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Levelling Up

Volume 691: debated on Tuesday 16 March 2021

With permission, Mr Deputy Speaker, I will make a statement on levelling up. Levelling up is central to the Government’s agenda, and we are working with local areas to ensure that every region, every city and every town will recover from covid-19 and level up. Investing in our local areas has the potential to improve lives, give people pride in their communities, bring more places across the UK closer to opportunity, and ensure that everywhere can build back better.

Economic differences remain between places across the UK, and those economic differences have real implications. They affect people’s lives through their pay, their work opportunities, their health and their life chances. Tackling them, and driving prosperity as part of levelling up the UK, remains a priority for the Government. As set out in the spending review, the Government’s capital spending plans for the coming financial year, 2021-22, will total £100 billion—a £30 billion cash increase compared with 2019-20. That is part of the Government’s plans to deliver more than £600 billion in gross public sector investment over the next five years, delivering the highest sustained level of public sector net investment as a proportion of GDP since the late 1970s. In the Budget, we published the prospectus for the new £4.8 billion levelling-up fund. The fund will operate UK-wide, extending the benefits of funding for priority local infrastructure across all regions and nations. This cross-departmental fund represents a new approach to local investment and will end silos in Whitehall that make it difficult to take a holistic approach to the infrastructure needs in local areas.

The fund will invest in the infrastructure that matters to local areas, creating economic benefits and bringing communities together as we recover from the economic impact of the pandemic. The levelling-up fund will invest in regenerating our town centres and high streets, upgrading local transport and investing in our cultural and heritage assets across the UK. That could be repairing a bridge, investing in new or existing cycling provision, upgrading an eyesore building, regenerating key leisure and retail sites to encourage new businesses, or even maintaining museums, galleries and community spaces that are important to the local area.

The fund will create opportunity across the country, prioritising bids from those places in need of economic recovery and growth, improved transport connectivity and regeneration. In order to target those places in need, an index has put places in categories 1, 2 or 3, with category 1 representing places with the highest levels of identified need. However, it is important to stress that the bandings do not represent eligibility criteria, nor the bid amount or number of bids that a place can submit. Bids from categories 2 and 3 will be considered for funding on the merits of their deliverability, value for money and strategic fit.

We published the index, and the methodology used to develop the index, to help the fund to deliver its core objective of improving local communities by investing in local infrastructure that has a visible impact on people. The Government recognise the important role of Members in championing the interests of their constituents, and we expect them to be consulted as part of wider local stakeholder engagement on bids, although it is not a necessary condition for a successful bid. Members can have a positive role in prioritising bids and helping to broker local consultation. When considering the weighting given to bids, the expectation is that an MP will back one bid that they see as a priority, and any bid may have priority backing from multiple MPs and local stakeholders. Members may also want to support any bid that will benefit their constituencies in the usual way.

Where appropriate, the UK Government will seek advice from the devolved Administrations as part of bid assessments in their geographical areas on shortlisted projects regarding alignment with existing provision. The fund is part of a broad package of complementary UK-wide interventions. Along with the levelling-up fund, the UK shared prosperity fund will create a package of UK Government support, which invests in skills, infrastructure and innovation at local, regional and national levels, enabling the Government to provide the same support to communities in all nations as we build back from covid-19. To help local areas prepare for the introduction of the UK shared prosperity fund, the UK Government are also providing an additional £220 million of funding through the UK community renewal fund. This fund aims to support people and communities most in need across the UK to pilot programmes and new approaches. Through these funds, we will establish new ways of working between the UK Government and places right across the UK.

The UK Government will work more directly with local partners and communities across England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, which are best placed to understand the needs of their local area and more closely aligned to the local economic geographies to deliver quickly on the ground.

In the Budget we also announced the eight successful locations in England, which will move to the next stage of freeport designation. Teesside, Liverpool City Region, Humber region, Plymouth, Solent, Thames, Felixstowe and Harwich and East Midlands Airport will benefit from this investment. Freeports will bring together ports, local authorities, businesses and key local stakeholders to achieve a common goal of shared prosperity and opportunity for their regions, and they will allow the UK to take advantage of the benefits of leaving the EU.

