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Volume 703: debated on Wednesday 17 November 2021

The Secretary of State was asked—

Community Renewal Fund

1. What assessment the Government have made of the potential outcomes of the £46 million community renewal fund allocated to Wales. (904157)

Wales is receiving £46 million under the UK community renewal fund, 23% of the funding total, and 165 projects are being funded across Wales, including 14 in Denbighshire worth almost £3 million.

Two weeks ago, as my right hon. Friend says, £2.9 million was announced from the community renewal fund for 14 projects in Denbighshire, including Blossom & Bloom, a charity in Rhyl that can now support 20 more mothers and babies. Of course, the community renewal fund is there to help communities prepare for the introduction of the shared prosperity fund. Will he outline what discussions he is having about that fund and whether capital, as well as revenue, will be available?

My hon. Friend raises a very good question, and I hope he will take into account that we are looking at the levelling-up fund, the community renewal fund and the community ownership fund, as well as the shared prosperity fund, in the round, and other potential funding proposals, too. When he sees the detail, I hope he will see that we address both capital and revenue.

Levelling-up Fund and Shared Prosperity Fund

2. What comparative assessment he has made of the equity of allocations from the (a) levelling-up fund and (b) shared prosperity fund to Wales and the rest of the UK. (904158)

4. What comparative assessment he has made of the equity of allocations from the (a) levelling-up fund and (b) shared prosperity fund to Wales and the rest of the UK. (904160)

Wales is benefiting greatly from local growth funding, receiving above its population share from all three funds: 7% in the first round of the levelling-up fund, 9% in the first round of the community ownership fund and a remarkable 23% of the UK community renewal fund.

The principle behind the funds is fine, but the prioritisation of Tory-held seats in both Scotland and Wales reveals them to be just another example of pork barrel politics. Instead of meddling in devolved areas, will the Secretary of State accept that it would be beneficial to the people of the devolved nations to have greater control of decision making to do things for themselves? The Government should devolve more, instead of fiddling in devolved areas.

I hope the hon. Gentleman is able to endorse what I am about to say because, of course, that is exactly what these funds do. For the first time, 22 local authorities in Wales and other stakeholders are having a say in devolution. The Welsh Government do not have a monopoly of wisdom any more than the UK Government do, and we are taking devolution to its dictionary definition. He will probably know this but, under the UK community renewal fund, Labour areas got 44% of the funding, Plaid Cymru areas got 24%, independent areas got 17% and Conservative areas were fourth at 15%.

Let us be clear that independent estimates tell us that, over the next five years, the difference between what the devolved Administrations would have got through structural funds and what they will get through the shared prosperity fund is £4 billion. Will the Secretary of State stop promulgating this myth, this deception, that there will be no difference as a result of leaving the EU and admit that this is just another Brexit broken promise?

We are hearing a Brexit broken record, to be honest. The settlement for Wales has gone from £15.9 billion to £18 billion, plus £120 million from the levelling-up fund, plus £47 million from the community renewal fund, plus the community ownership fund, plus more than £300 million-worth of EU tail-off funds, plus £337 million of agriculture funding. It is impossible to come to any conclusion other than that this has been a fantastic settlement for Wales.

Wrexham was fortunate enough to win one of its two levelling-up fund bids, and Wrexham County Borough Council has committed to redefining the other bid and working with officials. Will the Secretary of State let me and the council know when round 2 of the levelling-up fund will be open for bids?

It will be open in the early part of next year. Any local authority that was not successful in the first round will have a chance to discuss its bid with officials to see how the application can be nuanced to achieve success next year.

Montgomeryshire has not seen such a level of investment for decades. I welcome the Secretary of State’s levelling-up fund and community renewal fund—the list goes on. Mid-Wales has never seen such investment, and I implore him to continue with this proper devolution of working with local councils and asking local people about their priorities, and to get more investment into mid-Wales.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right that every single area of Wales has benefited from these schemes, which was not the case under the previous funding arrangements. It has been a joy to have the feedback and contributions we have had from local authorities across Wales, which really welcome and are getting engaged with this process.

