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Levelling Up

Volume 708: debated on Wednesday 2 February 2022

Madam Deputy Speaker, I would like to make a statement on the Government’s plans to level up and unite our country.

The White Paper we are publishing today sets out our detailed strategy to make opportunity more equal and to shift wealth and power decisively towards working people and their families. After two long years of covid, we need to get this country moving at top speed again. We need faster growth, quicker public services and higher wages, and we need to allow overlooked and undervalued communities to take back control of their destiny.

While talent is spread equally across the United Kingdom, opportunity is not. Our country is an unparalleled success story, but not everyone shares in it. The further a person is from one of our great capitals—whether it is London, Edinburgh, Cardiff or Belfast—the tougher life can be. For every local success, there is a story of scarring and stagnation elsewhere, and that must change. We need to tackle and reverse the inequality that is limiting so many horizons and that also harms our economy. The gap between much of the south-east and the rest of the country in productivity, in health outcomes, in wages, in school results and in job opportunities must be closed. This is not about slowing down London or the south-east, or damping down animal spirts, but rather about turbocharging the potential of every part of the UK. This country will not achieve its full potential until every individual and community achieves everything of which they are capable. Our economy has been like a jet propelled by only one engine, now we need to fire up every resource that we have.

The economic prize from levelling up is potentially enormous. If underperforming places were levelled up towards the UK average, unlocking their full potential, this could boost aggregate UK GDP by tens of billions of pounds each year. So, how do we achieve success? First, we do so by backing business. The economic growth that we want to see across the UK will be generated by the private sector, by businesses and entrepreneurs investing, innovating, taking risks and opening new markets. We will support them every step of the way, by cutting through the red tape, by making it easier to secure investment and, as our White Paper today outlines, by creating the right environment on the ground for business.

As the Chancellor laid out in our Plan for Growth, we need to invest in science and innovation, improve infrastructure and connectivity, and extend educational opportunity to underpin economic success. This White Paper makes clear our commitment to improve education, investment and connectivity fastest in those parts of the country that have not had the support that they needed in the past. We have set out clear, ambitious missions, underpinned by metrics by which we can be held to account to drive the change that we need.

On productivity, science and innovation, our mission one is that, by 2030, we pledge that pay, employment and productivity will have risen in every area of the UK, with each containing a globally competitive city; closing the gap between top performing areas and the rest. Mission two will see a massive increase in domestic public investment in research and development outside the greater south-east, increasing by at least a third in the next three years, and we will use the shift in resources to leverage private sector investment in the areas that need it most.

On infrastructure and connectivity, we will have better local transport, bringing the rest of the country closer to the standards of London’s transport system. We will also improve digital connectivity, with billions of pounds of investment, bringing nationwide gigabit-capable broadband and 4G coverage to the whole UK, and we will expand 5G coverage to the overwhelming majority of the population.

On education and skills, we will effectively eradicate illiteracy and innumeracy, with investment in the most-underperforming areas of the country. There will be 55 new education investment areas in England alone, driving school improvement in the local authorities where attainment is weakest. Our sixth mission is to have new high quality skills training, targeted at the lowest skilled areas, with 200,000 more people completing high quality skills training annually.

We know that, to achieve these missions, we will need smart, targeted, Government investment. That is why we are investing more than £20 billion in research and development to create a science and technology superpower. Today, we are allocating £100 million specifically to three new innovation accelerators in the west midlands, Glasgow and Greater Manchester. It is also why we are investing £5 billion in bus services and active travel, with new bus investment today in all our mayoral combined authorities and the green light for bus projects in Stoke-on-Trent, Derbyshire, Warrington and across the country. It is also why we are investing in new academies, new free schools and new institutes of technology. Today, we are establishing a new digital UK national academy—just as the UK established the Open University to bring higher education to everyone, we are making available to every school student in the country high quality online teaching, so geography is no barrier to opportunity.

We will also use the freedoms that we now have outside the EU to reform Government procurement rules to ensure that the money that we spend on goods and services is spent on British firms and British jobs. We will unashamedly put British workers first in the global race for investment. Economic opportunity, spread more equally across the country, is at the heart of levelling up, but levelling up is also about community as well. It is about repairing the social fabric of our broken heartlands, so that they can reflect the pride we feel in the places we love. That is why we are investing in 20 new urban regeneration projects, starting in Wolverhampton and Sheffield and spreading across the midlands and the north, with £1.8 billion invested in new housing infrastructure to turn brownfield land into projects across the country like Stratford and King’s Cross in London.

By regenerating the great cities and towns of the north, we can relieve the pressure on green fields and public services in the south. A more productive, even prouder and faster-growing north helps improve quality of life and wellbeing in the south, which is why we are refocusing housing investment towards the north and midlands.

Our housing mission is clear: we will give renters a secure path to greater home ownership, we will drive an increase in first-time buyers and we will deliver a tough focus on decent standards in rented homes. A new £1.5 billion levelling-up home building fund will give loans to small and medium-sized builders to deliver new homes, the vast majority of which will be outside London and the south-east. Our housing plans will set a decent minimum standard that all rented properties must meet.

Our White Paper this spring will include plans to cut the number of poor-quality rented homes by half, address the injustice of “no fault” evictions and bear down on rogue landlords, thereby improving the life chances of children and families up and down the country.

We will also take action in law to tackle the problem of empty properties and vacant shops on our high streets. Building on the work of my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent North (Jonathan Gullis), we will ensure that properties cannot remain unloved and unused for months, dragging down the whole high street. Instead, we will put every property to work for the benefit of the whole community.

Also central to improving quality of life for all will be further investment in sport, culture, nature and young people. That is why we are investing £230 million extra in grassroots football and using the community ownership fund to help fans take back control of clubs such as Bury FC. It is also why every extra penny of Arts Council spending will now be allocated outside London, from celebrating ceramics in Stoke to supporting pride in British history in Bishop Auckland. There will also be another £30 million allocated to improving parks and urban green spaces, as well as plans to re-green all of our green belt.

We will also invest an additional £560 million in activities for young people, and we will invest in reversing health disparities, tackling obesity and improving life expectancy. We will also ensure that the communities in which we are investing are safer and more orderly. Fighting crime and antisocial behaviour is essential to giving communities new heart, so we will invest an additional £150 million in our safer streets fund and ensure that those who drag down our communities through vandalism, graffiti and joyriding pay back their debt to those communities. They will be set to work on improving the environment, cleaning up public spaces, clearing away the drug debris in our parks and streets and contributing to civic renewal.

Critical to the success of our missions will be giving communities not just the resources but the powers necessary to take back control. That is why our White Paper sets out how we will shift more power away from Whitehall to working people. We will give new powers to outstanding local leaders such as Andy Street and Ben Houchen—[Interruption]—and, indeed, Dan Jarvis. We will create new Mayors where people want them, we will give nine counties including Derbyshire and Durham new powers as trailblazers in a programme of county deals and we will strengthen the hand of local leaders across the country.

We will also take back control of the money that the EU used to spend on our behalf, ensuring that local areas can invest in their priorities through the new UK shared prosperity fund. With power comes responsibility, so we will also ensure that data on local government performance is published so that we can hold local leaders to account.

Central Government will report back to this House on our progress against our missions and on the impact all our policies have on closing geographical inequalities. Because building long-term structures matters, we will also create the institutions, generate the incentives and supply the information necessary to drive levelling up for years ahead.

This White Paper lays out a long-term economic and social plan to make opportunity more equal. It shifts power and opportunity towards the north and midlands, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. It guarantees increased investment in overlooked and undervalued communities, in research and development, in education and skills, in transport and broadband, in urban parks and decent homes, in grassroots sport and local culture and in fighting crime and tackling antisocial behaviour. It gives local communities the tools to tackle rogue landlords, dilapidated high streets and neglected green spaces, and it demonstrates that this people’s Government are keeping faith with the working people of this country by allowing them to take back control of their lives, their communities and their futures.