As part of the towns fund, 101 towns were selected to develop proposals for town deals. All towns have now submitted their proposals, and 52 towns have so far been offered town deals, meaning that we now have committed £1.28 billion to the programme. Assessment continues for the remaining towns, with further announcements expected in due course. Through the towns fund, we will invest up to £25 million in each town, or more in exceptional cases, to drive the economic regeneration of towns to deliver long-term economic and productivity growth. We are also creating a new £150 million community ownership fund to ensure that communities across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland can support and continue benefiting from the local facilities, community assets and amenities that are most important to them.

From summer 2021, community groups will be able to bid for up to £250,000 match funding to help them buy or take over local community assets that are at risk of being lost and run them as community-owned businesses. In exceptional cases, up to £1 million match funding will be available to help establish a community-owned sports club or to help buy a sports ground that is at risk of being lost without that valuable community intervention.

Working with Mayors and local enterprise partnerships, the £900 million Getting Building Fund will also deliver jobs, skills and infrastructure across the country, targeting investment at those areas that are facing the biggest economic challenges as a result of the pandemic.

We want to devolve and decentralise to give more power to local communities, providing an opportunity for all places to level up. Through an ambitious programme of nine devolution deals, £7.49 billion-worth of investment is being unlocked over 30 years. The recently implemented West Yorkshire devolution deal will give the newly elected Mayor control over an annual £38 million investment fund, as well as new powers over transport, education, housing and planning.

The Department has also recently announced plans for more homes in urban areas and on brownfield land, as well as changes to our funding rules to ensure that we level up all parts of England as we progress towards 300,000 new homes every year. The Prime Minister announced that seven mayoral combined authorities were each receiving a share of the £400 million brownfield housing fund. That will help unlock 26,000 homes by bringing under-utilised brownfield land back into use and contribute to levelling up our country.

I hope that hon. Members will agree that this demonstrates the importance that this Government attach to the levelling-up agenda and the many ways in which we are addressing the causes of inequality. I am confident that the measures that I have set out today will make a real difference to people and places across the whole of the United Kingdom. I commend this statement to the House.

I welcome the Minister to his new role and thank him for advance sight of his statement. The Labour party welcomes funding for every town and region, especially after the Conservatives have held them back with unfair cuts and deliberate disinvestment over the past decade, but this funding is only a fraction of the money the Conservatives took away in the first place. Despite all the Minister’s claims about the levelling-up fund, regions will still be getting less than they got before the crisis. It is a bit like a burglar who sneaks into your house in the dead of night, strips it bare and then expects gratitude for handing back your TV set.

Every region should get the funding it needs to recover, but instead the Government are pitting regions and towns against one another and forcing them to fight one another for funding. Council leaders are furious that millions of pounds are being wasted on consultancy fees for putting bids together. All that money could have been spent on actually levelling up areas that the Conservatives have held back.

Ministers have deprioritised areas that desperately need funding, such as Barnsley, Salford, Bolsover and Ashfield, in favour of wealthier areas such as Richmondshire that just happen to be represented by Cabinet Ministers. It looks very much as if the Government are fiddling the formula to funnel money into wealthier areas and away from the areas that need it most, and the methodology confirms that fear. Despite the Prime Minister’s promise that funding would be allocated to tackle poverty, the Conservatives have removed deprivation levels from the funding formula. That is how 14 areas that are wealthier than average appear in the highest priority category, while areas that need investment the most have been blocked. The Government will not fix regional inequalities by ignoring deprivation when they allocate funding. They are not levelling the country up; they are pulling it further apart and deepening the inequalities that they created in the first place.

I would be grateful if the Minister could tell us why the index of multiple deprivation was excluded from the funding formula, and why Barnsley, Salford, Ashfield and Bolsover were deprioritised in favour of Richmondshire in North Yorkshire. How much is being spent in total on red tape and consultants in the bidding process for these funds? How much of the levelling-up fund is recycled money that the Government have announced before from the local growth fund, the towns fund or other pre-existing funds? The Government only published the methodology after the Good Law Project threatened them with court action, so will the Minister come clean and publish all the data that underlies the methodology, so that taxpayers can see exactly what the Government are doing with their money?

