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Levelling Up

Volume 702: debated on Tuesday 2 November 2021

Levelling up is this Government’s defining mission; it is a golden thread running through this Budget and spending review. We are creating the right conditions for businesses to grow and giving people the right skills to succeed. We believe that the place where someone grows up should never limit their prospects.

This Government are rightly committed to levelling up all parts of the United Kingdom, including Scotland. Improving transport links by extending the Borders railway in my constituency from Tweedbank to Hawick, Newcastleton and on to Carlisle would be a very good way of improving the economic opportunities for people living in those communities. Will the Minister confirm that the UK Government support the extension of the Borders railway as part of the levelling-up agenda?

I commend my hon. Friend for his forthright campaign for the extension of the Borders railway. I reassure him that the Department for Transport and Transport Scotland are discussing the options to extend the railway, and, as I think he knows, the £350 million Borderlands inclusive growth deal includes up to £5 million to assess feasibility.

My constituency contains Gatwick airport and, by many measures, has been one of the most negatively affected by the covid-19 pandemic. Will my hon. Friend say how levelling up will support my constituents to recover from the pandemic?

I know my hon. Friend’s Crawley constituency well and I recognise the importance of aviation to livelihoods there. I am sure that he will welcome the extension of the airport and ground operations support scheme that the Chancellor announced to help airports such as Gatwick to recover from covid. We have also provided £180 million in covid loan schemes to support businesses in Crawley and, as he knows, Crawley has already received £21 million through the towns fund.

First, may I put on record my thanks to the Chancellor for announcing that Radcliffe will receive £20 million from the levelling-up fund to regenerate the town centre, with new leisure facilities and a space for adult learning and new business? Following that extra funding and the previously announced new high school for Radcliffe, does the Minister agree that the Government are committed to creating new opportunities for young people so that they have the best chance to get on in life and fulfil their potential?

I congratulate my hon. Friend, because his constituency is indeed receiving £20 million from the levelling-up fund to deliver a new civic hub in Radcliffe, which will improve access to adult education while freeing up vital space for a new secondary school. As I am sure he saw in the Budget and spending review last week, we are fully committed to providing people with the skills that they need to succeed in life.

My constituency is officially one of the most economically deprived constituencies in the country. If the rhetoric of levelling up is going to be a reality, the bid from Leeds City Council to upgrade and redevelop Fearnville sports centre to turn it into Fearnville wellbeing centre is exactly the kind of bid that should be agreed. Local people were therefore shocked when, the day after the Budget, the leader of Leeds City Council received a letter from the Government turning down the bid. The Chancellor is sitting on the Front Bench; will he step forward now and agree to meet me, the leader of Leeds City Council, James Lewis, and a delegation of local residents with a view to approving the council’s bid for the upgrade of Fearnville sports centre?

I thank the hon. Member for his question, which gives me the opportunity to remind him that his area is receiving hundreds of millions of pounds of investment in transport infrastructure. We look forward to receiving further bids for future rounds of the levelling-up fund, for instance. We are delighted to invest in constituencies such as his.

The Exchequer Secretary says that levelling up is the defining mission of this Government, yet if we look at the spending review priority outcomes and metrics, we can see that across the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities and the Treasury, there is just one metric on which to judge the Government:

“Economic performance of all functional economic areas relative to their trend growth rates”.

That is all that they are being measured on, so will she be specific? By how much does she expect to close the economic gap by the end of this Parliament?

I thank the hon. Member for her interest in our objective to level up across the whole United Kingdom. As she repeated, it is the defining mission of this Government; as she can see, it is the golden thread running through the spending review and the Budget, with steps taken and investment made across Government to support levelling up across all our constituencies.

The English metro Mayors submitted levelling-up fund bids—I declare an interest—but only one was successful. The South Yorkshire bid was well crafted and focused on improvements to our bus services that would have supported the levelling up and net zero agendas. Will the bids be looked at again as part of a second round?

South Yorkshire will receive a share of the £5.7 billion for transport for the region. Overall, as the hon. Member will know and as he will have heard when he attended our debate yesterday afternoon, support for levelling up and investment have been received by constituencies all around the country and represented by hon. Members across the House. There will be further rounds for levelling-up funds to put in for.