I commend this statement to the House.

After all the delays, all the slogans and all the big promises, is this it? Is this really it? The sum total of ambition for our proud coastal and industrial—[Interruption.]

Order. The Secretary of State was heard with respect. I do not expect the shadow Secretary of State to be shouted out.

Conservative Members do not disrespect us when they chunter and jeer; they disrespect the people of this country.

Seriously, is this it? The sum total of ambition for our coastal and industrial towns, our villages and our great cities is a history lesson on the rise of the Roman empire, and Ministers scurrying around Whitehall, shuffling the deckchairs and cobbling together a shopping list of recycled policies and fiddling the figures. Is this really it?

For some of us, this is personal. We have lived these failures every single day. We have watched good jobs go, our high streets boarded up and young people who have had to get out to get on. The Secretary of State talks about Bury FC. My step-dad was a lifelong supporter of Bury FC, a regular at Gigg Lane and his last words to my step-brother before he died were, “What’s the score?” If he were alive today, he would never forgive the Government for standing aside while this asset at the centre of Bury’s community was allowed to collapse.

This system is completely broken, and the Secretary of State has given us more of the same. This was meant to be the Prime Minister’s defining mission of Government. I am not surprised he was too embarrassed to come here today and defend it himself. It is so bad that even the Secretary of State has privately been saying that it is rubbish. They tell us to wait till 2030, but where have they been for the last 12 years? I will tell them where—in Whitehall, turbocharging the decline of our communities, and cutting off choices and chances for a generation of young people.

The Secretary of State talks about 12 missions, but this is 12 admissions of failure. Let us take one of them. Only two thirds of children leave primary school with the basic skills to get on. Forgive me if I have missed something, but was he not the Education Secretary for four years? What about this? The Government want to tackle crime, but on their watch fewer than one in 10 crimes are solved and nearly all rapes go unprosecuted. No one listening to this would think that he had been in charge of the Ministry of Justice.

This is a Government in free fall—out of ideas, out of energy—with recycled, watered-down ambitions. None of this is new. In fact, some of it is so old that one of the better announcements that caught my eye was actually made in 2008 by Gordon Brown and has been running ever since. Across our home towns, we have seen good jobs disappear and far too many young people who have had to get out to get on. This does nothing to address that.

The Secretary of State talks about a Medici-style renaissance, but can he not see what is happening in front of his eyes? Our high streets are struggling because the local economy is struggling. People do not have money to spend in our shops, our businesses and our high streets, and the Government are about to hike up their taxes. This does nothing to address that. What we needed was a plan to connect our towns and villages to jobs, to opportunities and to our family and friends, but they have halved the funding for buses and scrapped the rail promises to the north, and where is the digital Britain we were promised?

We do not need to look to Rome, Jericho or renaissance Florence for inspiration, because in Preston, Wigan and Grimsby, people are delivering real change for themselves, not because of their Government, but despite them. Imagine what we could do if they would get out of the way and give us back the power that we demand to make decisions for ourselves. [Laughter.] Well, Conservative Members laugh. They do laugh—they have been laughing at us for years—and here it goes again.

It is absurd that we have to go cap in hand to Westminster to do things that we know will work for us. Do not believe me; believe the former Mayor of London, who in 2013 demanded powers that are nowhere to be seen in this report. We asked for powers, and we got a process. Where are the powers we were promised? Seriously, we have the arrogance of a Chancellor sitting in Whitehall, drawing lines on a map, choosing which of us have earned the right to have some say on the decisions that affect not their lives, but our lives, our families and our communities.

The Secretary of State talks about London-style regeneration. My colleagues in London will talk proudly about the London they call home, but not every part of this country wants to be the same. We have our own identities. We are proud of our own places. We believe in our communities and we believe in our people, and we deserve a Government who back us, not the smoke and mirrors that we have been handed today.

The Government have given more to fraudsters than they have given to the north of England. For every £13 they have taken from us, they have given us £1 back. We get a partial refund and they expect us to be grateful. [Interruption.] I will give the House an example. The Mayor of Greater Manchester today raised broken promises on rail, and he was told by one of the Government’s MPs, “Don’t bite the hand that feeds you.”

It is not their money; it is ours. Imagine what we could achieve if we had a Government with an ambition for Britain that matched the ambition of the people in it. We could build good jobs in every community. There is a global race to create these jobs, and we will bring them here so that young people in our coastal and industrial towns can power us through the next generation, like their parents and grandparents powered us through the last. In every community in this country, people know that we can do so much better than this, with well-paid jobs and money back in people’s pockets to genuinely transform our high streets. We can reform business rates to back our bricks and mortar businesses. We can be buying, making and selling more in Britain and have an educational recovery plan that stands as a testament to our commitment to the young people who make this country what it is. That is our mission, and today we have learned one crucial thing: for all the spin and all the gloss, the Government will not do it, because they do not believe in this country—we will. [Interruption.]

Order. I think you are preventing the Secretary of State from speaking. I suggest that a modicum of silence from those on the Back Benches would be welcome.

I have enormous respect and affection for the hon. Lady, but at the end of her response, I do not think I heard a single question, nor did I hear her disagree with a single policy that we have put forward. She is in distinguished company; she joins other Labour colleagues who have welcomed the White Paper, such as Tracy Brabin, the Mayor of West Yorkshire, who said there is

“lots to be pleased about”

in it, and the Mayor of South Yorkshire, who said on Sunday that he warmly welcomed the support that we were giving to Sheffield and that it was

“much needed recognition of the potential”

of that great city. I am glad that the hon. Lady is in good Labour company in welcoming the White Paper.

The hon. Lady mentioned Bury FC, and she suggested that this Government had stood aside. I am sorry, but this Government provided £1 million to the fans of Bury FC so that they could take back control of the club. It was not Labour Bury Council but Tory Ministers who saved that football club for its fans.

She asks where we have been over the past 12 years and about my time as Education Secretary. My mother said self-praise is no honour, but since the hon. Lady asks, there were more good and outstanding schools as a result. We closed the gap between rich and poor, we extended opportunity and we ensured that illiteracy and innumeracy were tackled.

The hon. Lady also says that we need more good jobs. I completely agree. That is why we have a plan for growth and she has no plan. She says that we need to revive our high streets. I completely agree. That is why we have a plan for investment, and the Opposition have no plan. She says that she wants improved connectivity. That is why we have ensured that gigabit connectivity has gone from 10% to 60% in the past two years, and they have no plan. She says that she believes in devolution. We have nine county deals and powers for Mayors. The only devolution in England that Labour ever offered was to London. It did nothing for the north and midlands when it came to devolution. She said she wants safer town centres. Why is it, then, that every time we have brought forward policies for tougher sentences in this House, Labour has voted against? It has no plans, no idea and no answers.

The Opposition also ask about new money. Do they not remember that Liam Byrne wrote in 2010 when the Labour Government left office that there was no money left? Now, they are so fiscally inconstant that they say they want simultaneously not to have a national insurance increase and to cut other taxes, and at the same time to increase public spending. Our commitment to abolish innumeracy cannot come quickly enough, starting with the Labour Front Benchers. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor has committed £500 million to tackling adult innumeracy; we know where that funding should go first. If they had their way, borrowing would go up, interest rates would go up, and the poorest in the north and midlands would lose out; instead of levelling up, they would bring the economy crashing down. That is why we never need to have those Front Benchers in power in this country ever.

Order. A little reminder that the Secretary of State should not refer to hon. Members by name.