Where do I start? I would like to trade analogies with the shadow Secretary of State. He reminds me of a man who has been out for an evening with friends, and at the end of the night, when it comes to splitting the restaurant bill, he is the guy who complains about the division of the bill because he did not have a pudding. [Interruption.] I am here setting out an incredibly bold future for the country in a post-pandemic environment, with a very optimistic and enthusiastic Prime Minister who sees ambitious things for the future of our country, and the shadow Secretary of State is talking about methodologies and whether this constituency or that constituency did not get the funding. I am talking about levelling up across all four nations of the United Kingdom. He is talking about whether individual constituencies get their pudding today. Really, we need to move on. We are talking about significant investment over an extended period and a bright future for this country.

The shadow Secretary of State says that some councils are unhappy about the amount of money that has been spent on consultants. Many councils do not have the capacity to build up a bid of the standard required for this funding, which is why we are providing £125,000 each for those in category 1, so that they can develop those bids.

The shadow Secretary of State says that the methodology has been twisted in some way to benefit one constituency over another; I say tell that to Oldham and Gateshead, which I strongly suspect are very grateful for the funding they are getting and the opportunity to develop bids.

The shadow Secretary of State asked why we excluded deprivation as one of the factors; I say that we decided to leave the criteria to civil servants. We set out the expectation—what we hoped to achieve—and left it to civil servants to decide the criteria so that we did not have any of the political influence that he suggests.

The shadow Secretary of State also asked us to publish all the data associated with the methodology; I am not going to do his homework for him. All that information is freely available. He might be able to get some of his research team to get to work on that.

I welcome my hon. Friend the Minister to his place on the Front Bench. He has made a great start.

Will my hon. Friend confirm that the levelling-up fund will welcome applications from rural areas, such as Ryedale in my constituency, which may look prosperous from the outside but whose average earnings are below the regional average, partly because of a past lack of infrastructure investment? The situation could be reversed if funds were provided to important projects such as the improvement of railway stations in Malton and in Thirsk.

I thank my hon. Friend for his kind words and his question. I encourage him to work with his local council to develop bids along the lines that he has just set out. Those bids will be assessed based on deliverability, strategic fit and value for money. We hope that that strategic fit element will be partly determined by the good work of local MPs who engage with local councils to determine priorities for their area.

I welcome the Minister to his place and thank him for his statement.

Although additional funding for communities is always welcome, I am sure the Minister will understand that it is greeted with a degree of scepticism. Indeed, the much-vaunted towns fund continues to be mired in controversy and allegations of pork barrel politics that just will not go away. According to the Financial Times, with this new announcement we are seeing more of the same today and the bias in favour of Tory-held seats in respect of so-called levelling-up funding is “pretty blatant”.

The Minister does not want to talk about methodologies—and no wonder. The Tory priority list ignores additional poverty-related criteria based on sparse rural populations, meaning that rural populations and islands are bumped down the list. However, Tory-held seats in Scotland have been ranked among the most in need of help from the Government fund, while coincidentally the seats in Scotland that the Tories do not hold have been given a lower funding priority that is not borne out by deprivation levels. Perhaps the Minister could explain that.

It is also clear that the Tory priority list ignores additional poverty-related criteria. We in Scotland can see that this is yet another step on the road towards this Tory Government completely bypassing and disrespecting the Scottish Parliament as they seek to impose their Tory priorities on Scotland’s democratically elected Government in devolved policy areas, which they already intend to do through the shared prosperity fund.

If the real criteria for benefiting from levelling up are not simply to have a Tory MP or live in a Tory target seat, will the Minister set out clearly what the criteria for the fund are and how the awarding of funds will be made completely transparent? The awarding of funds does not seem to be related to areas of deprivation in Scotland, so how can we believe that it is truly about levelling up and not just more old-fashioned pork barrel politics?

I am slightly embarrassed, because the information that I have suggests that North Ayrshire in the hon. Lady’s constituency was in category 1 for the levelling-up fund, which seems counterintuitive given the speech she just made about the Conservative party prioritising Conservative areas. I imagine that that council, which I believe is Labour-run, will embrace with alacrity the idea of being provided with £125,000 of funding by the UK Government to help it to develop its bid. It is important that we are taking this opportunity to reach out to all corners of the United Kingdom; I hope that in future the hon. Lady is simply pleased about that.