You would never guess, would you, Mr Speaker, that the allocation of funding can be quite controversial? However, with meaningful consultation, we can reduce the risk of that. Let us suppose that two thirds of the levelling-up fund was allocated to the one third of seats held by Tory MPs in Wales. We could ensure less risk of things being called political bias. In the light of the Institute for Government’s recommendation that the UK Government should consult the Welsh Government at every stage on the shared prosperity fund, and bearing in mind the scathing report by the Public Accounts Committee on the allocation of the towns fund, what in-depth discussions has the Secretary of State had with the Welsh Government on the shared prosperity fund, and when can we expect more information?

The hon. Lady fixates a bit too much on the shared prosperity fund when there are so many other funding sources out there too. Aside from stressing that there is consultation on a range of these things, and I am hoping to meet the First Minister later this week to discuss them, I remind the hon. Lady that the Welsh Government are not the only game in town; we are engaging with more people, in more parts of Wales, than has ever been the case before, and the funding settlements reflect their priorities as much as anything else. I am astonished that she is not welcoming that.

I am sure the House will be well aware that the Welsh Government have always had a strong relationship with the local government sector in Wales and have always consulted on the sharing out of EU funds. Turning to the amount of those funds, the figures are indisputable: EU funding for Wales would have meant at least £375 million in new money for this year. So with just £46 million for the community renewal fund, the Tories are leaving Wales £330 million worse off, and that is not even counting the £137 million cut in the farm support. So will the Secretary of State now stand up for Wales and pledge that in this transition to the shared prosperity fund Wales will receive not a penny less than we had under EU funding?

I think you would probably reprimand me if I went through all the numbers again, Mr Speaker, so I will have to leave it to the Official Report to enable the hon. Lady to check her figures and work out exactly how well Wales has done with the record settlement. It is beholden on the shadow Secretary of State for Wales to portray a rather more optimistic picture of the future of Wales. If we are interested in attracting investment and creating jobs in Wales, she should be championing our country, not denigrating it at every opportunity she has.

Levelling-up Fund: Project Delivery

3. What recent discussions he has had with the Welsh Government on the progress of the delivery of projects funded by the levelling-up fund in Wales. (904159)

The UK Government are fully focused on levelling up the whole of the United Kingdom, through programmes such as the levelling-up fund. We are working closely and directly with local authorities and other local partners right across the UK to ensure that those are delivered quickly and successfully.

Is the Minister aware that Barry in my constituency and the whole of the Vale of Glamorgan did not qualify for European funds? Does he therefore accept that the levelling-up fund is a potential game changer for the Vale of Glamorgan? May I draw his attention to the excellent proposal for a marina for Barry, which would also recover some land to make available for appropriate development? May I also ask him to pay particular attention when this application comes in?

My right hon. Friend has long been a doughty champion of this scheme, as he has of many other schemes, including the seven UK community renewal fund projects that are going to be delivered in the Vale of Glamorgan and are worth more than £1 million. I simply say to him that we would encourage as many good-quality bids as possible from the Vale of Glamorgan and other local authorities in Wales.

On climate action, the UK must step up to provide the funding that is needed across the whole of Wales. Despite the lack of the funding that we would have seen from the EU, the Welsh Labour Government are already delivering on renewable energy and sustainable transport and achieving the third best recycling rates in the world. Will the Secretary of State tell us what discussions he is having with his Welsh Government counterparts to discuss more climate investment?

I am delighted to answer that, because in addition to all the many programmes that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has mentioned—the UK community renewal fund, the shared prosperity fund and the levelling-up fund—we also have the growth deals, which are delivering the very kinds of environmental projects to which the hon. Lady has just referred. Of course the growth deals are funded 50% by the UK Government and 50% by the Welsh Government, who will be receiving an extra £2.5 billion next year as a result of the most generous settlement they have ever had.

There is tremendous enthusiasm for the levelling-up fund in both Denbighshire and Conwy, where the local authorities are champing at the bit to put in their bids. So will my hon. Friend please indicate when the second round is likely to open?

I can indeed: it will be in the spring of next year. We look forward to receiving bids from my right hon. Friend’s local authority and local authorities throughout the rest of Wales.

