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Levelling Up Agenda

Volume 698: debated on Thursday 8 July 2021

Levelling up is at the heart of the Government’s covid recovery agenda, and I am in daily contact with Cabinet colleagues. Through the levelling up fund, we have already committed £4.8 billion of support for local projects that will spur regional growth and improve the lives of local people across the whole United Kingdom. Later this year we will publish a levelling up White Paper.

If you are in a low-paid job in our country, you are still more likely to be a woman than a man. That is no good for a country that values aspiration, no good for productivity and no good for our economy. Given the focus at the G7 on equal opportunity for women at work, will the Government’s White Paper on levelling up recognise this problem and focus on levelling up for women throughout the United Kingdom?

As a distinguished former Equalities Minister and former Chair of the Women and Equalities Committee, my right hon. Friend is absolutely right: more must be done as part of levelling in order to ensure that women have the opportunities that they deserve and are paid fairly, and that we make use of everyone’s talents across the whole United Kingdom.

The Tees valley is already beginning to see the Government’s levelling up agenda in action through its plans for the northern economic campus in Darlington, the UK’s largest freeport in Redcar, and the continued work in collaboration between the UK Government and Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen. When will we start to see the civil service jobs relocated to the Tees valley, and does my right hon. Friend agree that it would be wrong to cut train services between Teesside and London at a time when our area is growing again?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to mention Ben Houchen, the Gareth Southgate of local government. It is appropriate that, as the Treasury and the Department for International Trade are recruiting new roles in Darlington and there is more investment in Teesside, we must make sure that we have proper connectivity, including first-class rail travel as well as improved digital connectivity.

I thank my right hon. Friend for his earlier answer. The Government’s levelling up agenda is laudable, and in Clacton some progress has been made. I am doing the best I can to inform residents in the area of what the Government are doing. There is a feeling of being left behind locally, however, so what are the Government doing to communicate more widely what they have been and will be doing for the people of Clacton and other left-behind communities? Will my right hon. Friend come back to the sunshine coast and join me to raise awareness of the Government’s important work?

I absolutely will. There is nothing left behind about Clacton and Frinton and the communities that my hon. Friend so ably represents, and I look forward to visiting them. I understand that there is a fantastic local community theatre that he has played a part in championing, among many other local endeavours. Levelling up is about culture as well as connectivity. I look forward to coming to Clacton and making sure that it is firmly on the map and at the centre of our levelling up plans.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Government’s ambitious plans for levelling up are for the whole of the UK, including London and its economy, which has been especially badly hit by the pandemic?

My right hon Friend is absolutely right. He is a brilliant advocate for south-east London and for business. I look forward to working with him to ensure that there is improved connectivity and that London, which has suffered particularly badly as a result of the pandemic, is at the heart of our plans for economic recovery.

Labour believes that it should be an explicit priority of this Government that when it comes to public procurement we should be buying more from British companies. In the Government’s document, “National Infrastructure and Construction Procurement Pipeline 2020/21”, the procurement contracts in the pipeline are worth £37 billion. Can the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster tell the House how much of this was awarded to British companies? If not, what does that say about the Government’s priorities for British business?

I am delighted beyond words that the hon. Lady believes that we should procure more, buy more and invest more in Britain. All that is now possible as a result of our departure from the European Union and our liberation from its procurement rules. The procurement Green Paper brought forward by my noble Friend Lord Agnew will ensure that more UK businesses—more Scottish businesses, Welsh businesses and Ulster businesses—get Government pounds to do even better for all our citizens.