Thornaby has just landed a whopping £23.9 million through its town deal, but that is not going to stop me asking for more. May I welcome the more than £4 billion set aside for this levelling-up fund and invite the Minister to come to join me to look at some projects across Stockton, Ingleby Barwick and Yarm that would be perfect for this game-changing Government investment?

I thank my hon. Friend for his question. I am very much a fan of the “can I have some more?” approach, so I think it is completely appropriate that he should ask for more funding, even though, as he says, he has already secured nearly £24 million. I will convey his invite to the Secretary of State and the Minister for Regional Growth and Local Government, and I have no doubt that both or either of them will soon be up to visit.

May I say to the Minister that it is one thing to announce lots of policies and lots of money, but another to make sure the policies and the spending are successful in delivering the achievements that he obviously want so make? What indicators are going to be used to demonstrate the success of levelling up? Are the Government going to set targets so that we can all decide at the end of this Parliament whether those indicators have been achieved? If he cannot set them out for us today, I would be more than happy if he wanted to put that list in the House of Commons Library so that we can judge them in due course.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. With regard to the Government providing funding and the impact or success of it, I understand that the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government has allocated more than £40 million to the Sheffield city region through the brownfield fund, so it will be up to local people there to determine whether that money has been spent wisely. I hope he will contribute to ensuring that it is. The criteria for allocations of the funding, or applying for the funding, include

“need for economic recovery and growth, need for improved transport connectivity and need for regeneration.”

I know that this is not quite what he asked, but I suggest to him that if we are going to determine the success of these projects, the British electorate will probably do that at the next general election. I look forward to seeing how that turns out.

One of the many reasons why the Conservatives won seven out of the nine north Wales seats at the last general election was the two decades of financial neglect by the Welsh Labour Government in Cardiff. Does my hon. Friend agree that the levelling up fund is the opportunity for the UK Government to answer the call of the people and use true devolution, via local authorities, to directly improve areas such as north Wales and Wrexham, which has been starved of infrastructure funding and therefore progression?

I thank my hon. Friend for her question. I think we should just repeat part of it: seven out of the nine north Wales seats are now held by Conservatives.

Well, we can argue about that—it is still seven. When we make very good use of the £125,000 that will be given to Wrexham County Borough Council to help it work up its bid for the levelling up fund, I have no doubt that the enthusiasm for voting Conservative will spread to the remaining seats in north Wales.

If the Government’s formula says that the Chancellor’s Richmondshire constituency is in greater need of investment than Barnsley, the Government’s formula is wrong. But it is not too late to do the right thing, so will the Minister commit to urgently reviewing how money is to be allocated from the levelling up fund?

We have no intention of reviewing how the money is allocated. The criteria were determined by civil servants. There was no political influence, so we are still comfortable with the basis on which funds are being allocated. However, the hon. Gentleman will probably not be short of cash. Like you, Mr Deputy Speaker, I am a keen reader of The Yorkshire Post and I understand that it is the hon. Gentleman’s intention to borrow £500 million to spend in the local region, so that area, for one, will not be short of money.

Can my hon. Friend assure the House that areas such as the districts of Arun, Chichester, Horsham and Mid Sussex, which all fall into my constituency but which are not in category 1, will still be able to succeed if we submit compelling bids?

I can absolutely offer my hon. Friend that assurance. What is important is that those bids will be assessed on deliverability, value for money and strategic fit. As I said, that strategic fit element will include the support of an excellent local MP, such as my hon. Friend.

Despite having higher rates of child poverty and unemployment, Salford has been categorised as priority 2 for investment, behind the constituencies represented by the Communities Secretary and the Chancellor. We now know that the single biggest factor in prioritisation was the length of commute by car. Can the Minister explain why funding is being diverted to relatively affluent commuter towns, rather than being used to create jobs in areas that need them, such as Salford?

