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Levelling-up Agenda

Volume 706: debated on Thursday 6 January 2022

My Department is making an enormous contribution to levelling up that positively impacts on people’s lives across the country. Our £1.4 billion investment in digital infrastructure is connecting people wherever they are in the UK; we are investing £850 million into local culture and £560 million into youth clubs in the places that need them most; and we are levelling up through sport with £205 million for community sport pitches, plus our flagship 2022 events such as the Commonwealth games and the rugby league world cup.

The Secretary of State will know that grassroots football clubs, particularly those in deprived areas, are very important for levelling up. I had the pleasure before Christmas of visiting Bourne Vale social club, which helps to sustain Ipswich Vale Exiles, who have 22 youth teams and four men’s teams in one of the most deprived parts of Ipswich. The football teams are dependent on the social club, but the social club is going through really hard times and is struggling to raise enough money to continue to exist. That puts at risk all those football teams. Will the Secretary of State meet me to try to find a way through? Potentially, some of that money might go to the social club, because by helping the social club we would be helping Ipswich Vale Exiles, who are critical to Maidenhall and Chantry, which are up there among the best parts of the town.

I am sure my hon. Friend is aware that we have paid a huge amount of attention to local football clubs, particularly over the past year, not least as a result of the fan-led review that has been undertaken by my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch), who is here today.

We continue to provide considerable support for hospitality businesses this year. That is part of around £400 billion of direct support for the economy, which has helped to safeguard jobs, businesses and public services. We have also provided an unprecedented £1 billion to ensure the survival of grassroots professional support and leisure sectors. I am happy to meet my hon. Friend to discuss this further.

The current Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities is the fourth to promise this House a White Paper on devolution initially and then a White Paper on levelling up. Indeed, we were absolutely promised that the levelling-up White Paper was coming before Christmas. I will not ask the Secretary of State to gaze into the future and predict whether we are actually going to get the White Paper this year, but given that she has answered a question about the levelling-up agenda, could she explain to the House precisely what it is?

It is about levelling up—I am very sure. Equality and opportunity for all is probably the best way to describe it. It is certainly an ethos that is overlaid as a filter on every policy in my Department: equality and opportunity for all. I am very sure that the paper he is looking for will be here shortly, too.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that an important part of levelling up is to strengthen local and regional media? They are under terrific pressure at the moment, yet do an important job in holding local institutions to account. Will she look at other ways in which we might do that? Perhaps by extending the local democracy reporting scheme, funded by the tech platforms.

I bow to the expertise of my right hon. Friend, who has served in my job and in the Department for many years, and served as Chair of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee. I do not think anybody in the House knows as much about this as he probably does, so I bow to his expertise. I would like to talk to him about his ideas on how we can move forward, and I pay tribute to him for having always championed local media throughout his career. I am happy to meet him to discuss that further.

Thank you very much, Mr Speaker, for your warm welcome to me and my new team. I am delighted to be here for my first DCMS questions. May I thank the Secretary of State for her very warm welcome? In the tradition of the Manchester-Liverpool rivalry, I look forward to us fiercely disagreeing at times, but also to us joining forces to advance much-needed change in this agenda.

Does the Secretary of State agree that sport and culture, and the fast-growing creative industries, are absolutely central to levelling up, to place and belonging, and to ensuring that creative jobs are across our regions and nations? If she does agree, now that—I hope—she has read up on the funding of Channel 4 and found that it is not actually funded by the taxpayer, perhaps she could explain how privatising that public service broadcaster will not diminish its crucial role in levelling up, given its unique funding model and its strong track record in creating jobs and opportunity across our regions and nations?

I think Mr Speaker might call me to order if I start discussing Channel 4 on the back of a sports question.

I am absolutely grateful to her for giving me the opportunity to explain my answer about Channel 4, which was misrepresented on social media. Channel 4 does take its public borrowings from the Government and the taxpayer, and that is what I was referring to. Channel 4 borrowings do not come from investment; they come from the Government, and that is what I was talking about in my answer to the Select Committee. I really thank her for the opportunity to put that right.

To go into Channel 4 in more detail—

I think it is very loosely connected to levelling up. I am happy to have a discussion with the hon. Lady about Channel 4 and its impending privatisation, or indeed, whether that happens or not. A consultation has taken place, and we have had over 60,000 responses. We have been working hard in the Department on the unprecedented number of responses; we have been working our way through. We will reach a response very shortly on what we will do with Channel 4, but I give her my assurance that it will be what is best for the sustainability of Channel 4 in the future.