Coal Tips: Safety

5. What recent discussions he has had with the First Minister of Wales on the safety of coal tips in Wales. (904161)

Last month, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales and the First Minister of Wales co-chaired the coal tip safety summit, to receive an update from the joint taskforce. The taskforce has co-ordinated work to identify and categorise tips in Wales and has undertaken inspections of all the highest-risk tips, providing reassurance to the communities that live nearby.

Just a few weeks ago, my hon. Friend and constituency neighbour the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) asked the Prime Minister for support for coal tip repairs throughout our local authority area; in response, the Prime Minister said:

“This is something that I do want to try to fix”—[Official Report, 3 November 2021; Vol. 702, c. 923.]

and promised to talk to the Welsh Government. Will the Minister provide an update on those conversations? Is the plan for support being put in place, or is it just more empty words?

I am not yet responsible for the Prime Minister’s diary, but I know that he welcomes engagement with the First Minister at every opportunity. With respect to the hon. Lady, coal tip safety is a devolved issue and the Welsh Labour Government do not seem to welcome our involvement in devolved issues. Of course, we have provided the Welsh Government with £2.5 billion of extra funding, so they have the powers and the money to deal with the issue. We urge them to get on and deal with it.

Wales’s dangerous coal tips loom over our industrial communities like spectres from our industrial past and remind us of how our natural resources were exploited, mostly for the benefit of others. Climate change is set to compound the risk posed by coal tips, and we expect rainfall to increase by around 6% over the next 30 years. This month, the COP26 President said it was vital

“that we help at risk communities adapt to the impact of”

climate change. How is the Minister’s refusal to settle the £600 million bill consistent with that statement?

Included in the £2.5 billion of extra funding that will be given to the Welsh Government this year is an allocation of money precisely to deal with the sort of problems to which the right hon. Lady refers. She has often said that the UK Government should not get involved in devolved issues; this is a devolved issue, but we have provided the money for the Welsh Government to deal with it. If there are dangerous coal tips, the Welsh Government have the money and must get on and solve the problem.[Official Report, 22 November 2021, Vol. 704, c. 2MC.]

As the hon. Gentleman well knows, it is an inherited issue. Our industrial communities still bear the scars of the scorched-earth policy inflicted by Prime Minister Thatcher. The green transition must be different.

Last week, the Crown Estate revealed that it is planning to build new wind farms off the coast of Wales. The profits will disappear into Treasury coffers rather than going to the people and businesses of Wales. Will the Minister support my private Member’s Bill, which would ensure that all Crown Estate profits made in Wales are invested in Wales?

In one breath, the right hon. Lady criticises Margaret Thatcher for closing down coalmines; in the next breath, she says that we must not have coalmines because they are bad for climate change. She will forgive me if I feel there is a certain inconsistency there, but I will look with interest at whatever Bill she has introduced.

Electric Vehicle Usage

The UK Government are committed to supporting electric vehicle usage in Wales, as well as across the rest of the UK, which is why we have introduced a ban on the sale of all new petrol and diesel cars from 2030 and introduced the on-street residential charge point scheme.

I welcome the rapid change to electric vehicles but am sure the Minister will agree that we must not let rural areas fall behind. This is an issue for Wales, but it also affects all parts of these islands, including my constituency in the Scottish Borders. What are the Government doing to support the installation of more rapid chargers in rural areas to encourage more people to make the switch to electric vehicles?

My hon. Friend will be aware that the UK Government recently granted £187,000 from the UK community renewal fund to help the project in his constituency to provide electric vehicle charging points across the Scottish Borders. The UK Government will continue to support the installation of electric charge points through various schemes, including the £2.5 billion that has been committed to plug-in vehicle grants and charging infrastructure programmes.

Rising Energy Costs: Impact on Industry and Businesses

7. What steps the Government have taken to tackle the impact of rising energy costs on industry and businesses in Wales. (904164)

The Government have provided £2 billion to help businesses with electricity costs and to protect jobs in recent years. We also have various schemes in place—including the £315 million industrial energy transformation fund—to support businesses with high energy use, including those in Wales, to cut their bills and reduce their carbon emissions.