I suspect that like me, Mr Deputy Speaker, you are a keen reader of the Salford Star, where I read the hon. Lady’s comments about pork-barrel politics and accusations of Conservative party political influence on the allocation of funding, which is peculiar given that Oldham, 12 miles away across Greater Manchester, has been placed in category 1, as have Leicester and Gateshead. It is difficult to argue that the Conservative party is manipulating money when it is ending up in a large number of Labour seats.

Crewe struggles with railway bridges and congestion, which risk holding it back. This fund gives us the chance to tackle that once and for all and to help level up the town and surrounding area. Can my hon. Friend confirm that the fund will support such local transport infrastructure projects?

I can absolutely offer my hon. Friend that assurance, but I urge him to work with the local council to identify a priority bid for his area and assess that against deliverability, strategic fit and value for money to ensure he is supporting the bid in his area that is most likely to succeed.

The cat is out of the bag. I am amazed that the Minister is being quite as brazen as he is. A moment ago, my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield South East (Mr Betts) asked the Minister how we will know whether levelling up has been a success. The Minister’s response—I am paraphrasing—was, “Well, we’ll see if the Conservative Government get re-elected.” It is absolutely shameless. There is no attempt to pretend that this is a genuine process that has been properly worked through. It is purely about getting re-elected.

We in Chesterfield were recently successful in the town deals fund and I know how important it is for councils to put in quality bids for support. Can the Minister assure us that anyone who wants to make a bid will get support from consultants to ensure that they can get a bid in front of the Minister?

Who ultimately decides whether we continue to sit here? I thought we were beholden to the public. I thought it was our job to serve them. The hon. Gentleman seems a bit confused as to whose job it is to serve who. I am very clear, and this Conservative Government are very clear, that it is our job to serve the British public and we are doing that. They will determine whether our decisions and priorities for funding or policy development have been a success, and they will determine who forms the next Government on that basis.

I welcome my hon. Friend to his place and thank him for all he is doing on levelling up. Whether it is investing £105 million in Darlington station, £23.3 million invested through the towns fund, or establishing “Treasury North” in my constituency, we are seeing the benefits of this Conservative Government, and I welcome the opportunity that the levelling-up fund will bring. Does he agree that delivering jobs and opportunity in Darlington is not giving up but truly levelling up, and does he have a levelling-up message for the voters of Hartlepool?

I have been a bit tired of seeing my hon. Friend’s face in my social media feeds over the past weeks and months showing him celebrating the various successes as funding and opportunity flows towards his constituency. I am delighted to say that I am a similar beneficiary in the Black Country, because HCLG has decided to move one of its offices to Wolverhampton. It is great to see that this Government are deploying staff around the country to ensure that we level up right across the country. Under no circumstances is that giving up; we are levelling up everywhere.

During this pandemic South Lakeland has had the biggest increase in unemployment and has the highest proportion of its workforce on furlough of any community in the country, and yet the Government have our community in the bottom priority for levelling-up funding because they are using old pre-pandemic data. The Lake district is Britain’s biggest visitor destination outside London, and so if the Government rethink, using accurate data, and choose to invest in the Lakes line, in rural bus routes, in cycling, and in culture and our visitor economy here, they will not just be preventing hardship in our South Lakeland communities but boosting the whole British economy. So will the Minister rethink?

As I said in answer to a previous question, the Government will not be rethinking the data or the methodology that they apply to distributing their funding, but given the circumstances that the hon. Gentleman has set out, I strongly urge that he engages with Ministers in the Department, because, as I have explained, a significant number of funding streams are available, and I would like to think that one of them is a good fit for his constituency.

I welcome my hon. Friend to his place. High streets across Rother Valley have been ignored and neglected for decades. The levelling-up fund presents a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to rejuvenate our high streets, providing up to £20 million of funding to bring them back to life. Here in Rother Valley we cannot allow any more dither and delay for economic recovery of our communities. What encouragement can he give to Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council, my council, which is a priority 1 area, to fully grasp this amazing opportunity to get a bid in for the first round of funding for Rother Valley, so that we can start the necessary work of regenerating our high streets as quickly as possible?

I would suggest two things: first, that the council engages quickly with its excellent local MP to identify appropriate projects for this funding; and secondly, that it fully utilises the £125,000 that will be given to help it work up an impressive and commercially appropriate bid.