It is going to require a lot of self-discipline if we are to have any chance of getting everybody in, so I ask for very short questions. The Father of the House will provide a marvellous example of that, I am sure: Sir Peter Bottomley.

I say to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State that those in the south-east hope this will be successful, giving individuals opportunity and changing the economic geography of the parts of this country that need to be connected to the thriving country we hope to create together. Will he heed council leaders such as Councillor Kevin Jenkins in Worthing, who wants Ministers to pay attention to things that they could do that would help and to stop doing things that do not help, because all over the country we need Ministers to pay more attention to local leaders?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and in the levelling-up White Paper there is a commitment to ensure greater devolution all round. I signalled the county deals we are green-lighting for Derbyshire and Durham, but we are also devolving more power to local authorities across the country, including through the new UK shared prosperity fund. He is also right to remind us that, while deprivation is concentrated disproportionately in the north and midlands, there are pockets of genuine poverty in communities such as Worthing and Hastings that we need to pay close attention to.

This is somewhat underwhelming, is it not? Not so much a dead cat as a damp squib. This might have been an opportunity to bring forward proposals for the modernisation of government in these islands, to devolve further powers and competence to the national Administrations, and to do something about the asymmetric and centralised mess that is the government of England, but, no, what we are promised is that in eight years’ time we will get a better bus service. It is, frankly, insulting given the amount of political capital that the Government have invested in this. This is a Government who have broken trust with the British people, and getting it back will require people and policies of substance, rather than glib soundbites and photo opportunities for Ministers in hard hats and hi-viz vests. The statement literally has nothing in it for the people I represent in this House, but we will watch with interest as this con is perpetrated on the people of the north of England.

Meanwhile, in Scotland we have another Brexit betrayal: the replacement funds for the EU structural funds are falling £900 million short, and control is being centralised to Whitehall. That is what we are receiving from this Government, and that is why more and more people are turning to the option of political independence for their country.

My central question is this: how does this square with the rest of the Government’s policies? We have a chronic and increasing problem with inequality in Britain, yet everything this Government do seems to make it worse: the decision to cut universal credit and the below-inflation increases in other benefits are driving the gap between rich and poor even higher; so, too, is the decision to increase basic rate taxes and not to increase taxes for those who can most afford them; and so, too, is the Government’s inaction and unwillingness to do anything about the cost of living and spiralling energy bills. So my question, Secretary of State, is this: given all of that—given the Government’s policy in the round—is this not just a piece of meaningless window dressing?

The short answer is no. The longer answer is this: we work in partnership with the Scottish Government, and we recognise their devolved responsibilities, but people in Scotland pay their taxes to have two Governments working together for them, and that is what we have done. The levelling-up fund has ensured that there has been investment in North Ayrshire, in Edinburgh and in Aberdeen, to help communities and councils led by Scottish nationalist councillors, and that has been backed by SNP MPs. The UK shared prosperity fund has also guaranteed funds going to Scotland, ensuring that Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and Cornwall receive every bit as much outside the EU as they ever did within it, but with our control of that funding, not the European Union’s.

Today, we have announced additional funding for an innovation accelerator in Glasgow. In Glasgow University and the University of Strathclyde, Glasgow has two of the United Kingdom’s leading research universities. We are supporting and backing them. I explained to the First Minister last night how important it was that we worked together, and we will seek to work together.

When it comes to inequality, the Scottish Government have presided over growing inequality in education outcomes in schools in Scotland. We want to work with them to reverse that. When it comes to devolution, rather than devolving more powers to local government in Scotland, as we are doing in England, the Scottish Government have centralised powers. The Convention of Scottish Local Authorities has been eloquent in complaining about that. Again, that is a devolved matter, but if the critique from the hon. Gentleman is to carry force, it is vital that he recognises the beam in his own eye before pointing out the mote in others.

What the towns and cities of our country need is ambition, investment and encouragement, not the negativity and neglect that I am afraid they have experienced under the Labour party over the years. As a Teessider born and bred, and as someone who negotiated and signed the devolution deal with Teesside six years ago, I am proud to see it leading this White Paper thanks to the great progress it has made under Ben Houchen.

Does the Secretary of State recognise that building on such successful policy innovations is the best way to go, rather than needing to start from scratch in every case? In that context, does he recognise that the role of universities and scientific institutions, which are strong in the regions, is a good place to invest and to drive further prosperity across the UK?

My right hon. Friend was a brilliant Secretary of State both for Communities and Local Government and for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. He was, more than anyone else—apart from the former Chancellor, the former right hon. Member for Tatton—responsible for extending devolution across England. He is absolutely right: this is a model that works and on which we can build. He is also absolutely right to say that higher education is critical to the economic future of the north and the midlands, where we have outstanding universities. The increased research and development spending that we are announcing today will be directed towards those excellent institutions. Whether for life sciences in Newcastle, renewables in Teesside or materials in Manchester, we will be working with those universities to revive the north and the midlands.

I thank the Secretary of State for an advance copy of the White Paper, although I have to admit that I have not quite read it all yet.

When the Select Committee has looked at this issue in the past, we have agreed that local councils have to be key to delivering a levelling-up agenda, and that means a devolution framework, with all councils getting real new powers and real new resources to deliver. When I looked at page 140, I saw the words “devolution framework”, and I was encouraged. Will the Secretary of State confirm, however, that in that list of powers, there is not a single new power? All the powers in there are already available to at least some local authorities, and all this framework does is enable more local authorities to have those powers. What is certainly not set out is a list of new resources that will be available to enable the spread of existing powers to more local authorities to be delivered in practice. Will he confirm those two things?

It is a typically fair and informed question from the hon. Gentleman. What the framework does lay out is how local authorities that have fewer powers can acquire more, and how we can have a convergence towards a model, which not every part of the country will necessary want to adopt, that is closer to the level of power and autonomy that the Mayor of London exercises. We are completely open, and we have said so, to negotiating with local areas on the acquisition of further powers.

I should also say that the UK shared prosperity fund prospectus that we are publishing today makes it clear that lower-tier local authorities especially will have additional resources, through the UKSPF, to enhance their ability to serve their citizens.

I congratulate the Secretary of State on his “Levelling Up” paper, but particularly mission 7 to level up health outcomes and wellbeing. Will he meet me to discuss levelling up health and care provision in rural areas as part of that mission, a blueprint for which was published yesterday in a report co-authored by the all-party parliamentary group on rural health and social care, which I chair, and the National Centre for Rural Health and Social Care?

Yes, I absolutely will. The hon. Lady makes an important point. Of course improving economic productivity is at the heart of levelling up, but we also need to tackle unfair health outcomes. Within the White Paper, we have details of how we are proposing to do so, not least taking forward some of the recommendations of Henry Dimbleby’s national food strategy, which outlines how we can effectively tackle obesity—one of the greatest drivers of diabetes, which is one of the greatest drains on NHS resources.

I wrote to the Secretary of State on 19 January and I have not had a response to that letter, but in it I cited research from Utopia, which, after analysing 34 cities and towns, found that Bradford needed the most development and infrastructure support. We have lost out on Northern Powerhouse Rail, stifling £30 billion-worth of investment over the next 10 years. We have been given crumbs. What is he doing for my constituents in Bradford West—he has mentioned nothing in his statement today—after failing them time and again with the NPR?

The hon. Lady is right. Bradford is a fantastic city—it has seen significant investment, not least in cultural renewal, and it has a wonderful university—but it also has areas of real deprivation, not least in the constituency that she represents. I look forward to working with her, and with Tracy Brabin and municipal leaders in Bradford, to ensure that the policies in the White Paper can deliver for her constituents.

