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Support for Towns

Volume 702: debated on Monday 25 October 2021

The Department is investing billions in regeneration across the whole UK as part of the Government’s central priority to level up and unite our country. Programmes such as the £3.6 billion towns fund and the £4.8 billion levelling-up fund will help to achieve that by supporting the renewal of our towns and cities, including in my right hon. Friend’s constituency of Harlow, which has been awarded a £23.7 million town deal.

I am pleased to report to the House that almost 8,000 new apprentices have been taken on in Harlow since 2010. Does my hon. Friend agree that the best example of levelling up is providing young people with the skills they need to climb the educational ladder of opportunity? To that purpose, will she, my constituency neighbour, support our bid of £20 million to the levelling-up fund to provide vital regeneration for Harlow to help our town to grow and evolve?

As a fellow Essex MP, I am delighted that so many apprentices have taken their step towards a career in my right hon. Friend’s constituency. I know many of them will have come from my own constituency next door in Saffron Walden. It is fair to say that we both agree that equipping the next generation with the skills to compete and succeed is integral to levelling up. Having said that, I cannot comment on individual bids to our levelling-up fund—I suspect I will be saying that quite a lot during this afternoon’s session—but I will say to him that we are determined to help Harlow transform local skills and infrastructure, capitalising on his brand-new hospital, science park and, of course, the £23.7 million town deal.

If the ministerial team are serious about levelling up, they must look at towns and their sustainability. As the Minister is travelling around, will she bring her team to visit Huddersfield, where we have committed to being a sustainable town with health and wellbeing at its heart, using the United Nations sustainable development goals to deliver in a meaningful way?

I think the hon. Gentleman and I are in agreement about the importance of sustainability. I would be delighted to find out more about what is happening in Huddersfield. I will have my officials check my diary to see when time will be available.

Shipley was delighted to receive £25 million from the towns fund, and Bingley in my constituency is another town in urgent need of support. The Secretary of State talked about the timing of the levelling-up fund. Will the Minister confirm whether the criteria for the next round of bidding to the levelling-up fund will be the same as for the first round of bidding, and will she look favourably upon a bid from Bingley to the levelling-up fund?

At the moment, we are reviewing the first tranche of the levelling-up fund, so the criteria for the second and future tranches will be decided in due course, but I can tell my hon. Friend that we have heard his plea. We shall be looking, as we will across the House, at all the pleas from people who would like to see more from the levelling-up fund.

I am sure that the Minister will join me in welcoming the bold and ambitious plans to transform our town centres in St Helens borough—in St Helens, Newton-le-Willows and Earlestown. We have reached an innovative partnership with the English cities fund and the private sector. The missing part of the jigsaw are the Government. We want a hand up, not a handout, so will she guarantee that the levelling-up fund will be based on need and on the merit of the proposal?

I think that goes without saying. Yes, of course, we recognise that many places would like to see additional funds from the levelling-up fund, but we will evaluate the strength of the bid from the hon. Member’s constituency. That will be taken across with everybody else’s bid, and those most in need shall get what they require.

You will be aware, Mr Speaker, that the city of Stoke-on-Trent was born out of the five towns—or the six towns, depending on whose course of history you took—but unfortunately Burslem and Tunstall, the two towns I am pleased to represent, have vanity projects such as Ceramica and an out-of-town retail park right next to the high street—both built under former Labour administrations—with both high streets suffering as a result. Does my hon. Friend agree that the £3.5 million levelling-up fund bid for Tunstall, which will go a long way to regenerating our high street, Tunstall town and the baths, plus the high streets task force, will help us bring these towns back to life?