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Levelling-up Agenda

Volume 698: debated on Tuesday 6 July 2021

We have made a commitment to level up all areas of the country. The plan for growth is a critical part of this and we will go further with the publication of a levelling-up White Paper later this year.

I wrote to the Minister outlining Bolton’s bid to be the home of the Advanced Research and Invention Agency, featuring the full support of the vice- chancellors of the University of Bolton and the University of Manchester, along with Innovation GM and a wider coalition. I am sure that even my neighbour but one, the Speaker, would find it difficult to resist Bolton’s attraction. We have kindly received a response from the Minister, and now that the advert for the ARIA chair has gone live, will she tell us when she would like to visit Bolton to support us in our ambition to reinvent Britain’s biggest town in line with the Government’s levelling-up agenda?

My hon. Friend paints a fantastic picture of Bolton North East. He really is a wonderful advocate for his constituency, and he has a keen interest in ARIA, which I am delighted by. No decision has yet been taken on ARIA’s location, and I do not expect one to be reached until the chief executive officer and the chair are in post, but my hon. Friend will be delighted to hear that the open recruitment process for a visionary chair began yesterday, and I would encourage him and other hon. Members to share this exciting opportunity widely to reach as diverse a pool of candidates as we possibly can.

Whether it involves investing £105 million in Bank Top station, investing £23.3 million through the towns fund or establishing a new Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy presence in Darlington, this Conservative Government are delivering on their manifesto commitment to level up. Does my hon. Friend agree that it is therefore short-sighted of LNER to propose to cut services to Darlington?

I am glad that my hon. Friend recognises the work that the Government have done to support investment in the town, and I know that the Department for Transport and LNER appreciate his desire to ensure that his community continues to be well served by rail services across the north. His comments and those of his colleagues are exactly the level of detail that the consultation is looking to elicit, and it is important that the industry understands the strength of the business case, so I would urge him to continue to engage with the consultation process.

I am pleased that my hon. Friend the Member for Penistone and Stocksbridge (Miriam Cates) and I have put forward a £48 million joint levelling-up fund bid to support improvements to the Penistone line, which runs through our constituencies. Will the Minister agree to work with the Department for Transport and the Treasury in supporting this bid, which, if successful, would help to boost local businesses and bring much-needed jobs to my constituency, especially in Kirkburton and Denby Dale?

My hon. Friend has been a tireless advocate for his constituency, most notably in his advocacy of the Dewsbury town deal. As he will know, the support of MPs is important for bids to the levelling-up fund, but he will understand that I cannot go further than that while the bids are being evaluated.

Today marks 33 years since the Piper Alpha disaster, when 167 lives were lost and many more oil workers were injured. The trauma reverberates right across Aberdeen to this day, and I would like to pass on my thoughts to the friends and families of all those involved in that awful, awful tragedy.

We have heard three questions from Conservative Members and had three answers from the Minister, but we have not had a single mention of the fact that rather than being a Government who are levelling up, they are cutting back. Just last week we have seen furlough support sliced away from businesses, many of which have been unable to open or operate since the start of this pandemic. Many of them will also now be paying back covid loans, despite of course never being able to bounce back. So may I ask the Minister: how does pulling funding away from businesses help communities to level up?

I would like to add my thoughts to those expressed by the hon. Gentleman about the Piper Alpha disaster. Across government, we are investing in Scotland through a number of routes, including the United Kingdom community renewal fund, the levelling-up fund and the future UK shared prosperity fund, to name but a few. For example, at the Budget we confirmed £27 million for the Aberdeen energy transition zone, in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency, which is helping to support north-east Scotland to play a leading role in meeting our net zero ambitions.

I do not think the Minister actually answered my question, but let us look at another aspect of the levelling-up prospectus: freeports. The Scottish Government have been clear that they want freeports to have a green agenda and to have fair work and net zero at their core, but just last week the UK Government told us that they will ignore that green port prospectus and will instead seek to enforce their will on the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish people. So may I ask the Minister: when did levelling up become less about empowerment and more about dragging powers from Scotland back to London?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for the question. This Government are committed to the levelling-up process, and we have made it incredibly clear that that is what we are going to do. We will have a levelling-up White Paper, which is to be issued in the autumn. We are ensuring that we are levelling up throughout the whole of the United Kingdom.

The UK Government talk about levelling up former coalfield communities such as those in my constituency, yet at the same time they have profited by billions of pounds from the mineworkers’ pension scheme since its privatisation in 1994. That money could be going to miners and their families, many of whom are experiencing hardship and are struggling to make ends meet. The Government’s announcement yesterday not to implement the recommendations of the cross-party Select Committee on Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy to redress this injustice was met with dismay and was described as a “slap in the face”. Will the Minister agree to review that decision and implement the BEIS Committee recommendations in full?

The hon. Lady will know that I have sent my reply in to the BEIS Committee, but I also had a very constructive meeting with a number of the trustees just a few weeks ago and we have agreed to continue. I have left them with some questions that they must go to talk to the rest of the trustees about, and my door continues to be open for them to bring back propositions if they want to continue to discuss this.