I very much welcome this White Paper—a genuinely one-nation Conservative document. I particularly commend my right hon. Friend and his colleagues on the health commitment it makes. Five years’ extra healthy lifespan will be absolutely critical in spreading opportunity not just to disadvantaged people but to disadvantaged communities, because health inequalities hold people back almost more than anything else. Frankly, we can have all the transport infrastructure we like, but if people in middle age are too unhealthy to lead full lives and to stay in work, they cannot benefit from it. Will he go into a bit more detail about how he will achieve that ambition?

Absolutely. My right hon. Friend is right: this is a one-nation document that is in that Conservative tradition. He is also absolutely right that addressing health inequalities is vital, not just to relieving pressure on the NHS for taxpayers but to giving people the full lives that they deserve. We outline in the White Paper some of the steps that we are taking, not least to deal with obesity, but, in addition, my right hon. Friend the Health Secretary will be bringing forward a health inequalities White Paper a little later this year, and I will be working with him to take forward some of the insights of Professor Michael Marmot and others about what the drivers of health inequalities are and how we can tackle them.

I thank the Secretary of State and the Under-Secretary, the hon. Member for Harborough (Neil O’Brien), for the briefing that they gave to the Mayors and myself yesterday. However, it is a shameful indictment of our country that, for too long, where you grow up has determined where you end up. We all know that to address these challenges requires transformational resources. What more can the Secretary of State do and how can we help him to get the Chancellor to provide additional resources to deliver on the plan that he has brought forward?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for making that point. I hope to have the chance to visit him in Sheffield before too long to discuss how we can use some of the funding that was allocated in the spending review more effectively on his behalf, and how we can ensure that future spending commitments from the Chancellor and from others serve the people whom he serves.

I welcome the emphasis on personal journeys and improvement of free enterprise. Freeports can make a great contribution to that, so will the Government bring forward a freeport for Northern Ireland to show that it is properly part of the United Kingdom and, with it, to see off the EU threat to our Union?

My right hon. Friend makes an important point. The Government are committed to ensuring that we have two additional freeports in Scotland, at least one in Wales and one in Northern Ireland, and announcements on those should be forthcoming shortly.

I welcome the White Paper and the Government’s paying attention to levelling up across the United Kingdom—as a Unionist, I see that as important to assure citizens they are considered part of the United Kingdom. However, many people in Northern Ireland will say that new red tape as a result of the Northern Ireland protocol is strangling our economy. How do the proposals in the White Paper benefit people in Northern Ireland in terms of education, jobs, research, housing, crime and so on? How does the Secretary of State seek to level up Northern Ireland through that?

The right hon. Member makes a series of good points. First, I absolutely understand the problems with the protocol, and my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary is working incredibly hard to tackle them. Secondly, we recognise that the Northern Ireland Executive exercise devolved responsibilities in a number of areas, but we can help: additional funding for research and development means that Queen’s University Belfast and the University of Ulster can get additional funding to create the jobs that Northern Ireland requires. The broader economic strategy that we outline in the White Paper is designed to help every part of the United Kingdom, and, through the UK shared prosperity fund, there will be additional funding. UK community renewal funding and levelling-up funding has been distributed to communities in Northern Ireland, but we need to do better in ensuring that it reaches those who deserve it most, not least those in areas such as Larne and Glenarm in the right hon. Gentleman’s constituency.

Leicestershire and Rutland councils were some of the worst funded in the entire country—until today. Thanks to the Secretary of State, Leicestershire is one of the nine counties that will be negotiating a county deal. Will he please reassure me that when he negotiates a deal for Leicestershire, he will include Rutland, which cannot go for its own county deal? It needs a sidecar deal. Will he also help us level up pride by coming to visit our wonderful area?

That is an offer too good to resist. I will say two things. First, Leicester and Leicestershire have much to offer, but there are also significant pockets of deprivation not just in the city but in rural Leicestershire that we must tackle. My hon. Friend is right that the county deal that we are proposing will—I hope—help. Secondly, I know that Rutland’s independence is cherished by its people and its Member of Parliament, but on this occasion there can be—how can I put it—a fruitful union between Leicestershire and Rutland, and I would like to see that advance.

The Secretary of State will know the impact of growing up poor on health, education and life chances, because it is well documented. But, even before the pandemic, two in five children and young people in the north-east were growing up in poverty, so it is hard to understand why the White Paper does not address the lack of cross-Government strategy to tackle child poverty. If levelling up is to mean anything, surely it must address that issue in the north-east.

The hon. Lady makes a good point. Indeed, there is a commitment in the White Paper to additional funding for the supporting families programme —previously the troubled families programme—which helps to address many of the drivers of child poverty. Of course, I would be the first to acknowledge that there is more to do, and in communities in Newcastle—in Longbenton and elsewhere—there are real challenges that we need to work with Newcastle City Council to overcome. The council’s Labour leader is someone with whom I think we can do business.

I welcome the White Paper. I am sure that the Secretary of State would acknowledge that delivering foreign direct investment is key to levelling up the north and beyond. Would he consider a 13th mission: to double FDI in the north of England by 2030?

May I thank my right hon. Friend? Many of the best ideas in the White Paper are the fruit of work that he and the Northern Research Group of Conservative MPs have conducted. The paper that he co-wrote for the Centre for Policy Studies, “A Northern Big Bang”, has influenced our thinking in a number of areas, not least unlocking additional private sector investment. My noble Friend Lord Grimstone, the Department for International Trade Minister, now leads the Office for Investment, and one of his missions is to increase FDI, particularly in the north and midlands. I look forward to working with Lord Grimstone and my right hon. Friend to ensure that east Lancashire is at the front of the queue for that investment.

I thank the Secretary of State for his statement and for the White Paper, which is very thoughtfully put together—not least because the foreword by the Prime Minister is on a detachable page. That is great.

One page that appears to have already been detached, however, is the bit that refers to rural Britain. I am really concerned that there is very little concern in the document for levelling up the rural parts of our country. In Cumbria, we have three-hour round trips for cancer treatment and a threat to our local A&E department, and our villages and communities are being cleared by second homes and Airbnb. I would be delighted to work constructively with the Secretary of State, and I would love if it he agreed to meet me so that we can talk about some answers to the housing catastrophe affecting not just Cumbria, but the rest of rural Britain.

I have to say, I agree with almost everything the hon. Gentleman said. First, it is important that we focus on rural poverty; secondly, there are unique issues in Cumbria. Local government reorganisation, with the creation of one new authority in Cumberland and one in Westmorland and Furniss, will contribute to ensuring that we have a proper focus on those, but we need to go further. He is also right that the issue of second homes and their impact on local economies is a complex one. We are not in the right place yet, and I want to work with him and other colleagues to address it.

It was wonderful to be able to welcome my right hon. Friend to my constituency this week to see the amount of levelling up that is needed and the work we are doing with our local council to achieve it. Does he agree, however, that it is about not just school education, but technical education for our young and older people—something new Labour was able to decimate very effectively when it was in power, but which is vital to matching up jobs and opportunities to level up areas such as Great Grimsby?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. If we think about the technical institute in Grimsby, which was a source of pride and high-quality further education, some of the changes that the new Labour Government made undermined that centre of excellence. One thing we are clear about in the White Paper is the importance of ensuring that further education is aligned with the needs of local employers. In Grimsby and north-east Lincolnshire, as part of the renewables revolution led by the Business Secretary, there is now a chance to ensure new jobs, investment in FE and a recognition of the link between the two, so that in Grimsby people can stay local, but go far.

I always enjoy listening to the Secretary of State, who is always very articulate and performs well at the Dispatch Box. I wish him well in the forthcoming Tory leadership election. There is an obsession, which he has illustrated today, with elected Mayors; I understand he has briefed them, but not the leaders of local authorities. In Cheshire West and Chester, the Government have taken £466 million since 2010 from our local authority, and the only way we can win funding back is by bidding to this pot or that pot, which is decided by Ministers. If he is going to increase funding for local authorities, will he please remember those areas that are not covered by directly elected Mayors, but nevertheless have outstanding leaders such as Louise Gittins?

