative. I can safely say that we stand ready to be levelled up, and I know that my counterparts across both sides of the political divide in the north would say the same.

We are not coming to this debate today with a begging bowl: we have the need and the potential, and we have shown that we are ready. The north, perhaps more than anywhere, is where we will do the job of building a better Britain for all of us. What we are asking for is the tools to get on with that job, but we have not received them yet.

We have been quite successful recently in attracting funds into South Yorkshire, but none of that money, apart from the £30 million of gainshare that we are getting following our devolution deal, represents new resources specifically targeted at South Yorkshire, the north or even disadvantaged areas more widely. These are existing funds that have come under our control, such as the adult education budget; or a share of national funds that we have been allocated or successfully bid for on the same basis as any other region, such as the Transforming Cities fund. Do not get me wrong—it is hugely important that that money is being spent under local control and we are grateful for it, but this is not levelling up.

There is a similar picture across the north. There are a few exceptions. The towns fund is perhaps the most obvious, but it leaves out hundreds of very deprived towns in favour of some wealthier areas, and it is only a one-off £3.6 billion fund spread across the whole country. I would be grateful if the Minister could confirm today how much new money the Government have put into levelling up since they took office, because the overall picture is one of tinkering and not transforming.

An indication of what we need is the UK2070 Commission’s recommendation: to triple the new UK shared prosperity fund to £15 billion a year for 20 years, which would be a total of £200 billion of new funding. That is for all deprived areas, but it shows the scale that we should be talking about. The moment to do that was at the comprehensive spending review, but in the current crisis it is understandable that the Government are carrying out a more modest one-year review instead. However, that must not become an excuse to delay the transformative investment we need if levelling up is really to mean something.

Already, over two thirds of northerners believe that the Government will not follow through on levelling up; that is a concern that the 55 Conservative MPs who wrote to the Prime Minister last month—we will hear from one of them in a moment—seem to share. We all have an interest in proving those fears wrong, and here is where I think we need to start.

In the short term, we need better covid emergency support, including adequate funding for hard-pressed local authorities, but the key issue is that the reduced spending review should retain real ambition. First, it must extend the local growth fund, which expires in March. The LGF has been absolutely critical in generating jobs, investment and regeneration, and it would be great to hear a commitment to extend it from the Minister today. However, LGF renewal is only enough for us to stand still. For transformation, we need something much more like a new deal for the north.

In my patch, we think that that would look like our renewal action plan, which calls for funding and powers to expand kickstart and apprenticeship schemes, begin a massive investment in infrastructure and decarbonisation, increase active travel and plant millions of trees. Will the Minister confirm today what plans the Government have for investment at this transformational scale across the north?

Transport will be especially key. Northern Powerhouse Rail is often presented as the infrastructure that will be at the heart of levelling up, but there are growing fears that critical parts of it could be delayed, along with the north-east leg of High Speed 2. It is hard to overstate how damaging that would be for the levelling-up agenda.

Lastly, the Government should make some critical structural changes, especially reforming the Green Book to reduce the in-built bias towards more affluent areas in Government investment decisions and following through on proposals to move significant parts of the civil service. Perhaps the Minister could update us on that today. Of course, beyond the spending review, the new shared prosperity fund must also embed the same ambitions. Like the European Union funds that it replaces, it must be based heavily on need. It should be as devolved as practically possible. All this is not just about making the northern economy bigger; it is about making it better—more high-tech and more high value, more sustainable and more equitable.

My ambition for the north is for it to be stronger, greener and fairer. That should be our aim for the whole United Kingdom. Covid is not an obstacle to that, but an opportunity: there is a near-consensus on the need for spending to protect our economy. The question is whether that spending will serve a greater purpose. Crucially, the issue is about not just money but power—to be legitimate and effective, levelling up must be done with and by us, not to us. We need much more flexibility over how we spend the funds allocated to us, but we also need a more fundamental doubling down on devolution.

We have done a lot in South Yorkshire, but we have done it with modest powers and resources. We are still the most centralised large developed country in the world. That must change, not just to unleash our potential but to help address the disillusionment and division that is growing across our country and that threatens to break it up. The polls showing a majority of Scots expressing support for leaving the Union are only the most alarming symptom of a wider crisis of faith also visible in the north. For all our sakes, we must make levelling up part of a more ambitious vision for reform—one that lets people feel that they are taking back control and that they have a country, a United Kingdom, that they can believe in.

We are now at a moment of crisis, but also a moment of opportunity. There is an overwhelming case for us to rise to this moment with ambition—not just to give the north the means and the powers to rejuvenate our economy and our society, but to do so as part of a wider vision for a more prosperous, more equitable, more democratic United Kingdom. In the process, perhaps we can make this a transformative moment not just for the north but for the whole country.

Order. To allow everybody on the call list to speak, I am going to have to impose a three-minute limit on speeches.

What a pleasure it is to follow the thoughtful speech by the hon. Member for Barnsley Central (Dan Jarvis). He does a fantastic job as the Mayor of South Yorkshire. We have a bit of history of working together to make sure that the area had the powers he mentioned. I am sure that he would want me to say that when he talks about South Yorkshire, and Mayors more widely, having a deal and investing money, that is a partnership of significant Government money and money that he will have raised locally. Of course, there was no devolution in England except in London until a Conservative Government were elected in 2010 with the sole desire of delivering a northern powerhouse of which devolution is such an important part.

I do not intend to talk about the challenges facing the northern economy because they have been well set out by the hon. Gentleman, but I do want to talk about two things briefly. The first is the hit that northern culture has taken from the covid crisis. Opera and ballet will be at the heart of the culture of many people who live in London and the south of England, but for many of us in the north it is our local football club—our Glyndebourne, Royal Ballet, Royal Opera House or Royal Shakespeare Company will be Blackburn Rovers, Accrington Stanley, Barrow, Carlisle or Sunderland.

There is an argument going on between the EFL and the Premier League at the moment, and the time has come for the Government to intervene to seek to unblock it and save local football clubs across the north of England, many of which are the cornerstone of our communities and at the heart of our culture. I hope that the Minister will reflect on that during the debate.

A bright point for the north is that many of us in this room have the privilege of representing constituencies that have a significant manufacturing base. It was our constituents who, during the covid crisis, put their shoulders to the wheel—there was no furlough for them. They went into factories to do shift work. People at Bark Engineering in Bacup made ventilators; people at Perspex in Darwen made the screens that we see all over the country in retail and office space.

It is our constituents who have worked so hard for the economy, doing hard jobs to make sure that we can trade through covid. We can see that from the September purchasing managers index stats, which showed that the north of England—every part of the north—was growing faster than London. That is a testament to the strength of our manufacturing base and the huge amount of work that our constituents have done.

