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Levelling-up Agenda

Volume 699: debated on Monday 19 July 2021

What recent discussions he has had with devolved Administrations on delivering the Government’s levelling-up agenda. (902862)

What recent discussions he has had with devolved Administrations on delivering the Government’s levelling-up agenda. (902880)

Levelling up all areas of the country remains at the centre of our agenda, empowering our regions by devolving money, resources and control away from Westminster. In March the Secretary of State and I met Ministers from each of the devolved Administrations to discuss UK-wide funding programmes. My officials will continue to hold discussions with their counterparts in the devolved Administrations as we continue to develop this important investment.

The Prime Minister has previously said that a pound spent in Croydon is of much more value than a pound spent in Strathclyde. How can anyone in Scotland, or even anyone outside London, really trust the Prime Minister on his levelling-up agenda, which his own MPs seem somewhat uncertain of the meaning of, given his clear record of supporting investment in London ahead of investment in the rest of the UK?

I am afraid that the hon. Lady’s question overlooks the facts. We are prioritising funding in the devolved Administrations by delivering £125,000 capacity funding for every single council in Scotland to help them work up strong bids for the UK community renewal fund, and to build a strong, lasting relationship with central Government so that we bond our precious Union together and help deliver the kind of infrastructure in Scotland that people want to see in every area. We are putting our money where our mouth is and putting that investment straight with the Scottish councils.

Communities such as Wester Hailes in my constituency are best placed to identify their priorities for improving their quality of life, and they have been doing that through a number of grassroots projects, so can the Minister tell me why UK Government Ministers with no remit for devolved matters, such as housing, communities and local government, should get to dictate the support that my constituents receive? Why do they not leave it to the Scottish Parliament and City of Edinburgh Council, who were elected to do so in terms of the devolved settlement? If there is extra funding to be allocated, why not do so through the proper channels?

The point of delivering the funding in the way we are is that it is localism in its truest form. We are asking local areas to come up with solutions to the problems that they are telling us they face. We certainly do not believe that the Scottish Government have a monopoly on good ideas for improving Scottish communities. That is why we have asked them to come forward with us, and of course we want to work closely with communities in Scotland and build that long-lasting, strong relationship so that we can bind together our precious Union for many, many years to come.

In his speech last week on levelling up, the Prime Minister made a plea to the public to email him with ideas for how to flesh out his so far very vague concept of levelling up. Can the Minister tell us how many emails the Prime Minister has received so far and whether any of them contained a plan with any more substance than the Government’s?

Considering the lack of ideas from the Labour party in opposition, I am loth to suggest that that question was ultimately predictable. If Members look at the work we are already doing on levelling up, they will see the £4.8 billion levelling up fund for regenerating town centres and high streets and upgrading local transport networks. They will see the UK shared prosperity fund, which will start from next year. They will see the £220 million of new investment through the UK community renewal fund. They will see the 101 town deals that the Prime Minister announced last week. They will see us progressing towards delivering 300,000 new homes a year by the middle of the decade. They will see the £3 billion we are investing in the city and growth deals, the devolution programme and the freeports we are delivering. In contrast, we see a Labour party with no ideas for levelling up anywhere in the country. All it has is a struggle to reconcile itself to the fact that it is this Conservative Government who are spending money to support the communities that it neglected for so many years.

If each local authority in the UK submits only one bid for the maximum of £20 million of levelling up funding, that will amount to £7.4 billion, which far exceeds the current fund. Given that 300 applications have already been received in the first round, how will the UK Government ensure that sufficient funding is available for later rounds?

First, Members have to look at the volume of funds that we are delivering over the course of the Parliament that are designed to address the different challenges that communities face. We will also ensure that we have attached priority rankings to councils that need that extra support to invest in their communities, whether that is to regenerate high streets or town centres, to upgrade transport infrastructure, or to support cultural and heritage assets. Scotland has a disproportionately high number of those communities, so the hon. Member should be welcoming the fact that we are ensuring that the funding will be targeted at the communities that need it most. Again, we are providing every local authority in Scotland with the capacity funding to ensure that they can put in strong bids to make sure they can level up and build these new relationships with central Government.