I thank the hon. Gentleman. Been there, done that, got knocked back twice, so I am afraid I am not going round that course again. I will agree that it is important that we talk to all local leaders. I personally think the devolution of power to mayoral combined authorities has been a good thing, but it is not right for everywhere in this country. There are ways we can strengthen the hands of local leaders, and I look forward to doing so in Cheshire.

Gainsborough South West ward is the 24th most deprived ward in the country. I thank the Secretary of State for awarding us £10 million in levelling up, but does he agree, looking at the overall picture, that the prosperity of northern industrial towns was built not with Government money, but by entrepreneurs in the 19th and early 20th century, when regulation and taxation were a fraction of what they are now? What plans does he have, with his colleagues, to try to reduce the burden of regulation and taxation on towns in the north of England?

My right hon. Friend is correct; that is why I sought in my statement to emphasise that levelling up can only succeed if British business and private enterprise succeed. That means the right regulatory framework, outside the European Union, as we spelled out on Monday. There are steps we have taken and can take to ensure that we have smarter and leaner regulation.

More broadly, I think that if we look at the success of great industrial towns in the past, we see that figures such as Joe Chamberlain were driven by the spirit of private enterprise, but by civic pride as well. Chamberlain provided an example of great local leadership, and also of ambition to improve education. The mission that he led in Birmingham to ensure that universal education was extended even to the poorest was the perfect complement to the drive that he showed in generating wealth through the market.

One of the great inequalities in my constituency is the gap between those who are able to feed their families and those who are not. In every year since the Government took office the use of food banks has increased, and last year 2.5 million food parcels were given out to people who had gone up to a complete stranger and said, “Can you help me to feed my family?” What are the Government going to do to bring an end to this scandal?

The right hon. Gentleman makes a very important point. We have taken, and continue to take, a series of steps through the supporting families programme. We are also outlining in the White Paper some of the proposals that we are taking forward as part of Henry Dimbleby’s national food strategy, which explicitly addressed some of the particular challenges to which the right hon. Gentleman has rightly drawn attention, to ensure that people have the resources and the capacity to put healthy food on the table for their children. I look forward to perhaps visiting Leeds with Henry Dimbleby to talk to the right hon. Gentleman about exactly how we can achieve the change that we need.

I am saddened by the characteristic doom and gloom on the Labour Benches. We should be welcoming confirmation that we will be turbo-charging every single part of the UK, including the south-west, and recognising the importance of the private sector to achieving those goals will be key. In Stroud we have a fantastic town centre regeneration plan, which is backed up by recent private investment in previously long-standing empty buildings such as the Imperial Hotel and Five Valleys, and buildings in King Street. Will my right hon. Friend dispatch his levelling-up Minister to Stroud so that he can see how far the marriage between private and public money that we are hoping to achieve could go for local people?

The Under-Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Neil O’Brien), is hereby dispatched to Stroud—first class.

How can we take seriously the Secretary of State’s promise to turbo-charge places such as my city when his Government have spent 12 years draining the fuel tank and slashing the tyres? If his offer of a county deal is to deliver meaningful change, does it not need to start with restoring the £100 million that Nottingham has lost through cuts in council funding?

Nottingham has a bright future, and Nottinghamshire has an even brighter one, with my hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield (Ben Bradley) as leader of that council, leading a programme of urban development and regeneration. I look forward to working with the hon. Lady, and with my hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield, to ensure that we make Nottinghamshire great again.

The Secretary of State will know that Herefordshire has one of the smallest and sparsest populations and some of the lowest gross value added in this country. He will also know of my passion for the New Model Institute for Technology and Engineering, which promises to offer entirely new forms of learning and teaching, lower drop-out rates, lower levels of mental ill health, and much greater inclusiveness for young people in skills-based higher education—it is the small modular nuclear reactor of higher education. Will the Secretary of State encourage this model, and will he consider, call for and initiate a review of higher education in order to regenerate cities and towns across the UK?

My right hon. Friend’s new model institute is a perfect model of what was envisaged by the former Member of Parliament for Orpington when he was the higher education Minister and introduced reform to ensure that we improved access to higher education, but with a particular focus on skills and jobs. I look forward to working with him and the Education Secretary to spread this model through across the UK.

I thank the Secretary of State for his statement. He announced a county devolution deal for County Durham, which has lost £224 million in Government grants since 2010. At the same time, his own county council’s spending powers have gone up. Will the devolution deal replace anywhere near the £22.4 million a year that County Durham has lost?

I am looking forward to working with the new Conservative and Liberal Democrat Administration in Durham county—the first non-Labour Administration for many years, following on from the success of my hon. Friends the Members for North West Durham (Mr Holden), for Bishop Auckland (Dehenna Davison) and for Sedgefield (Paul Howell) in winning their seats at the last general election. Sadly, the Labour Administration of Durham County Council were responsible for significant maladministration and the waste of resources. I am convinced that the new Administration will spend taxpayers’ money better.

I commend my right hon. Friend for his statement. Since 2015, Plymouth has been on an amazing journey, with more inward investment than it has seen for decades. I echo the plea of my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Damian Green) that the levelling up of opportunities—an extension of the life chances agenda that we started back in 2015—becomes a defining issue for this Government. Will he remember the seats in the south-west? We talk about the red wall, which is all brilliant, new and exciting, but we have a real job of work to do to improve life chances in the south-west.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. There are real pockets of poverty that we need to address in the south-west, particularly around Plymouth. The same is true in parts of the south, particularly in Portsmouth and Southampton. Although there is understandably a focus on the north and midlands, our broader focus is on moving prosperity and investment outside of London and the south-east, precisely to communities such as the one he serves so well.

The Coalfields Regeneration Trust, based in Wombwell, is the only organisation dedicated to supporting former mining towns in the UK. Its vital work includes improving health outcomes, providing employment support and boosting skills for communities where levelling up is needed most. Will the Secretary of State agree to meet the trust to learn more about its work?

I welcome the designation of North Northamptonshire as an education investment area. Would the Secretary of State be kind enough to explain to my constituents what that will mean for educational outcomes in Kettering?

Children in Kettering deserve the very best start in life. First of all, that means a relentless focus on standards and discipline. It means ensuring that we have systematic synthetic phonics in primary school, and that children are fully literate, numerate and capable of going to secondary school by the time they reach the end of key stage 2. It means multi-academy trusts, which are delivering higher standards where existing schools have failed. It can also mean—I would be happy to discuss this with my hon. Friend—a new 16 to 19 sixth form like Brampton Manor or Harris Westminster, providing children from working-class backgrounds with the chance to go to the very best universities.

I welcome the creation of the “Islands Forum” referred to on page 132 of the White Paper, and the news that the Secretary of State is to chair its first meeting—it is in his hands to ensure that it is not a talking shop. Item No. 1 on the agenda for that meeting has to be “Island future transport infrastructure needs”. The communities in Shetland are desperate to see the construction of tunnels and fixed links, and he could be the person to get the Scottish Government and the Treasury together to deliver that. Is he up for the challenge?

I am completely up for it. There are issues of connectivity and access to good quality services and investment in Orkney and Shetland, the Western Isles, Anglesey and the Isle of Wight. Although they are very different communities, they have shared interests. I will absolutely do what the right hon. Gentleman says.