We formed the northern research group to pay tribute to our constituents and look at important issues such as the Green Book, which we are going to dissect in very short order. We will also press the Minister and the Government on this issue. We need a northern economic recovery plan and recovery fund so that we can ensure, as a praetorian guard for the Prime Minister, that we are levelling up our communities across the north.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Efford. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley Central (Dan Jarvis) for securing this important debate.

Last year, the Prime Minister fought and won an election on the promise of uniting our country and levelling up left-behind towns such as Birkenhead. As is often the case with this failing Government, the reality falls short of the rhetoric. When areas of northern England were placed under tier 3 local restrictions in October, the Chancellor imposed a cut-price furlough payment of just 67% on the thousands of people who were unable to work; only when the Tory heartlands entered lockdown did he agree to step up furlough to 80%. The message was clear in the eyes of the Government: workers in the north were simply worth less than those in the south. They remain left behind.

The UK remains one of the most regionally unbalanced economies in the developed world. It has nothing to do with accents or geography. There was a conscious policy over 10 years of Conservative Governments to channel wealth to the south-east and sit back while the traditional centres of industry and employment in the north became ghost towns at worst and tourist attractions at best.

Rotherham, once famous for its steel, is starved of hope as the mills close and the jobs disappear. St Helens, which used to be famous for making glass, now has a glass museum with too few visitors. My constituency of Birkenhead is at the sharp end of regional disparity. I represent two of the most deprived council wards in England. Unemployment is above the national average and my constituency can expect far worse outcomes in terms of job opportunities, income and even life expectancy than the people elsewhere in the country. Things do not need to be that way.

This week, the Labour party outlined our plans for the green economic recovery, which offers real hope to towns in the north of England. The proposals call for £30 billion in capital investment to create 400,000 high skilled, low-carbon jobs in just 18 months to provide vital support for UK manufacturing. The Trades Union Congress has estimated that £85 billion in capital spending on rail, social housing and green investment could create 1.2 million jobs in the next two years alone. The Chancellor should take note. To lead us out of the worst recession in living memory, the Government need to exploit historically low lending rates and invest in the high skill green jobs of the future.

Despite the Chancellor’s promise of a green jobs revolution, the UK has committed only £5 billion to green stimulus projects since the pandemic began. In contrast, France has committed to spending €27 billion and Germany more than €36 billion, with countries as diverse as Italy, South Korea and Colombia putting sustainable developments at the heart of their recovery. The UK risks falling far behind.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Efford. I commend the hon. Member for Barnsley Central (Dan Jarvis) for securing this debate. It is great to see the Minister in her place as well. This debate is important as we need to recognise that the pandemic is not only a health crisis, but an economic one. Nowhere has that been felt more than in the north. My constituency, like that of the hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mick Whitley), is also in the Liverpool city region and has felt the disruption of going into lockdown, then out of lockdown, then having additional restrictions—tier 3 with gyms, tier 3 without gyms—and now lockdown again. We need to get out of this lockdown and we need a tiering system that takes us out of it, but we need to know what the plan is.

There is no doubt that businesses in my constituency, and many others in the north, have suffered as a result of this disruption and uncertainty. They need our support now more than ever. That said, I wholeheartedly commend this Government for their world-beating furlough package, business grants and loans, reduced VAT, business rates relief and, of course, eat out to help out. That has been particularly important in my constituency, where one third of our businesses are in tourism and hospitality. That sector has probably had the most disruption, and the owners of these businesses just want to be able to trade again.

In Southport we have submitted a town deal. As with many other towns, particularly in the north, it is vital that we deliver on the £50 million proposed in that package to unleash £400 million for my constituency alone. Delivering on this would help other areas in the north, stimulating our economy and growing our businesses. That is only part of what is needed if all our constituencies are to prosper, because some do not have town deals. We need infrastructure projects to connect us better, to increase footfall and to increase business across our whole region. Better connected, we can work better together for a more prosperous future.

We want the north to be given support that truly levels up, which is why I wholeheartedly back my right hon. Friend the Member for Rossendale and Darwen (Jake Berry) in his call for a northern economic recovery plan. We cannot just hope our way out of this crisis and towards a better economic future; we have to plan for that, and we want to be part of that plan.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Efford. I join all those who have thanked my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley Central (Dan Jarvis), and not just for securing the debate, but for the leadership he has shown on this agenda. We are all grateful to him for that.

Halifax was punching well above its weight as a northern Pennine town prior to the virus. We have aspiration by the bucketload in my home town. This is certainly a timely debate because, like other parts of the region represented here today, we were still recovering from the second devastating floods of the past five years when we had to immediately turn our attention to fighting the virus.

For some of us in this room, it seems like only yesterday we were here in Westminster Hall advocating on behalf of small and medium-sized enterprises in our constituencies. As I explained in that debate, Halifax has been in the equivalent to tier 2 restrictions since July—alongside our neighbours Batley and Spen and Bradford South, if I am not mistaken. We entered restrictions over 3 months ago, and we were about to enter tier 3 when the second national lockdown overtook us. I share that to make the point that although we have a great deal to offer, we have also faced a perfect storm of challenges, and we look to the Government to recognise that when considering devolution deals, economic support packages and their commitment to local authorities.

Turning to Calderdale Council, any levelling up in the north must start with properly funded services. The cost to the council of the pandemic and related lost income from closed facilities is expected to total around £37.2 million by year end. That has been partly offset by £22.2 million of additional Government funding, but that still leaves a potential deficit of £15 million for the council to deal with. Some of the losses associated with council tax and business rates can be carried forward, but we know that the cost will continue to rise as long as local and national restrictions are in effect.

Alongside investing in local authorities, sorting out rail in the north will be one of the best ways to connect, to stimulate our economies and to drive regeneration, and I have no doubt that others will say the same. We need it all: HS2, Northern Powerhouse Rail and the long overdue electrification of the Calder Valley line, which goes beyond these stations and connects Leeds and Manchester, two of the biggest cities in the north. In 2015, the north of England electrification taskforce recommended the full Calder Valley line as the top priority for economic and operational benefits, but we are still waiting for that to become a reality. I hope the Minister will pledge to work with colleagues to make that a focus of the Government’s levelling-up agenda.

Those of us in this room would argue that we are the north’s greatest advocates, but there is no greater advocate for levelling up the north than God’s own newspaper, The Yorkshire Post. It does not hold back on holding the Government to account, which comes from its unwavering commitment to doing the right thing by its readers. It does need a little help, however, and I hope the Minister will reflect on that.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Efford, and I thank the hon. Member for Barnsley Central (Dan Jarvis) for securing the debate.