I, too, welcome the Minister to his place. He made reference in his statement to devolution and bringing economic decision making closer to the communities that it affects, but the levelling-up fund seems to do the opposite as far as Wales is concerned by excluding the Senedd from decisions that would be taken in Whitehall. It does, however, tie the success of community projects to representations made by MPs in this place. Can he give us any reassurances that Wales will not lose out now that his Government are cutting the number of Welsh MPs by a fifth?

I think the thrust of the statement I have made today is that we fully intend to reach out to all four nations to ensure that everybody joins in our attempt to level up right across the United Kingdom. As Ceredigion is in category 1 of the levelling up fund, I hope the hon. Gentleman will be identifying suitable projects to support and endorse to ensure that further funding comes to his constituency.

I am pleased that the Isles of Scilly were included in the recent Budget for category 1 capacity funding for the levelling up fund. The transport link to Scilly is the most important issue for everyone on Scilly. They rely on it for everything—literally—that they need. Will the Minister confirm that finding a solution for a resilient and affordable transport system is the kind of levelling up this fund could deliver?

Absolutely. One key aim of the fund is connectivity and transport in local need, so that is absolutely at the heart of what this fund is about. I encourage my hon. Friend to work with local councils to identify a priority bid for his area to ensure the maximum opportunity for success.

This Government have devastated the finances of local authorities, such as Newcastle City Council, cutting their funding year after year, breaking their promise to pay their covid costs and forcing them to raise council tax, which itself raises more in some areas than in others and takes money out of the pockets of those who need it most. This fund pits councils against each other to compete for meagre and recycled pots of money, with Government Departments taking all the decisions. Why does levelling up mean putting Whitehall in charge?

I thank the hon. Lady for her question, but I am slightly confused. This process will allow local MPs to work with their local councils to identify priority projects for their area and will provide those councils with funding—£125,000 in the case of Newcastle upon Tyne, which is a category 1 authority—so that they have the funds available and they have the opportunity, working collaboratively, to identify a good project. I ask the hon. Lady to work with the council to get on and identify a project and bring money to her constituency.

I was delighted when Barrow-in-Furness was awarded a £25 million town deal in October. It will make a huge difference to revitalising our town centre, bring a university campus to Barrow and improve our cycling and walking provision. Can my hon. Friend confirm that places that have benefited from a town deal will also be able to secure backing from the levelling up fund for other schemes that will support our communities?

I congratulate my hon. Friend on the funding that he has already secured for his local area, and I completely encourage him to continue to bid for the levelling up fund. These are not mutually exclusive opportunities. If he has a high-quality bid, then it has a good chance of success. Once a priority bid is identified, I look forward to its being submitted.

If we are truly going to level up, much more radical and cross-departmental work and funding will be needed to address structural inequalities. I will be working with Gateshead Council to put in a bid to the levelling-up fund, but why have the Government not come forward with a plan to tackle child and family poverty and social care, as well as this levelling-up fund?

The hon. Lady has identified very important funding needs. The fund will tackle one element of the problems that we are seeking to address. As I set out, there will be about £600 billion of public sector investment funding over the next five years; through other funding opportunities, I am sure there will be the chance to tackle the concerns that she raised. I am delighted that she will be working with her local council to identify a priority bid for the levelling-up fund.

The last award of funds to my constituency, from the Getting Building Fund last year, has already been worked on and constructed; a fantastic construction industry training centre will admit its first students next January. Therefore I welcome my constituency’s being a priority 1 area for the levelling-up fund. I am already working with my local authority—we had our first kick-off meeting last week—so will he confirm that bids that reflect genuine local need, supported by the local authority and the Member of Parliament, have the best chance of success in getting that funding to turn into real opportunities for our constituents?

I thank my right hon. Friend for his question, and for being an exemplar of how an excellent local MP can not only bring funding to his constituency but see the project through to completion—a great example for us all to follow. I endorse the idea that through this scheme we need to identify quality local projects that will make a visible difference to local people in the constituency. That is why it is so important that MPs work with their local councils to prioritise such schemes and ensure maximum opportunity for success.