I thank my right hon. Friend for his statement and—I say this as a former maths teacher—for his enthusiasm for numeracy. Will he clarify how his plans will deal with large and mostly rural counties such as Devon? On average, we can look as if we do not need much levelling up, but that hides a large variance, with huge disparities in opportunity within the county.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right; parts of Devon are relatively economically successful, but there are also areas, not least in South Molton and Barnstaple, in her constituency, where there is real poverty. One thing we are doing with the roll-out of gigabit broadband and better digital connectivity is making sure that businesses in those areas can provide better jobs and greater investment, but we will explore with the local authority in Devon what more we can do to give local leaders the powers they need to make a difference.

The Tories have been in power for 12 years, so does the Secretary of State agree that these vague plans to raise school standards in a third of local authority areas, including Bedford borough, is an admission of unforgivable failure and that any promised investment will never make up for the cuts started when he was Education Secretary, which blighted a generation of our children?

As the hon. Gentleman mentions my time at Education, let me say that we protected, in real-terms, funding for schools from five to 16; we introduced a pupil premium, which meant that £250 million of additional funding was targeted on the poorest; and in Bedford we opened Bedford Free School, an outstanding school that brought opportunity to disadvantaged children in his constituency. What did the Labour party in Bedford do? It fought it every step of the way. So if he wants opportunity for people in Bedford, he should come to this side of the House, because we are the real crusaders.

May I urge my right hon. Friend not to be downcast by the negativity of those on the Opposition Benches, but to be uplifted by the support he is receiving for his statement today from those on the Government Benches? In the west midlands, we are particularly pleased about the innovation accelerators and the smart city region programme, which can both be really effective through the galvanisation of the private sector. I am also pleased about the brownfield remediation money, which will stop the iniquitous building of houses on the green belt. May I say that we are awaiting transport money desperately needed for the royal town’s centre plans, which are being driven forward by the determination and vision of the Conservative-led Royal Sutton Coldfield Town Council?

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right on that. I know that he was instrumental in the success of Andy Street’s election as Mayor of the West Midlands Combined Authority, and Andy has shown what a pro-business, pro-free market Conservative Mayor can do. My right hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that the innovation accelerator in the west midlands will be a way of harnessing all of the talent in his constituency and beyond. I listened carefully to his plea for better transport to the royal borough of Sutton Coldfield. In my view, the quicker people can get to Sutton Coldfield, the better it is for everyone. It is a beautiful royal borough with a fantastic Member of Parliament.

I note the intention to pilot an innovation accelerator in Glasgow. It is to be led by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, the Scotland Office and other UK Government Departments, from the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities to the Department for International Trade, but no mention is made of the Scottish Government. Can he tell me what consultation there has been with the Scottish Government on the proposal?

My right hon. Friend will be aware that, despite the regeneration programmes in London over the past 30 years, the deprived wards in London are the same ones as they were 30 years ago. Will he assure the House that this will not be used as a reason to deprive London of money, despite the inaction of the do-nothing Mayor at the moment, but that it will be new investment in the north, midlands and across the UK?

Yes, my hon. Friend is absolutely right; levelling up is not about dampening down the success of London or overlooking the needs of disadvantaged communities in London. It is striking that when my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was Mayor of London the gaps in life expectancy and health outcomes between the wealthiest and the poorest parts of London narrowed. He was a one nation Mayor and he is a one nation Prime Minister.

I thank the Secretary of State for meeting me recently to discuss this subject. Sadly, it was a virtual meeting so we were unable to share a packet of Fox’s biscuits together—they come from my constituency. After 12 long years, I welcome any announcement that could result in much-needed, long overdue investment in the towns and villages in Batley and Spen. Does he agree that when it comes to levelling up, it is the reality on the ground that matters and the real-world, tangible differences it makes to communities? With that in mind, will he confirm that he will accept my invitation to come to Batley and Spen, so that I can show him at first hand not only the challenges we face, but the unique opportunities that levelling-up funding could provide?

First, we have set out clear missions, but the hon. Lady is absolutely right to say that we need to deliver on them. We want to be held to account for that delivery and it needs to be concrete. Secondly, she has been a great champion for community organisations and their capacity to bring people together. A new approach is outlined in the levelling-up White Paper on just that, which is inspired by her work and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Danny Kruger), so of course I will accept.

Eden Project North gained planning permission on Monday. Five long years, but we got there in the end. I will put it bluntly: how can my right hon. Friend help Eden Project North? The sooner he helps me, the sooner I will shut up about it and the sooner I can get on to the next project in my constituency.

Eden Project North has two brilliant advocates: my hon. Friend and the Prime Minister. I know I will not be long in this job if I do not deliver for both of them.

The levelling-up programme should not just be about shiny infrastructure projects. It should be about real people and life opportunities. Life expectancy is not addressed in this hefty document. Life expectancy in Windlesham in the Secretary of State’s constituency is 86.7 years; in parts of my constituency it is 72.5 years. That is staggering and grotesque. What will he do about that?

I completely agree with the hon. Gentleman that it is staggering and grotesque. One of the things we need to do is learn from Professor Michael Marmot and others about the drivers of health inequalities. I know that, in many cases, people such as the hon. Gentleman who worked in mining or heavy industry, even though it is a proud and amazing manufacturing sector, sometimes bear long-term health scars. We need to do more, and I look forward to working with him and others to address it.

It is brilliant news that small and medium-sized builders will get support to build 42,000 homes. Will the Secretary of State meet me and my Cornish colleagues to make sure those homes are retained by people who live in Cornwall?

The recording that emerged today of the Secretary of State talking of “dirty, toothless northerners” certainly deserves an apology, but is today’s statement not a continuation of that abuse? Having taken away £500, on average, from everyone in the north-east, we get little pots of recycled money and ambitions such as:

“By 2030, local public transport…will be significantly closer to the standards of London”.

That is eight years not even to catch up with London buses. What kind of ambition is that?

Speaking as an Aberdonian and as someone who was born further north than most people in this House, I can say there is no one more northern than me. Thinking particularly about this situation, one of the things we outlined in the White Paper is our proposal to ensure that the current North of Tyne Mayor can work with local authorities in the south of Tyneside, Gateshead and elsewhere to achieve precisely the goals that the hon. Lady wants.

I grew up in a northern industrial town, and I politely say to the hon. Member for Wigan (Lisa Nandy) that a plan for levelling-up opportunity is exactly what such towns need. Delivery is key, so will the Secretary of State make sure that we get shovels in the ground?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. She grew up in Accrington. Members like her, who know what it is to grow up in an industrial town, know what happened in the past, including under Labour, and know that we need investment, business and ambition. That is what this White Paper has.

The all-party parliamentary group on the UK shared prosperity fund, which I am proud to chair, has been calling on the Government to ensure that not a single penny is lost in the transition from the European structural funds to the SPF, but calculations by the Welsh Government confirm that the SPF will leave the UK close to £1 billion worse off and that Wales will get £750 million less. Will the Secretary of State meet our APPG to discuss how to ensure the nations and regions of our country do not get short-changed?

That is a fair point. On this occasion, I think that the calculations made by the Welsh Finance Minister, Vaughan Gething, for whom I have great respect, were wrong, but I would be more than happy to meet the hon. Gentleman and others to take them through our approach.

Levelling up in Bosworth uniquely looks like millions of pounds into Hinckley Academy, £28 million into Leicestershire broadband and £19.9 million into Twycross Zoo. On page 235 of the White Paper, the next level of levelling up is about the county deal, which is drastically needed by the seven MPs in Leicestershire. Will my right hon. Friend meet all seven of us to make sure that we can rocket fuel that by autumn 2022?

We absolutely will. I commend my hon. Friend for getting to page 235 of the White Paper so quickly.

When he was Mayor of London, the Prime Minister commissioned a report that asked for more tax-raising powers and the ability to borrow money for London, but that was rejected. The current Mayor is asking for powers to be able to raise money. If London cannot pay for its transport system, which city in this country can? Why are the Government standing in the way of devolution in London? Is the Secretary of State not just cherry-picking schemes across the country and standing in the way of devolution in the same way that he is in London?