Walking around communities like ours, it is clear that businesses are struggling and are worried about the future where once, really not that long ago, they felt optimism. Furness’s economy has thrived in the past, almost in spite of its infrastructure—our roads are terrible; our rail network, although improving, is a branch line and not fast with it. People live in Furness for the amazing community, and businesses stay there because of its deep pool of skills and knowledge—from advanced manufacturing to life sciences and green energy—but it is not hard to think that we are running with our shoelaces tied together. We are achieving not because of our environment, but in spite of it; we are achieving because of those people.

In some areas we are not achieving. There are wide and deep economic and health disparities between wards that neighbour each other. We have excellent teachers, doctors, nurses and public servants, but our geography—it takes two hours to get from Barrow to Carlisle—means that those same public services are stretched, and covid has only made those challenges worse.

This Government were elected to level up, and there has never been a more pressing time to do it. Let us be clear that we are not asking for handouts; we are asking to be put on a level footing, and to be given the chance to stand on our own two feet. If we want to tackle some of those economic and health disparities in our communities, we need to trust those communities. We need to use covid as an opportunity to open up and empower civil society to step in, to start focusing on families now and not when they hit crisis points. We need to focus on prevention and not cure.

Some villages in my constituency do not have broadband of any type. They often cannot get a phone signal, so let us level them up. Let us redouble efforts to get the infrastructure they need. Let us focus on the areas where we can meaningfully grow skills and recover. Cumbria is ideally placed to be the beating heart of a green industrial revolution. Let us think what an industrial strategy looks like and build on a base of offshore wind, nuclear and gas—and build towards hydrogen and tidal energy too. We have the skills, so enable us to do it. A northern economic recovery plan is what we need from the Government, for communities and constituencies across the north, so that we can build our way out of this pandemic.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Efford. I thank and pay tribute to my friend and neighbour, the hon. Member for Barnsley Central (Dan Jarvis), for securing this important debate. He has rightly made the case for better economic support for areas, such as ours, that have been hit hard by the covid-19 pandemic. Back in April, it was the former industrial towns that were predicted to be the most economically at risk. Indeed, Worsbrough in my constituency was given the unenviable title of tenth most at risk town in the country. The number of people claiming unemployment benefits in Barnsley East has doubled over the last six months and we need urgent help to get through the winter.

I will focus my remarks today on three simple asks. First, can the Minister outline the Government’s exit plan for the national lockdown? Last minute announcements by social media and the press have left too many businesses in limbo and unable to plan beyond the next week. We need clarity now more than ever. Secondly, will the Government use the national lockdown to fix the broken track and trace system and give control to local authorities? Test and trace should be run by people who know their areas best. The biggest threat to economies in the north is the spread of the virus and we need to get control of it now. Lastly, will the Government close the gaps in the economic support package and provide clarity on what support local areas should expect if they have to stay in lockdown for longer? Too many Barnsley businesses have gone to the wall and too many workers have been made redundant while the Chancellor has changed his plans from one week to the next.

Barnsley, like many areas across the north, was under strict tier 3 restrictions when the national lockdown was announced. During the negotiations, the Government said that workers in the north would receive only 67% of their pre-crisis income—80% was apparently impossible. Now, however, when restrictions are put in place in the south, the Government have again changed their mind. Clearly, there is one rule for the north and another for the leafy Tory shires. Last week, alongside fellow Labour MPs, Yorkshire Mayors and council leaders, I signed a letter to the Chancellor. We said:

“People in the north are not worth 13% less than those in the rest of the country.”

I ask the Minister to clarify the Government’s position.

The north of England is full of ex-industrial towns that have suffered, since pit closures, from a lack of investment, underemployment, a declining bus network and poor broadband performance. It is a simple fact that low-wage workers and those on insecure contracts are more at risk of becoming unemployed during recessions. The shutdown of pubs, restaurants and shops has had a devastating effect on the local economy in my area, where a large proportion of the population work in those sectors and rely on less secure and low-paid work. If levelling up is to become more than just a slogan, a genuine commitment will be required.

Order. You have been disciplined with your time, which has allowed me to relax the time for Back-Bench speeches to four minutes, for the time being.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Efford. Let me first address the key and core issue of the debate: the economy in the north of England. With or without covid, we are discussing a curate’s egg of sorts. It is good and bad in parts, given “the north of England” describes an area that is both vast and varied, encompassing seats as different as Richmond in Yorkshire—the seat of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, which is largely rural and wealthy—and my own seat of Leigh.

Although Leigh shares the designation of county constituency with the Chancellor’s seat, it is largely urban and poor. Indeed, measuring it by the yardstick of the super output area, it falls in the top 20% of most deprived constituencies in the country. We struggle with the legacy issues of the mining industry, in economic and health terms. Infrastructure in my constituency has suffered from under-investment for decades, and the town centres of its communities are in dire need of regeneration, although I am happy to report that recently the town of Tyldesley received a £1.5 million grant to begin the process of regeneration, so there is hope.

The other difference, of course, is that the Chancellor’s seat lies in historic Yorkshire, whereas Leigh lies in historic Lancashire, so we have one advantage at least. [Laughter.] All jokes aside, it is fair to say that in discussing the economy of the north of England we are discussing two economies—that of the wealthy part of the north of England, and that of the poor part. The contrast is often stark and visible. It is to the poor part of the north of England that we must devote our efforts, and in that I follow in the footsteps of my predecessor Richard Assheton Cross. He was the Member of Parliament for Leigh, and Home Secretary in the Government of Benjamin Disraeli, who first articulated the need to address these issues more than 170 years ago when he spoke of the country being divided into two nations.

Today I want to focus on infrastructure and the impact it has had on the economy of my constituency. Businesses are dissuaded from setting up in the town by a permanent snarl of heavy traffic. The associated economic and health costs resulting from poor air quality are significant. Air quality in some parts of the constituency is worse than that in central London. Since the mid-1960s, local residents and businesses have been campaigning for the completion of the Atherleigh Way bypass, to ease congestion, and for the reopening of the town’s rail links to Liverpool and Manchester, so that we will have access to jobs in the two major cities that our town lies halfway between. With that investment, Leigh could be transformed from a poor post-industrial community into a wealthy commuter community.

I have faith in the Government’s promise to invest in and level up the north, so that we can share in and help to build up the wealth of our nation. We must now deliver on the promises we made during the election.

Thank you for calling me in this important debate, Mr Efford. It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley Central (Dan Jarvis) on successfully applying for the debate and on the work he does as an advocate for the north. He has shown in his role as Mayor that devolution can be a powerful engine for real change in the north.