I welcome the Minister to his place. I assure him that I am looking not for a pudding or a slap-up meal, but simply to ensure that Northern Ireland receives its fair share of the levelling-up cake. He will be aware that Northern Ireland is still one of the poorest regions of the United Kingdom, and that our economic advantage has been deteriorating. The Northern Ireland protocol has disrupted trade, which has added to costs and created uncertainty. In what practical ways will the levelling-up fund benefit Northern Ireland? Can the Minister assure the House that, although under the Northern Ireland protocol we are still subject to EU state aid rules and interference in how the Government can spend money, the Northern Ireland protocol will not interrupt the Government’s ability to spend money to level up the economic disparities between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom?

I had the opportunity to visit Northern Ireland with the Secretary of State fairly recently, to see for myself the difficult conditions that the right hon. Gentleman has explained. We absolutely will work with Northern Ireland to ensure that we continue to provide funding and continue to level up, as we aim to do across all four nations of the United Kingdom. A different approach is being taken in Northern Ireland, and the UK Government will accept bids at the most local level from a range of local applicants, including but not limited to businesses, voluntary and community sector organisations, district councils, the Northern Ireland Executive, and other public sector bodies. Local councils in Northern Ireland should indicate whether they support bids in their geographical area.

I welcome the Minister to his place. At the last election, people voted Conservative, some for the first time, because they believed in levelling up, and in our vision of spreading prosperity to areas neglected by Labour. Does my hon. Friend agree that by ensuring that every part of the country can bid and benefit from the levelling-up fund, we are accelerating our transformational levelling-up agenda?

I congratulate my hon. Friend on the £37.5 million that he has already secured for his constituency. He demonstrates that an active and able constituency MP can bring funding to their area. It is important that everybody looks for bids they can support and submit in their constituency. Regardless of the prioritisation category, those bids will be assessed, based on deliverability and value for money, as well as strategic fit, which is the bit to which an MP will be able to contribute.

May I also welcome the Minister to Stockton, to visit Billingham, which was told not even to bother to bid for town centre funds? We have lost 12,500 jobs across the Tees Valley in the past 11 months, yet Stockton local authority has to bid for levelling-up funds to carry out relatively minor road projects that should have been covered by the other road funds that were stripped away by the Government. Surely the Minister will agree that the £4 billion fund for the entire north of England—incidentally, it is a small fraction of the cash spent on Crossrail in London—needs to be increased considerably so that our areas can have a starter, a main course and a pudding, as well as big structural and support projects, rather than just a bit of tarmac here and there.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question, but this is quite a significant pie—if we are going to continue to use the food analogy—that we are talking about splitting up. As I mentioned in my statement, £600 billion will be invested over the coming years. I completely understand that when you have a successful Government providing funding across all regions, people see that and want more. That is no surprise. I am glad that hon. Members are ambitious for their region. Stockton-on-Tees is a category 1 in the levelling-up fund, and I hope the hon. Gentleman will support a bid for his area.

In Lowestoft and Waveney, there are significant areas of poverty, and yet, as part of the wider East Suffolk Council area, we are in the priority 2 category. I would be most grateful if my hon. Friend could provide an assurance that applications from the Waveney area that support the creation of much-needed new jobs will be given full and fair consideration and will not be disadvantaged by our being in a lower category area.

I thank my hon. Friend for his question. He gives me the opportunity to say again that it is incredibly important that those who are not in category 1 do not feel in any way discouraged from submitting a good-quality bid. I hope that local Members will identify a good-quality bid in their area that they can support. That bid will be assessed against deliverability, value for money and strategic fit.

Halton is 23rd in the index of multiple deprivation but does not meet the criteria to be a priority 1 area in the levelling-up fund or a priority area for the community renewal fund. The Government’s criteria seriously disadvantage my constituents, who live in one of the most deprived communities in England, but not those in leafy Richmondshire, which is 256th in the index of multiple deprivation and which, remarkably, is in the priority 1 category. Can the Minister explain how that can by any stretch be levelling up, and can he share publicly the datasets used by the Government to perpetuate this gross inequality?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. As I said earlier, the datasets are all publicly available information. With regard to the criteria that we are using to determine where funding is targeted, there is the need for economic recovery and growth, the need to improve transport connectivity, and the need for regeneration. I appreciate that some places will be disappointed that they are not a priority 1 area, but I would still encourage the hon. Gentleman to work with his local council to identify a high-quality bid that they can submit for this funding, because it will be considered.