No. There are two things. The first is that I had a good conversation with the Mayor of London yesterday. I stressed to him that we wanted to explore what potential there was for further devolution across all the mayoral combined authorities. There is a party political argument about the management of Transport for London which I will not revisit now, but simply saying that greater borrowing powers would solve all of London’s transport problems does not do justice to the scale of the issue. To be fair to the Mayor of London, I want to work with him in order to make sure that we can solve those problems.

I thank my right hon. Friend for his visit to my constituency on Monday. He will recall the excellent fish and chip lunch that we shared. During that lunch, a number of points were raised. First, can he ensure that LNER delivers on its promise of a direct rail service from Cleethorpes through to King’s Cross? Urgent decision making was also referred to, and the way to help delivery of that would be to create a level 3 authority in the county.

Those are very good points. We do need a direct train service to Grimsby and Cleethorpes. My hon. Friend’s other points are absolutely well made and well understood. I enjoyed the delicious fish and chips from Papa’s, with a side order of what I understand is called guacamole à la Mandelson.

I was interested to read about the national youth guarantee. A total of £500 million was announced by the Government in 2019 for the youth investment fund, but the first £10 million of capital funding was opened to bids only just a few weeks ago. Will the Secretary of State kindly urge his colleagues to turbo-charge the delivery of that funding so that our young people do not have to wait until 2025 to enjoy better opportunities and facilities?

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on taking back control and on his strategic approach to levelling up across the whole of the United Kingdom. This contrasts so favourably with the billions of pounds of European aid that the Labour party wasted in Wales over the past 20 years. May I ask him to pay particular attention to those areas in Wales that did not qualify for European aid, so that we can be levelled up at last?

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. We need to make sure that the additional funding available through the UK shared prosperity fund goes to all the communities in Wales that deserve it.

The Secretary of State bursts with enthusiasm today, yet his plans are not bursting with much new funding. Even the director of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership says that

“the government is planning to spend less on English regional development than was the case under Theresa May or David Cameron.”

It said that true levelling up would need long-term financial backing from the Chancellor. When will we see that?

I really welcome this statement. I welcome that Kirklees will be an education investment area. I welcome that Kirklees will get extra support from the high streets task force, but can we make sure that it is not just the swanky cities of the north like Leeds that are levelled up, but it is also our towns such as Huddersfield, Milnsbridge, Holmfirth, Marsden, Slaithwaite and, of course, Doncaster, Madam Deputy Speaker?

I could not agree more. I have nothing against Leeds; I love Leeds. [Hon. Members: “That’s not what it says about you!”] My name is hymned by children in Leeds streets, I know. The serious point is that there is cultural investment in Kirklees, not least in Huddersfield, and my hon. Friend is absolutely right that more needs to be done for all the authorities in Kirklees and for the towns in West Yorkshire surrounding them.

The stark reality is that someone who lives in the inner city of Bradford is likely to live 10 years less than someone who lives in an affluent suburb. Although I accept that the Government plan commits to raising health and life expectancy, it does not go far enough. One of the issues is the top-down approach. I sincerely and constructively ask the Secretary of State to meet me to discuss transformative new proposals that are being put forward by local grassroots community groups in Bradford to change health inequalities and to address the real issue.

I remember as a schoolboy watching Tony Blair and Gordon Brown fly into Birmingham by helicopter to say that every job at Longbridge would be saved. Seventeen years on, it is this Conservative Government who have given West Works six million quid to provide the new jobs that are needed locally. This Conservative Government will be helping St Modwen and other developers to make sure that we build on the land at Lowhill Lane. Will the Secretary of State visit, with me, the biggest levelling-up project in Birmingham and the west midlands?

The west midlands is succeeding at last under Conservative leadership, such as that provided by Andy Street and my hon. Friend.

In South Shields: freeport bid—rejected; levelling-up bid—rejected; towns fund bid—rejected; transport funding—rejected. We have suffered Tory cuts of nearly £200 million. Tinkering with our governance alone will not change a thing. The Secretary of State once praised policies that, in his own words, meant

“the happy south stamps over the cruel, dirty, toothless face of the northerner”.

Is he proud that he has managed to do exactly the same again today?

I think that South Shields does deserve better. That is why we are going to work with the North of Tyne Mayor to ensure that across Tyneside, both north and south, we have the right structures and the right investment in place.

In Cumbria, if there is support for a mayoral model but some opposition to it, will the Government take statutory powers to ensure that the mayoral model prevails?

Six of the nine areas in Ceredigion rank in the bottom 10% of areas across the UK for decent broadband coverage. How will the hardest-to-reach premises, such as those in Ceredigion, be targeted for public investment?

I will work with the hon. Gentleman and, indeed, with the Senedd and the Welsh Government to ensure that we can roll out broadband. I recognise that lots of small businesses in Ceredigion—in Aberystwyth and all the way up to Machynlleth—need that support, and we will be there for them.

I refer the House to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. Following this excellent document and having recognised the value of cultural investment, will my right hon. Friend meet me to discuss some of the exciting ways in which some of our major arts organisations, including those based in London, are prepared to participate in the levelling up throughout the whole country?

I absolutely will. My hon. Friend is a keen champion of arts, culture and, in particular, music. The institutions that we have in London are fantastic, but they can play a real part with institutions such as the Hallé and others in the north to improve cultural opportunities for all.

Since 2010, Conservative Governments have cut £2.1 billion in funds to Sheffield City Council. Our annual grant is £288 million lower in real terms. Today, the Secretary of State announced £13 million and described it as transformational. If that is transformational, how would he describe the money we have lost? When will he restore it?

I do not think that I described it as transformational; I think it was the Labour Mayor of South Yorkshire, who said that it had the “potential” to be transformational. I am looking forward to working with the Labour Mayor of South Yorkshire in order to achieve that transformation.

I welcome this White Paper and the multi-billion pound investments in brownfield regeneration, connectivity, research and development, and especially the innovation accelerators, which in Cheadle and across Greater Manchester will make a real difference to all those businesses that want the extra help to start up. Will my right hon. Friend say whether, as well as civic leaders, business leaders will be part of the design of the accelerator?

Absolutely. I had the opportunity, thanks to my hon. Friend, to visit Cheadle and indeed other parts of Greater Manchester just a fortnight ago. Thanks to her advocacy, I was also able to meet some of the business figures most interested in making sure that innovation in Manchester succeeds, and I want to continue to work with them because the business voice is critical to the success of the north-west.

How are people in Scotland supposed to see the UK Government making spending and policy decisions in areas that are supposed to be devolved as anything other than a power grab?

Oh, the hon. Gentleman did not make it to Glasgow—never mind. He is a graduate of another great university in Glasgow. We are investing money in that university to recognise that the constituency he represents has incredibly talented young people, and we want them to succeed, just like him.

I thank the Secretary of State for his statement and welcome the radical shake-up contained in this White Paper. My ears pricked up when I heard him mention Warrington and funding for better public transport—120 new electric buses for Warrington. Thank you, Secretary of State. Does he agree that, if we want to get people into jobs, we have to provide the public transport to help them get there?

That is absolutely, totally, 100% correct, and it is my right hon. Friend the Transport Secretary who deserves all the credit.

Hounslow is in the second most prosperous UK sub-region by gross value added, but thanks to 11 years of Government policies, 40% of Hounslow’s children live in poverty, so when will levelling up address inequality within communities as well as between them?

That is a very important point. What we need to do is to make sure that we work with the Mayor of London, but also with Hounslow Borough Council and those who are involved in providing opportunity for young people in the communities the hon. Member represents, to give them a better chance in the future.