Seventy per cent. of small and medium-sized enterprises believe that high energy costs will negatively affect the growth of their companies. We know that businesses will already be hammered by this Tory Government’s national insurance hike, so what are the Secretary of State for Wales and his ministerial colleagues doing to help support Welsh and other UK businesses to overcome their energy cost problems, to provide much- needed stability, to help them plan ahead, and to deliver the growth that our economy so badly needs?

I am sorry that we cannot persuade members of the Labour party to support a small increase in taxes to protect the national health service, but that is a matter to which we can return.

The UK Government recognise that, as we transition from energy sources such as coal and gas, there will be a cost challenge, which is why we have committed to minimising energy costs for businesses through, for example, the £470 million that has been given in relief to energy-intensive industries through a combination of compensation and exemption.

Will my hon. Friend ensure that the efforts that the Government are rightly making to decarbonise electricity generation do not unfairly disadvantage high energy industries, because if they do, we will be exporting carbon emissions, not reducing them?

My right hon. Friend is exactly right. The Government recognise that potential issue, which is why, for example, £470 million has been provided to high energy users through a combination of compensation and exemption. It is a very real problem to which she refers, and one that is recognised and being dealt with by the Government.

High energy costs act as a disincentive for investment from international steel and other manufacturing companies and other investors, with the UK seen as a less favourable investment environment than other countries. Other countries with less dramatic price rises are putting in prompt measures to proactively support their industries, so why are this Government so slow to act? Can the Minister outline what discussions he is having with colleagues across Government to follow similar interventions to support the steel and manufacturing industries in Wales?

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I have had, and will continue to have, a range of discussions with colleagues in other ministerial Departments as to how we resolve this problem, but the hon. Gentleman will surely recognise that we are making a revolutionary transition from high carbon emitting sources, such as coal and gas, towards renewable energy, such as wind, solar, and possibly nuclear, and that they do come with costs. They are more expensive. Members across the House will recognise the need to make that transition. The Government are leading that transition, and we are also putting in place schemes to support those who may face challenges as a result.

A5 Between Wales and England

My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State and I have regular discussions with ministerial colleagues about cross-border connectivity, including the A5, which is a vital artery connecting north Wales to the west midlands.

The A5 is a really important road joining Wales to England. There are pinch points all the way along, none more so than the most bashed bridge in Britain, right in Hinckley in my constituency. Road investment strategy 3 will be really important for joining up Wales to England, so what conversations has the Secretary of State had with the Department for Transport on decision point 1 for RIS 3 in March?

I used to drive that road regularly when I was working in north Wales years ago. I met the Transport Secretary this week. Cross-border connectivity and this particular road came up in the conversation. We are very conscious of the economic impact of making sure that these things are looked at in a holistic, cross-border way. It has not helped that the Welsh Government have decided to introduce a moratorium on road improvements in Wales. That has slowed down the whole business of economic recovery quite considerably.

Shared Prosperity Fund

9. What recent discussions he has had with the First Minister of Wales on the shared prosperity fund. (904166)

11. What recent discussions he has had with the First Minister of Wales on the shared prosperity fund. (904168)

Mr Speaker, the answer will be worth waiting for, I promise you.

I am hoping to meet the First Minister with the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities in Cardiff later this week to discuss how we can best support jobs and economic growth in Wales, including through the various initiatives announced at the autumn Budget.

I am glad that the Secretary of State is with us and awake; that is always nice to see.

Let me return to the shared prosperity fund, rather than levelling up, because the Secretary of State did not actually answer my question. We have seen months and years of dither and delay, and today we have heard questions from the hon. Member for Wrexham (Sarah Atherton) and the right hon. Member for Clwyd West (Mr Jones) about when the shared prosperity fund will be delivered and when we will have dates for local authorities so that they can plan. Will the Secretary of State simply set out when the shared prosperity fund will be confirmed, when the dates for bidding will take place and when local government will get the information it needs in order to bid for this long overdue funding?