The Government talk a lot about levelling up. As we move on from covid, there is an opportunity for them to show whether they mean it. For too long, the north has been left behind when it comes to investment. The figures speak for themselves. The Institute for Fiscal Studies recently examined the five most recent years of data and found that capital investment per person in London averaged £1,461 per year over the five-year period, compared with an average of £851 across the rest of the UK. Investment in transport in London was £688 per person per year, which is 2.8 times higher than the average of £247 across the rest of the UK. If the Government wanted to level up the north, then take, for example, research and development—to do that today, they would need to give us £500 million to make us equal with the south.

We know that economic hardship is on its way, and the impact on West Yorkshire could be severe. The worst-case scenario estimates 58,000 jobs lost in the next year, leading to an unemployment rate of 14% and £12 billion wiped from the value of the regional economy. As someone who grew up on a council estate in Batley and on free school meals, I know the crushing frustration and boredom of poverty, and I know that children will be hyper-exposed to this downturn.

It is time for big thinking and bold ideas. Using our local leaders and local levers, there is an opportunity to transform the economic imbalance of our country. West Yorkshire already has the vibrant cities of Bradford and Leeds. They are already economic powerhouses, but with fairer investment they could deliver so much more.

It is a lucky day for the Minister, because the West Yorkshire combined authority has an economic plan to support our area out of covid-19. Ahead of the spending review, I urge the Minister please to look closely at those proposals, which call for £2 billion over the next five years to support the region’s economic and transport recovery. This includes: a £194 million fund to support specific projects to tackle the climate emergency, fund new flood-alleviation schemes, create new jobs and help people gain the skills needed for those roles; £340 million to support aspiring entrepreneurs from all backgrounds to start their own businesses; funding to improve our transport network in an integrated plan for the north, as well as short and long-term funding for the region’s bus network; devolution of adult skills funding and £465 million to support the range of measures designed to lower unemployment and increase opportunities.

It is ideas such as these, and more in the plan, that will, if backed by Westminster, help West Yorkshire to build back better. The north has great plans and ambitions for its own future. I support the argument from my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley Central that the time for tinkering is over: extend the local growth fund, implement the UK2070 Commission’s recommendations, and invest in transport. We can level up—it is possible—we just need the Government to back us.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Efford. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley Central (Dan Jarvis), also a metro Mayor, for securing such a vital debate.

The levelling up of regions of the UK is a stated focus of the current Government, as has been said across this Chamber today. Coronavirus has become the first—and, I would imagine, the largest— hurdle to this agenda for us all. At this first hurdle, the Government have fallen. They have given away the fact that, at their core, they do not value people and jobs equally.

In the spring, when the Government decided to lock down—lockdown 1—under pressure from the Opposition Benches, businesses and unions, they quickly drew up plans to provide 80% of wages through the furlough scheme for people who could no longer work. However, in October, when my constituents, and many others across the north, were plunged into tier 3, along with the Liverpool city region, it was decided that workers needed only 67% of their wages. The Chancellor told us that more money could not be found, but three weeks later—hey presto!—the Treasury suddenly uncovered more cash when we went into national lockdown. Now we are back to 80%, after a sustained campaign by many people—not only parliamentarians, but businesses and trade unions. What hope can we have of levelling up when, in the middle of an international crisis, the Government send the clear signal that northerners, northern livelihoods and northern businesses mean less?

As my Labour colleagues highlighted this week, we can harness the opportunities for green growth if the Government act urgently to deliver the economic recovery that the nation requires. That must include the plan that my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley Central eloquently put forward for levelling up growth, skills and investment in the north through the UK prosperity fund. We must also look at the Green Book reforms that have been much peddled and promised in the media. In my constituency, we also need more investment in hydrogen, which hon. Members from across the House have mentioned, and investment in Sci-Tech Daresbury, with which the former Minister, the right hon. Member for Rossendale and Darwen (Jake Berry), is very familiar—he was helpful with it in the past. We need more investment with a laser-like focus to drive up prosperity and economic recovery.

We have had enough of second-rate public transport and hand-me-down rolling stock, the talk of levelling up while levelling down to rubble a multimillion-pound college in the Northwich part of my constituency, and the spin of “build, build, build” while the Government’s housing algorithm means 28% fewer houses in the north and more than 160% more houses in London. Any investment in regional economies must be matched by investment in local decision making. We need to harness it is as much as we harness the economic power that the north is capable of. The levelling up agenda must include a radical transfer of fiscal and political power. We lack not just funding and investment in the north, but the ability to shape our fortunes and make change ourselves. We cannot continue to tolerate inequality of power, which drives inequalities of prosperity across the country and the north, so I ask the Minister to consider—

I thank my very near neighbour, the hon. Member for Barnsley Central (Dan Jarvis), for calling this important debate at a critical moment in our national story. The border between us is at one point marked by the River Dearne, where it swirls and pools into a beautiful lake in the grounds of the Yorkshire Sculpture Park. I suspect that fewer boundaries between two constituencies in this sceptred isle are more picturesque, although if you come to view it, Mr Efford, look from the south side towards the vista in the north, because the spires of Wakefield are a delight to behold.

In the 2019 general election campaign, the Conservative party pledged to level up parts of the United Kingdom that had long been left behind, such as Yorkshire. Disparities between the north and south have long been evident. In 2004, London’s economy was the same size as the north’s. This year, according to the think-tank Onward, London’s economy is a quarter larger. Certain forms of spending occur disproportionately in London and the south-east, in comparison with the rest of the United Kingdom. One glaring example is travel. It is believed that it would cost £2 billion to bring per-person transport spending across England in line with London’s. That highlights the shameful chasm that splits this country between the north and south.

In an excellent report, WPI Strategy’s levelling-up index ranked the Wakefield constituency as a priority and 126th most in need of levelling up. More than any other report that I have seen thus far, it showed the extent to which, through successive Governments and failed policies—national and local, of all stripes—the north has been failed. In my constituency, financial deprivation is 27% higher than the English and Welsh average, and deprivation is 21% higher than the English average. From a commercial perspective, there are 33% more empty properties in Wakefield than the national average—evidence of the disproportionate effect that London-centric policies have on the overall economic environment.

It is promising that Her Majesty’s Government have already pledged vast sums of money to tackle regional inequalities. A £5 billion package of new funding to overhaul bus and cycle links for every region outside London has been established. The pledge to create 10 new freeports is another key means to achieve the levelling-up agenda and provide a significant boost to the entire economy, with the first of the freeports expected to be opened in 2021.