I really welcome the range of opportunities we are being given by the Government to get investment into Stroud. The ideas are already flowing as part of a 20-year campaign to reopen Bristol Road/Stroudwater station. We also have high-street regeneration schemes, and cycling and walking schemes such as the greenway, and we are going to need that sustainable, environmentally friendly transport. Large rural constituencies such as mine have pockets of deprivation across them, so will my hon. Friend clarify whether the Government will consider a strategy bid that includes a series of connected projects to truly benefit and level up more lives across Stroud?

I thank my hon. Friend for her question. County councils with transport powers are eligible to submit one transport bid, but—this is perhaps more pertinent to her question—local authorities may wish to consider pooling funding from their bids to improve the chances of taking forward a larger transport scheme.

I welcome the Minister to his new position; we were sparring partners in the Whips Offices. I wonder whether he can clarify something. The levelling-up fund means £50 million per year for Wales over the four years for which the fund has been set out, yet according to all the statistics, Wales should have been receiving £375 million in structural funding each year. The Prime Minister has promised very many times that Wales will not receive a penny less, so can the Minister tell us when he will allocate the shortfall of £325 million for Wales—or is that just another broken promise from the Prime Minister and the Conservatives, who continually let the people of Wales down?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his kind words, although perhaps they evaporated when we got to the question. Clearly, as I set out in my statement, it is the ambition of this Government to level up across all four nations of the United Kingdom. I fully appreciate that he might have some reservations with regard to the allocation of funding from the levelling-up fund, but there are a number of other funds, which I mentioned in my statement, and, taken together, I imagine that will represent significant investment for Wales.

I am very proud of the work that this Government have undertaken to drive the regeneration of many of our town centres and attract people back to them. Burton in my constituency recently benefited from town deal funding. Can my hon. Friend confirm that, as well as that £22.7 million investment, Burton and Uttoxeter will be able to secure backing from the levelling-up fund for other schemes, such as those offering local road improvements or creating safe community spaces in our town centres?

It is fantastic to see colleagues who have been here just over a year already securing substantial funding for their constituencies. Given the success that my hon. Friend has had so far, I would in no way discourage her from continuing to work with her local council to identify a high-quality bid that she can support in her constituency, so that she can continue her success in securing that ongoing funding.

Can the Minister tell us how much less money will come to Scotland under this scheme than we would have received under the EU funding scheme? If he will not commit to sending this lesser sum of money to Holyrood and leaving it at that, how can we view this as anything other than a power grab from Scotland, for less money than we would get if we were independent in Europe?

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will understand that I mean him no ill when I say that I suspect the good people of Stirling will soon come to realise that they were better represented by their previous MP, my dear friend Stephen Kerr. However, I would imagine that the hon. Gentleman’s local authority will be delighted that this Government are providing £125,000 to help it work up a high-quality bid so that it can draw more funding to Stirling.

I, too, welcome my hon. Friend to his place. Will he meet me to discuss possible projects in Clwyd South that fulfil the requirements of the levelling-up fund, such as Wrexham Council’s bold regeneration plans and the reopening of Corwen station on the Llangollen steam railway in Denbighshire?

What a great finish—questions from England, Scotland and Wales, and good news for those areas, as we explain the funding that this Government will provide to them. I hope that my hon. Friend works with his local council to develop a priority bid that he can support, and I will ensure that the Minister for Regional Growth and Local Government and the Secretary of State are aware of the invitation to visit the area, so they can see the excellent bids on offer in Llangollen.

I thank the Minister for his statement, and for responding to 30 questions. Before I suspend the House for three minutes, I want to say that when we go on to the main business after the ten-minute rule motion we will start with a three-minute limit, in continuation of the debate from yesterday. I will remind everybody about that later. Everybody should leave the Chamber in a covid-friendly manner in order for us to sanitise the Dispatch Boxes.

Sitting suspended.