In my conversations with 22 local authorities, they take a much more benign approach to the funding streams than the hon. Gentleman. He obsesses about the UK shared prosperity fund. We have been clear about when that is coming through, with further announcements this year and into next. He deliberately ignores the levelling-up fund, the community renewal fund, the community ownership fund and all the other funds that have been such a success in Wales. I say to him what I said to the hon. Member for Llanelli (Nia Griffith): it would be a whole lot better for future investors and job creation if he spent a little more time championing Wales and a little less time criticising it.

Well, the Secretary of State dodged that question, just as he dodged Question 1. He knows that there is a real dearth of information on the Government’s shared prosperity fund, which needy communities across Wales desperately want. The same communities drove real change with the European social fund—probably a better levelling-up fund than the Government could ever deliver. This is the Secretary of State’s second chance: when are we going to get the detail and the dates, so that in Wales and across the rest of the country we can get on with planning to spend the shared prosperity fund?

I have repeated the answer to this question on countless occasions this morning. We are looking at a whole range of funding provisions in Wales. The Chancellor was able to provide a record settlement; this is the best settlement for the Welsh Government and local authorities for 20-plus years, and the hon. Gentleman should be acknowledging that.

We have actually stuck to the timescales that we have set out on numerous occasions in Welsh and other questions. The hon. Gentleman really does need to change the record. We are now witnessing record sums of money going into parts of Wales which never even qualified before; that is something that we should be championing, rather than denigrating.

Levelling-up Fund: Potential Outcomes

10. What assessment the Government have made of the potential outcomes of the £121 million levelling-up fund allocated to Wales. (904167)

Wales will benefit significantly from the levelling-up fund, with projects focused on delivering jobs, promoting growth and levelling up communities. In Denbighshire and Wrexham, including in my hon. Friend’s constituency of Clwyd South, communities will benefit from over £16.4 million in UK Government investment through round 1 of the levelling-up fund and the community renewal fund.

How would the Minister assess the long-term economic, social and cultural impact of, and benefits arising from, the levelling-up fund in Wales, particularly our Clwyd South bid, which he has mentioned, which will send a great deal of badly needed investment into the world heritage site at the Trevor basin, projects in Llangollen and Chirk, and a steam railway in and around Corwen?

The successful levelling-up fund bid at the Pontcysyllte aqueduct and the canal world heritage centre will obviously maximise tourism in the area and provide significant long-term economic benefits to my hon. Friend’s constituency. However, it is just one small part of a much larger programme including the £121 million levelling-up fund, the £46 million community renewal fund and £2.5 billion extra money in a record block grant for the Welsh Labour Government, showing that this Government are committed to strengthening the Union, supporting Wales, and ensuring that jobs and prosperity flow to all parts of the United Kingdom.

One of the problems that we have in the Rhondda is a large number of disused former coal tips, one of which, as the Minister knows, slid down into the river last year. It cost us £14 million to rectify that, and we have another five similar tips in the Rhondda. Can we please have some more money to ensure that we do not have another Aberfan disaster?

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that, as I said earlier, this is a devolved matter. He will also be aware that more than £2.5 billion of extra money has been provided to the Welsh Labour Government. If there are dangerous coal tips in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency, I urge him to talk to his colleagues in Welsh Labour, ask them to provide the money and get the problem resolved as quickly as possible.

Transport Infrastructure

12. What recent discussions he has had with the First Minister of Wales on improving transport infrastructure in Wales. (904169)

As I outlined in my previous answer, I am hoping to meet the First Minister later this week to discuss a range of issues. I am sure that my hon. Friend would agree that the M4 is central to cross-border connectivity, and improvements are well overdue if we are serious about levelling up.

I can see south Wales from my North Devon constituency and I am very keen to secure a ferry crossing from Ilfracombe to south Wales, popular on both sides of the Bristol channel, with visions ranging from a Dylan Thomas literary tour through to a Barry booze cruise. Will the Secretary of State meet me to see how to progress this project?

There used to be a ferry from Tenby to North Devon back in the old days. I would be very happy to see that introduced. Until the Welsh Government honour their 2016 manifesto commitment to improve the M4, the quickest way of visiting each other will be a 30-year-old ferry chugging across the Bristol channel.

Before we come to Prime Minister’s questions, I would like to point out that the British Sign Language interpretation of proceedings is available to watch on