The entire basis of Her Majesty’s Government’s approach to levelling up is through providing communities with the tools to achieve prosperity, not simply handouts. There is nothing more crucial to Conservatives than supporting people in achieving their ambitions. The investment that this Government have pledged to boost the number of viable apprenticeships is testimony to Conservative values.

I am greatly encouraged by the efforts of my parliamentary colleagues in helping to level up the north, and have been particularly heartened by the co-operation shown by neighbouring northern MPs from across the House. The hon. Member for Barnsley Central and I have been working together on opening a rail link between Barnsley and Wakefield, which will not only improve interconnectivity between northern hubs, but provide economic benefits for all of Yorkshire. I hope that more projects aimed at boosting the north will be championed and allowed to reach fruition.

Once we emerge from the coronavirus pandemic, it is vital that we utilise the opportunity of recovery to reset our economy. To achieve that, the Government need to ensure that their commitments to the levelling-up agenda are met, and that places such as my constituency are given the tools and the infrastructure to ensure their prosperity. I am confident that I and my fellow parliamentary colleagues will hold the Government to account and ensure that they deliver on their promise to our constituents.

Before I call Judith Cummins, we have been joined by Mr Fletcher, so I am going to have to reimpose a 3-minute time limit.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Efford. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley Central (Dan Jarvis) for securing this extremely timely and important debate.

Even before the covid-19 crisis, the UK economy was fundamentally unbalanced. As the Institute for Public Policy Research North put it:

“The UK is more regionally divided than any comparable advanced economy.”

I have spoken before about the issues with the Green Book, and I continue to believe that the method used to assess potential projects skews investment, and therefore growth, into where it already happens, rather than where it needs to happen. The Treasury is committed to reviewing the Green Book, but I know that hon. Members will be interested to hear from the Minister the progress that it has made on that, because covid-19 makes it more urgent, given the disproportionate economic hit that the north has taken and the heavy price that people in the north are paying.

The Government’s handling of the covid crisis, especially their approach to local restrictions and regional packages of financial support, has shown that the needs of the north are still too often an afterthought—or, worse, ignored altogether. Instead of establishing a clear, transparent framework of support, proportionate to need, the Government have employed a strategy of divide and rule. Local areas, most of them in the north, were forced into unfair negotiations on entering higher levels of restrictions, but were then told that there was no negotiating to be done on the level or share of the financial support offered.

Worse still, it appears that the substantial packages of support came only when restrictions were imposed on London. For example, on 22 October, the Chancellor announced new grants for businesses in tier 2. That came the day after London entered tier 2. Areas including Bradford had been under the equivalent of tier 2 for months and months. That is yet another example of the Government’s having a deaf ear for the people of the north.

We are now in a national lockdown and the furlough scheme has been extended until March, but the Government need to set out exactly what will happen at the end of that period. They have suggested that we will go back into the tiered system, but many businesses in places such as Bradford will simply not survive if we go straight back into tier 2 or tier 3, with the current level of support.

In the short term the Government must ensure that, wherever there are restrictions after 2 December, there is a fair set of financial support packages, which take into account how long an area has been in local restrictions already. For each measure, the Government should produce an impact assessment, region by region, which includes the impact on regional inequality and the regional economy.

In the longer term, we need a fundamental rebalancing of our economy. Levelling-up rhetoric and the odd project here and there will simply not be enough. Trust is in short supply and the people of the north will hold the Government to account for their promises and their actions.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Barnsley Central (Dan Jarvis) on securing this important debate. So much has rightly been said about levelling up and the need to spread wealth and opportunity more fairly across the nation. Following the pandemic, during which the north has suffered disproportionately, there will be an even greater need to support our northern economy, so I welcome Sheffield city region’s renewal action plan.

The plan identifies three key areas where support should be targeted—our people, our employers and our places. Our people certainly need support, with unemployment rising and the future job market uncertain. The key to attracting productive, high-skilled jobs is surely to ensure that we have a productive, highly skilled workforce. That is why I welcome the Prime Minister’s lifetime skills guarantee. We also need to support our employers as they adapt to a new post-covid economy. I commend the Government for their ongoing support for businesses during the pandemic, and I welcome Sheffield city region’s plans to help our employers adapt to digitisation. Of course, we must support our places, particularly the infrastructure that connects us. That is why I have submitted a bid to restore the Stocksbridge to Sheffield railway line and am working with local groups to improve rural bus services. Perhaps the Minister could provide an update of what the Government are doing specifically about northern transport.

Our people, our employers and our places all need support, but when we are thinking about our northern economy it is tempting to focus on what we lack—the jobs, productivity and opportunities that we do not have. If we are talking about investment into the north, perhaps instead we should start with what we do have. Investment is about finding an opportunity, spotting potential and catalysing growth by building on existing strengths. We certainly have a lot of strengths in the north. We have strong communities with healthy intergenerational ties. People are proud of where they live and value their relationships with families, friends and neighbours. We even talk to each other on the bus. I tried it on the tube; that did not go down well.

We can build on that strength of community to unlock economic potential. We have a proud history of manufacturing, which is a strength we should build upon. Just as in the north we were at the forefront of the first industrial revolution, we have the potential to lead the fourth industrial revolution—if we focus on growing our own talent, enabling tech investment and engaging with even the youngest children to inspire them to take part in our northern industrial future.

We also have world-class universities, whose expertise we can harness to invest in our local economy. I welcome the work that Sheffield and Sheffield Hallam universities are already doing in that area, but we need to think more about how the universities can reach into our more rural areas to foster talent in our towns and villages.

Yes, we have been left behind in the north; yes, we need financial support to level up our economy and opportunities, but let us also acknowledge what we do have, our significant capabilities, and look to invest in our strengths.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Efford. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley Central (Dan Jarvis) on calling today’s debate and showing what a difference a Labour Mayor can make.

Once a powerhouse in rail and confectionery, York’s industrial past evolved into tourism, retail and hospitality—insecure, low-wage work with significant under-employment. Now our economy is in a perilous condition and is predicted to be the worst-hit place in the country. Already the high street has reached that place, with the loss of 55 retail outlets this year alone. The local enterprise partnership predicts that unemployment could rise to as much as 27% of the population.

The city itself, often mistaken as a place of affluence, has been identified as one of the most inequitable places in the country, with some of the poorest communities. When we hear the words “levelling up”, I have to say that after a decade I have not seen the evidence. If the Government believe that sites such as York Central, in the heart of my constituency, are places where they can just layer on more and more luxury flats, which people in my city cannot afford, they are missing the economic opportunity for York, North Yorkshire and the whole of the north.

