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Regional Growth

Volume 705: debated on Tuesday 7 December 2021

Levelling up is the core mission of this Government. At the autumn Budget we announced the first awards from the £4.8 billion levelling-up fund, together with £5.7 billion for transport investment in eight city regions and £3.8 billion for investment in skills over this Parliament. Our levelling up White Paper will be published in January.

I know the passion of the Chancellor and the Chief Secretary for levelling up, and I welcome the creation of a Treasury campus in the north-east. When the Treasury next relocates, may I encourage my right hon. Friends to look at Huddersfield, Marsden and Slaithwaite in my Colne Valley constituency? They are strategically located on the TransPennine rail route between Leeds and Manchester, and we are set to have millions invested thanks to the integrated rail plan. We have fantastic former mill sites ready for regeneration, and the Chief Secretary and the Chancellor would be welcome to join me on a visit.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley (Jason McCartney) for his invitation, and I look forward to being in Darlington at the Treasury’s northern hub this week.

I am glad to hear of my hon. Friend’s support for the wider investment on the TransPennine rail route, which will improve connectivity between Manchester, Leeds and York, including Marsden and Huddersfield, with benefits starting this decade. Diary permitting, I would be delighted to discuss a visit to see that investment in action.

Thank you, and happy Christmas to you, Mr Speaker.

Connectivity is critical to levelling up, which is why I have advocated and secured significant infrastructure improvements in Lincoln since 2010. The recent counterproductive 25% cut in Lincolnshire’s highways maintenance grant is not levelling up, and my right hon. Friend the Chancellor was sitting next to the Prime Minister when I raised this issue at Prime Minister’s questions a fortnight ago.

If the Treasury does not provide the funding to return Lincolnshire’s highways maintenance grant to 2019-20 levels, at the very least, there will be a significant impact on improvements and repairs to the highways network in our county. Will the Chief Secretary agree to return the funding to pre-pandemic levels, or at least to put pressure on our colleagues in the Department for Transport to do so?

I hope I can reassure my hon. Friend. The spending review confirmed that local road maintenance funding will be held at 2021-22 levels, which include the £500 million potholes fund committed to in our manifesto for places not receiving city region settlements. This represents a 10% increase on 2019-20 local road maintenance funding, with the exact allocations to be confirmed by the DFT shortly.

Lincolnshire will also benefit from the £2.6 billion committed in the spending review for local road upgrades, including the North Hykeham relief road, as well as more than £5 million from the integrated transport block to spend on small local transport priorities. I am, of course, happy to continue this conversation, but there is significant funding coming and specific allocations are imminent.

My right hon. Friend knows the importance of local rail connections to regional growth in the north. With the publication of the integrated rail plan, will he confirm that the Treasury stands ready to approve full funding for new stations such as Haxby in my constituency, which is ready to go?

My hon. Friend raises an important point. The centrality of good local transport connectivity to regional growth cannot be overstated, which is why we have provided £96 billion for the integrated rail plan, the largest ever Government investment in our rail network.

Last year the Government provided £400,000 to support plans for a new station at Haxby. I understand Network Rail has been working in close partnership with the council to develop that work and, in conjunction with other Ministers, I am happy to make sure the work is supported by both HMT and DFT.

The Scottish Commercial Music Industry Taskforce understood that the extra money put into the culture recovery fund in the Budget will produce £40 million of Barnett consequentials for the Scottish Government. To date, the taskforce understands that only £9 million of that money has been released, putting our creative and cultural sector at a significant disadvantage. Will the Chief Secretary tell me today, or perhaps in correspondence, when the Scottish Government will receive the remaining £31 million?

The Budget provided the largest ever block grant settlement for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland as part of the Barnett consequentials, of which we are very proud. On the right hon. Gentleman’s specific point, I am happy to reply to him in correspondence when I have further detail.

The western gateway partnership covers a cross-border area with 4.4 million people and brings huge economic potential across south Wales and the south-west, but it is still yet to receive the same level of recognition from the Government as other pan-regional partnerships, such as the northern powerhouse. Will the Government address that and get behind the western gateway?

The hon. Lady raises a really important point: the western gateway is a phenomenally important part of our wider UK growth package. I engaged closely with it last year when I was the Minister for Regional Growth and Local Government and I am always happy to support its work. The western gateway has equal standing alongside the northern powerhouse and the midlands engine. I can certainly confirm that I and, indeed, Ministers in the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities are always happy to engage substantively with the hon. Lady and with the leadership of local authorities in that area.

One way to reduce regional inequality is to encourage investment, which creates jobs, generates tax revenue and brings opportunities for supply chains. Does the Minister therefore understand many people’s bewilderment at the fact that the Scottish Government have lobbied for there to be no development in the Cambo oilfield? That will cost 1,000 jobs, lose the revenue from 175 billion barrels of oil, push up oil prices, make us more dependent on foreign supplies and create a chilling environment for investment. Does the Minister agree that the economic madness of the Green tail wagging the SNP dog is going to cost Scotland dearly? What assurances can he give to the oil industry that the UK is a place for investment?

The right hon. Gentleman makes a valid point about the importance of oil and gas to the UK economy and, of course, in particular to Scotland’s economy. My colleagues on the Government Benches would join him in saying it is really important that we support the success of the North sea oil and gas industry into the future. The SNP’s lack of support is a serious disappointment and a serious concern. The Government are committed to supporting the transition to net zero, but that must involve the word “transition”, so that industry will be of importance for decades to come.

I thank the Chief Secretary for what he said in support of the western gateway, but may I draw to his attention the importance of skills to improving regional growth? On Thursday this week, the AccXel construction skills accelerator centre will open in my constituency. It is a partnership, supported last year by Government money that a fantastic private sector business has already turned into the centre that will open this week. It will take students at the beginning of next year and drive construction skills to a high level throughout the south-west of England.

Skills are at the heart of our wider work on levelling up, which is why £3.8 billion has been allocated throughout the course of this Parliament to make sure we get the right skills for the right people in the right sectors, so that we can grow the economy in the way that is needed. I warmly commend what is going on in my right hon. Friend’s constituency, because it is precisely that kind of work that will ensure that jobs and growth really level up opportunity throughout the country.