The devastating consequences of covid-19 have shown that the resilience is not there, which is why today’s debate is so important. There are five things and five demands: power, pounds, plans, places and people. For power, we need to see that shift in power, not just to devolved authorities. I call on the Mayor of South Yorkshire and the incoming Mayor of West Yorkshire to work with us in North Yorkshire, to ensure that Yorkshire has real power to lever in the change that we need to see. We need that power held in the north across Yorkshire, to make the difference.

With regard to pounds, we have already heard the call for money. We need real economic investment and clear, transparent data with a matrix to show how money is being invested and prioritised and bringing in the change that is needed. We need to ensure that when plans are laid, they are honoured. In the devolution plan for North Yorkshire, BioYorkshire is at the heart of the deal. We need to bring it forward now, and I ask the Minister to have words with the wider Treasury team and the Chancellor to ensure that we get that money now to invest in jobs.

When there is development, we need to prioritise places and spaces for our communities, and ultimately people. In Yorkshire, people are resourceful and resilient, but they are creative and aspirational, too. We need to ensure that when we put plans forward, they honour people’s future and give them the opportunities that others have enjoyed for so long.

Order. I will put the question at 10.59 am, to allow time for the moment of remembrance. If the Front-Bench spokespersons take 10 minutes each, it will leave a short period for Mr Jarvis to wind up, in accordance with the convention. Before that, I call Nick Fletcher.

I thank the hon. Member for Barnsley Central (Dan Jarvis) for securing the debate. I have enjoyed working with him since becoming the MP for Don Valley, and I know how deeply he cares about ensuring that the north gets a good deal.

We have heard, and will continue to hear, Members discussing the need for the Government to offer sufficient support for the north as it is hit by the covid-19 pandemic. I wholeheartedly agree with that feeling, especially as I know full well the pain that businesses and individuals are going through in my constituency. However, I want to discuss the dire need for the Treasury to continue with its policy to reform the Green Book, as the Chancellor set out in March this year. The hon. Member for Barnsley Central has spoken at some length on that issue in the past. I believe there is scope for a true cross-party consensus on such a reform. After all, it is nothing short of a scandal that successive Governments’ failure to reform the Green Book has led to a lack of infrastructure investment in the north for decades. That needs to change, especially as the north has been hit particularly hard by the pandemic. I therefore welcome the Chancellor’s commitment to have the Green Book reviewed in March, although the pandemic and the pushing back of the Budget this autumn have inevitably delayed much-needed action in this area. However, I say to the Government: do not delay.

We are witnessing seismic shifts in our economy and its functions will be changed forever as a result of the pandemic. As such, the Government should be investigating ways in which they can create a more functional economy as part of their recovery plan, which has less of a focus on London and instead sees the potential of all regions in the UK. Areas such as Doncaster have considerable potential; the skills and workforce are all there. We now need ambitious infrastructure projects in order to truly level up the region.

Members will be aware that in March 2018, the then Government revised the Green Book to take greater consideration of environmental and distributional impacts of infrastructure funding. Of course, it was a step forward that had the potential to boost economic wellbeing in the north. However, I believe the Government should be even more ambitious. Treasury Ministers should now look at how they can completely rewrite the Green Book, so that the formula no longer rewards places that already enjoy good economic growth and high productivity with big investment projects.

The over-concentration on quick economic returns has only exacerbated the north/south divide and needs to be totally reworked; otherwise, the Green Book will continue to give the same answer to any infrastructure proposal in the north—“The computer says no.” Equally, the current data on regional economic progress is not sufficient. Infrastructure spending could be made fairer by integrating into a new Green Book formula, data that better shows regional capital investment—an improvement that hon. Members have called for in the past.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Efford. Congratulations to the hon. Member for Barnsley Central (Dan Jarvis) on securing the debate. I have listened closely, and there have been a lot of passionate voices for the north of England, which is utterly fantastic to hear. On this occasion, there is much more that unites the Members present than divides them. I certainly wish them well in trying to get the Government to keep the promises that they have made and to go further in some instances, as Members have requested.

My biggest take from the debate is that I need to get my hands on The Yorkshire Post to see what all the fuss is about.

We do not have The Yorkshire Post in Aberdeen at the moment, but I will put a call in with a local corner shop to see whether I can get it.

This debate has been wide-ranging and has focused on people’s priorities: jobs, support and ensuring that they can live good lives. I will provide a little context as someone who also represents the north, but, as Member for Aberdeen South, it is the north-east of Scotland. The right hon. Member for Rossendale and Darwen (Jake Berry) mentioned that many of his constituents have continued to work throughout the pandemic, which is also true of many of my constituents. As everyone will be aware, the oil and gas industry cannot stop. If it did, we would all be in a bit of trouble—that is for sure—so my constituents have been working incredibly hard throughout the pandemic.

When the oil price plummeted, however—it absolutely crashed in early March and into April—the Government did not lift a finger. Not a single penny of sector-specific support was put behind an industry that has given more than £350 billion to the Treasury over decades. That was a disappointment not just to me, but to each and every person in Aberdeen who has a friend or family member whose job is intrinsically linked to the success of that sector.

Beyond that, we have not seen any Government investment in what comes next. We all know that oil and gas are depleting resources, but as far as I can see, there has so far been no firm commitment to hydrogen, which has been mentioned by several Members, or to carbon capture and underground storage, which is also of keen interest to Members in the north of England. The Government have not made those commitments, whether for the north of England or the north-east of Scotland. Quite frankly, that is not good enough.

The issues do not stop there. Although we are in the midst of this pandemic, we cannot escape the fact that we are just weeks away from the end of the transition period and, potentially, from leaving the European Union without a deal. My city is projected to be the hardest hit in the UK as a result of Brexit. Where is the mitigation from the Conservative Government? There has been none to date.

Beyond that, in the last couple of weeks alone, my Aberdeen constituency has been the hardest hit in job vacancies—once again, across the entire UK—with a 75% decline. The issues in the north of England that have been spoken about are ones with which I sympathise, but they are not unique. Certainly, in the north-east of Scotland, we are bearing the brunt of the inaction of this Conservative Government, decades of inaction from UK Governments and insufficient investment in the future.

I am conscious of time, so I will bring my remarks to an end by reflecting on the wider situation in Scotland. As it stands, we have no clarity on the Scottish budget. Next year, we will have to rely on the UK Government telling us how much we will have before we can spend it on our vital public services. We have no clarity on what the shared prosperity fund will look like or whether Scotland will have additional borrowing powers.

On top of that complete and utter contempt for Scotland, the Internal Market Bill seeks to take back the devolved powers that we have. The hon. Member for Barnsley Central referred to the need for further devolution in the north of England. I commend him on those remarks and wish him good luck, but he needs to be wary of getting that devolution only for the UK Government to strip back the powers that they have given.

I appreciate that I have already said that I would make my final comment, but I have one more. [Laughter.] That is true of all of us in this House at times; repetition is something we are particularly good at. I will conclude by saying, once again, that I wish Members across the House well in their fight with the Government to get the investment that they need. Be mindful of the fact that Scotland also requires that investment, but where we differ is that we have a choice. We have another route to get what we want, which is for the people of Scotland to vote for independence.

It is a pleasure to see you chair the debate, Mr Efford; I am not saying that for brownie points. This is my first time speaking as the Opposition spokesperson, and my first time speaking in a Westminster Hall debate; I am not saying that because I want extra speaking time.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley Central (Dan Jarvis) for showing leadership in bringing forward the debate; this is a really important time to talk about the issues facing the north. My hon. Friend mentioned how covid has massively affected the north—the unemployment numbers are much higher, and much more support needs to be given. I share those concerns and commend him for his leadership in helping individuals locally.

I thank everyone who contributed to the debate. All Members have shown so much passion for their constituencies, and I can see at first hand the challenges that they face on such a huge scale. It is good that we have been able to have deep, meaningful conversations without getting into any political point scoring.

I will mention those Members whose comments particularly touched me, although I will not be able to mention everybody. The right hon. Member for Rossendale and Darwen (Jake Berry) talked about football clubs in his constituency and the need for a northern economic recovery fund. My hon. Friend the Member for Halifax (Holly Lynch) talked about the £15 million deficit that her council has. I echo her calls for infrastructure investment in rail—a point also made by the hon. Member for Leigh (James Grundy). My hon. Friend the Member for Batley and Spen (Tracy Brabin) spoke passionately about the challenges in her constituency and about extending the local growth fund, which is particularly important. My hon. Friend the Member for Weaver Vale (Mike Amesbury) referred to the unemployment in his northern constituency and spoke powerfully about more investment in hydrogen. That point was echoed by a number of Members.

My hon. Friend the Member for York Central (Rachael Maskell) talked about the economic situation in York and called for transparent data, investment, modelling, infrastructure and a fresh economic plan. We need a shift towards economic investment. Rather than just maintaining current housing developments, we need to think about the future. The hon. Member for Wakefield (Imran Ahmad Khan) made a really strong case for his constituency, which encouraged me to visit it again. I have been there once, and I will definitely go again. He talked about the disparity between the north and the south, and how he is working collaboratively to try to address the issues.

It is crucial that attention is brought to this issue, because covid-19 will affect not just London but the whole country. We have to acknowledge that some parts of the country are suffering a lot more than others. We have already seen businesses close. I have seen the impact in my constituency and know from conversations how it has affected so many people across the country. The Government are failing to plug the gaps and address those issues—a point that a number of colleagues have echoed.

Businesses that have survived so far will struggle without extra support pumped in, and we need to think about that. We need to think about protecting local and regional economies. We need there to be local jobs, local businesses and strong economies. We need there to be local jobs, local businesses and strong local economies. That is not just so that people can earn a living and survive, but so that the different regions of the UK can thrive.

This is not just a Treasury issue, but a health issue, a tourism issue, a Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport issue and an environmental issue; it goes across Departments. We are facing one of the biggest challenges of our time, and we need to ensure that the north of England and all other regions that continue to be affected by covid-19 are fully supported.

As some of my colleagues mentioned, local authorities have been forced to negotiate the financial support that they will receive in tier 3. An example is the negotiations last month with Greater Manchester, which continued for 10 days—10 days when the Mayor of Greater Manchester was fighting for sufficient financial support for his constituents. Initially, the Government said to workers in Manchester that they would get only 67% of their pre-crisis income—67%. They said that 80% was impossible. Then, when the restrictions in the south were introduced this month, they changed their mind. Why was that?

The Chancellor of the Exchequer has yet to come clean on the phantom funding formula—I am still struggling to understand it—that he is using to determine funding for areas under tier 3 restrictions. What we really need is clear, consistent and fair funding for jobs and businesses, not to be playing poker with people’s livelihoods, because people are suffering. They are really suffering and are expecting to see leadership from us so they can address the barriers they face.

I want to echo calls from hon. Members in this Chamber, such as that from my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley East (Stephanie Peacock), who talked about an exit plan for the national lockdown. That was echoed by other Members. The Chancellor needs to end the last-minute scramble to announce economic support measures and set out a proper plan for the next six months.

The Government need to fix test, trace and isolate, so that different parts of the UK can understand their local covid risk and find a way to recover. We need clarity—this has been echoed by a number of colleagues, such as my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford South (Judith Cummins)—on the economic support for local areas and what they can expect once lockdown finishes. The Government need to set out what they plan to do with regard to recovery, jobs and rebuilding businesses.

So many people have fallen through the gaps. Now the Government must step up, working across all parties and with local leaders, to ensure that those affected are supported. A number of people have talked about a green economy—something I support. Can the Minister confirm that the upcoming spending review will secure a green recovery across the country? The Labour party really wants to see a safety net that includes scrapping the five-week wait for universal credit, the two-child limit, the savings cap and the overall benefits cap. That would help to alleviate the financial hardship faced by many of those on the lowest incomes during this pandemic.

We need to see the Government stepping up to provide support for those who have been excluded from the start. There is still nothing beyond social security for those who have been excluded, and many of the self-employed remain cut out from social security if they have amassed small amounts of savings.

The support must be long-term and help different regions, including the north, to respond to their individual needs and support local growth. The Government must put in place changes to enable people who are off work to use the time to gain valuable skills for the future. That needs to be done urgently; we do not have time to just sit and have conversations about it. Rapid work needs to be done.

I appreciate that it will take years to rebuild crucial industries and identities if this support is not secured. The Government must act now and treat every region of the UK with the same respect for local people and local pride.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Efford, and I congratulate the hon. Member for Erith and Thamesmead (Abena Oppong-Asare) on her first appearance as shadow Exchequer Secretary. That is a very interesting role and I wish her all the best in it. I also congratulate the hon. Member for Barnsley Central (Dan Jarvis) on securing the debate and thank Members for their insightful contributions, many of which were delivered with great passion.

As was said by my right hon. Friend the Member for Rossendale and Darwen (Jake Berry), the north has been a hotbed of energy, ideas, innovation and creativity for centuries, and the region continues to power our economy. Global companies are taking advantage of the rich commercial opportunities in the north-west and the north-east is gaining a formidable reputation in areas such as advanced manufacturing, energy and the life sciences, while businesses in South Yorkshire, such as materials construction firm SIG and internet firm Plusnet, are generating jobs and growth. However, the Government are acutely aware that the past months have been incredibly difficult for people across the region, as they have been for the whole UK. As my hon. Friend the Member for Southport (Damien Moore) said, the pandemic is more than a health crisis; it is an economic crisis.

We are committed to protecting the livelihoods of people throughout the country. To that end, we have provided an unprecedented package of funding worth over £200 billion. I will briefly remind everyone of its main elements before addressing other points that Members have raised. The coronavirus job retention scheme has protected the livelihoods of 9.6 million people, many of them in the north. We have boosted welfare payments for the lowest earners and paid more than £1 billion to hundreds of thousands of people in the north through the self-employment income support scheme. That includes 63,000 grants issued in the north-east, 213,000 in the north-west and 163,000 in Yorkshire and the Humber—all to the self-employed. While thousands of northern firms have so far received £10.5 billion from the bounce back and coronavirus interruption loan schemes, we have provided in addition billions of pounds to local authorities throughout the country, including the north, to protect vital services during the pandemic.

These vast sums show that the Government are determined to help the whole country, including the north, through this difficult period. We will be using the forthcoming spending review to make sure we put the right financial support in place to continue the fight against covid. We will also be using the spending review to drive forward the vital infrastructure projects that will aid our economic recovery from the crisis and level up the whole UK.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (James Grundy) for giving me the opportunity to mention the towns fund. We are investing £3.6 billion in the towns fund to level up our regions and I am pleased that towns such as Tyldesley in his constituency are receiving this much-needed money.

The hon. Member for Batley and Spen (Tracy Brabin) asked about the local growth fund. She will be aware that this is a matter for the impending spending review, and it would not be appropriate for me to pre-empt the outcome of that process.

My hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness (Simon Fell) spoke about investment, and I would like to give a brief recap of our infrastructure investment so far. Over the next five years, we are going to plough more than £600 billion into capital spending. That means new roads, new railways, hospitals and schools. We have brought forward £8.6 billion of this to support activity in the near term—plans that the International Monetary Fund said will address productivity, climate goals and regional inequality, which my hon. Friend is rightly concerned about.

My hon. Friend the Member for Penistone and Stocksbridge (Miriam Cates) referred to northern transport and asked what, specifically, the Government are doing about that. In the last Budget, we announced more than £27 billion—a record investment—for strategic roads over the next five years. That includes £18 million to upgrade the A61 Westwood roundabout at Tankersley in her constituency, dualling the A66 across the Pennines and the A1 from Morpeth to Ellingham in the north-east, and upgrading the M60 Simister Island in Greater Manchester. In the last Budget, we also provided a £4.2 billion investment to eight city regions across the north, including Sheffield city region, for local transport in the five-year funding settlement starting in 2022-23.

The Government remain committed to investing in improving rail connections across the north. The hon. Member for Halifax (Holly Lynch) will be pleased to know that we are developing an integrated rail plan so we can deliver High Speed 2 phase 2b and northern Powerhouse Rail more effectively alongside other transport schemes.

As well as such landmark projects, we need to improve infrastructure at a more local level, as the hon. Lady pointed out. To that end, this summer the Chancellor launched the £900 million Getting Building fund. The fund aims to boost jobs, upgrade infrastructure and support the recovery, and targets areas that are facing the biggest economic challenges because of the pandemic. I am pleased that combined authorities and local enterprise partnerships across the north of England have received more than £319 million.

As the hon. Member for Barnsley Central will know, Sheffield city region has already been awarded £33.6 million. That funding will create more than 1,000 jobs and unlock new housing, commercial and learning space. Projects include improvement work for schools and colleges, enterprise space for businesses and start-ups, new pedestrian and cycle bridges and junction improvement schemes, and new charge points for electric vehicles. That is far from an exhaustive list.

Our levelling-up agenda is not just about what or where we invest; it is about fundamentally shifting the way Government policy is formulated. The hon. Gentleman raised relocating civil servants to the north. As announced at Budget 2020, we are working with colleagues in the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, the Department for International Trade and the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government to establish a new economic decision-making campus in the north of England to be operational by the end of this Parliament, with at least 750 roles at the new site.

We continue to build on our successful English devolution agenda. We intend to bring forward the devolution and local recovery White Paper, laying out our plans for partnering with places across the UK to build a sustainable economic recovery.

I mentioned the BioYorkshire project in my speech; it will be transformative for my constituency. It will create 4,000 jobs and upskill 25,000 people. Will the Minister look at bringing that money forward? We need investment now because of the economic crisis we face, rather than waiting two and a half years for devolution.

That is something we can certainly review. I will write to the hon. Lady to explain our position exactly.

Many core city regions in the north now have a metro Mayor and a devolution deal. We have recently agreed one such deal with West Yorkshire. It includes £1 billion of new investment and a directly elected metro Mayor, in place from May 2021. We fully implemented the Sheffield city region deal, which includes £900 million of new funding, along with substantial new devolved powers.

Many Members have expressed a desire for a northern recovery plan. This Government accelerated £8.6 billion for capital priorities to drive recovery across the country, and the upcoming spending review will continue to support the economic recovery of the north and the whole country. My hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Nick Fletcher) raised the Green Book. We are planning to conclude the review and publish the updated Green Book at the spending review.

Several Opposition Members have insinuated that the south was given preferential treatment over the north. That is simply not true, as anyone can see, given the unprecedented support provided. They also completely ignore other measures, such as new testing technology being piloted in Liverpool city region, which could be a game changer in tackling both the health and economic impacts of the pandemic in that area.

We realise that these are profoundly challenging times for many people and many communities in the north. The Chancellor himself is a northern MP, who is very much aware and impacted by the issues raised today. I say to hon. Members and their constituents that he is very much on their side. As I have outlined, this Government are unwaveringly focused on ensuring that people and businesses in the region and throughout the country are not only able to weather the storm of covid-19, but also benefit from an even brighter future.

I am acutely conscious that Members will want to observe the two-minute silence on Armistice Day, so I will be brief.

We have had a really constructive debate this morning. We have heard a range of articulate views from Members across the House. I think there is a clear consensus around the need to level up the north and to invest not just in our infrastructure, but in our people. I also think that there is a clear consensus that the time to do this is now.

The spending review in a couple of weeks’ time will be a major test of the Government’s commitment to level up the north. I hope that the Government take the opportunity to stop tinkering and start transforming. We in the north stand ready to be levelled up. Please do not let us down.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House has considered support for the economy in the north of England.

Sitting suspended for the observation of a two-minute silence at Eleven o’clock.