We are under way, levelling up in Scunthorpe and we are unashamedly ambitious to do more. Can I offer a very strong invitation to my right hon. Friend to come to visit us, so we can show him what we are doing and have a chat about future opportunities?

Absolutely. I enjoyed visiting Grimsby and Cleethorpes earlier this week. North-east Lincolnshire is great. It is time I visited north Lincolnshire as well.

Wirral Council is facing a budget black hole of more than £20 million. I have pledged to do whatever I can to save the fantastic public services that so many of my constituents rely on, and I am grateful to the Secretary of State for kindly agreeing to meet me and my hon. Friends from the Wirral to discuss this very serious situation. Levelling up will remain nothing more than an empty catchphrase as long as local authorities such as mine are forced to consider closing libraries, leisure centres and swimming pools. Ahead of our meeting, can he tell me if he thinks this White Paper comes anywhere close to undoing the enormous damage done to local authorities’ finances since 2010?

I am looking forward to a meeting. I recognise that there are real issues in the Wirral, which I hope we can work together to resolve.

I thank the Secretary of State so much for taking forward the islands forum idea. Sadly, I did not get beyond page 132, because that is where it was. Can he assure us that the forum will give a voice to islands such as the Isle of Wight to be part of the prosperity agenda in education and high-quality jobs, as well as in landscape and seascape protection for some of the most unique and beautiful parts of Great Britain?

Absolutely. The islands forum is an idea developed following conversations with and advocacy from my hon. Friend. We recognise absolutely, as he has consistently pointed out, that island communities face particular challenges as a result of distance and dispersal, and we need to tackle them.

I welcome the Secretary of State’s commitment to meet me, my hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Mick Whitley) and other Wirral MPs. Woodchurch leisure centre and swimming pool and libraries in Greasby, Irby, Hoylake, Pensby and Woodchurch are all under threat of closure because of Wirral Council having to make up to £27 million of savings as a direct result of brutal cuts from Conservative Governments since 2010, so can the Secretary of State make sure that he provides emergency funding to save these vital services?

I look forward to discussing that at a meeting with the hon. Lady and the hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mick Whitley).

I welcome the enhanced bus service on its way to Derbyshire, the Derbyshire county deal and the fact that Derbyshire is going to be an education investment area, on top of the future high streets £10 million for Buxton, the £137 million for the Hope Valley upgrade and the £228 million Mottram bypass, but there is a democratic deficit I am worried about. The Mayor of Greater Manchester takes decisions that have a huge impact on High Peak, but we have no say in them. What can we say to having more collaborative working, ensuring that levelling up works for everyone across regional boundaries?

My hon. Friend makes an important point. High Peak contains some of the most beautiful and important parts of Derbyshire, but it is also part of the greater economic area around Greater Manchester. I therefore want to ensure, with him, Derbyshire leaders and the Mayor of Greater Manchester, that we are working together in the interests of my hon. Friend’s constituents.

With this scheme, the highlands are set to lose out on tens of millions of pounds compared with EU funding. The highlands have been placed in category 3—the lowest of all the categories—and face significant financial challenges in accessing the cash. This is the largest local authority area in the UK. Why are the highlands so low on this Government’s agenda?

The highlands are at the top of the Government’s agenda. The UK shared prosperity funding that we are guaranteeing will ensure that highland communities get the investment that they need, but more than that, the roll-out of 4G and 5G will also help highland communities. It is the case that the Scottish Government have not necessarily rolled out broadband as quickly as those communities would want, as colleagues such as Donald Cameron in the Scottish Parliament have pointed out. I want to work with him and the Scottish Government to serve the people whom he represents.

I know that my right hon. Friend believes that local leaders know best when it comes to regenerating local areas, and when it comes to Buckinghamshire, he is absolutely right. Buckinghamshire Council, which effectively created the concept of county deals, is very disappointed not to be one of the first nine, so will he tell me how soon the second tranche will be announced, because Bucks is poised to not just negotiate, but spring into action?

I absolutely appreciate that and Martin Tett, the leader of Buckinghamshire Council, is a first-rate local authority leader. I cannot give a timescale at the moment. We want to make sure that the first nine county deals are successful, but we want to move on rapidly thereafter to expand the scope of county deals.

My constituency is repeatedly overlooked for funding, whether that is for the future high streets fund, the towns fund or the levelling-up fund, but at the same time, bids from other areas that score lower on the Government’s criteria are successful. The Secretary of State will appreciate that there is little trust that the White Paper will deliver anything for my community, so what assurances can he give me that any future bids for funding will be judged fairly and that my constituency will finally get the cash that it deserves?

There are clear and objective criteria for funding, but it is also the case that some local authorities may need help with building capacity to make sure that their bids are as effective as possible. I extend the resources of the Department to the hon. Gentleman and his local authority to make sure that they put in the best bids possible.

This is a plan that provides opportunity and growth throughout every part of our country; I am looking particularly at mission 6, on skills training. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is the Conservatives who really help people to get on in life?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Of course, she represents a constituency with one of the finest universities in the country and she recognises the vital importance of higher education, further education and schools working together to extend opportunity.

Speaking as a former Minister in Northern Ireland, our Executive had far more control over the allocation of structural funds when we were in the EU than they do over levelling-up funds today. Does the Secretary of State recognise that the UK’s approach to levelling-up funds, particularly the shared prosperity fund, means only reduced resource for Northern Ireland and risks duplication and waste, as well as competition in the shared public space over the scarce resources that remain?

I respectfully disagree, but I recognise that the hon. Gentleman has a wealth of experience in this area, so I want to work with him, his party and his party’s Minister in the Executive to make sure that we minimise bureaucracy and maximise effectiveness.

The west midlands has some world-leading, innovative companies as well as universities and research institutions doing ground-breaking research, but public research and development investment in the west midlands has been low compared with other areas, even though for every £1 of Government investment, we have seen a private sector return of £4. How will the innovation accelerator help to close that gap?

My hon. Friend brilliantly encapsulates the challenge. The innovation accelerator will bring together representatives from the private sector—from business—as well as those in the outstanding universities that, as he rightly points out, are a feature of the west midlands in order to ensure that its manufacturing strengths can be leveraged more effectively. I look forward to working with him and others to achieve that.

The broken housing market is the bigger driver of inequality across York, with the boom in second homes and holiday lets. Therefore, the aspiration of the people of York is being denied. Rather than throwing us dead cats with the House of Lords, will the Secretary of State throw us a proper agenda to address the housing crisis in York?

Three important points. First, the hon. Lady is absolutely right that there are things we need to do to tackle the housing market, in particular the second homes issue. It is complex, as she understands, but there is more that needs to be done. Secondly, I hope she will support the proposed mayoral deal for York and North Yorkshire, which I think will give some of the powers necessary to deal with the problems she mentioned. Thirdly, the House of Lords in York, or for that matter Glasgow, would be a great thing.

Can my right hon. Friend confirm that, as we look forward, levelling up applies to need not geography, and that the most deprived areas in Basildon and Thurrock will see the benefits to allow south Essex to reach its full potential?

Yes, absolutely. We need to target need. We need to recognise that, in the south-east, London, Oxford and Cambridge are the three crown jewels generating wealth, but that there are communities that do not share in that prosperity. I should point out that one of the poorest areas, if not the poorest, in the country is Jaywick in the borough of Tendring, represented by my hon. Friend the Member for Clacton (Giles Watling). It is critically important that we work with local government leaders to address poverty wherever we find it.

If the British Government were serious about levelling up and using Brexit freedoms, as they call them, would they not be devolving key economic levers to Wales, such as powers over VAT and corporation tax?

That is an interesting idea, but I am not sure the hon. Gentleman’s friends in Plaid Cymru would necessarily take an approach to VAT and corporation tax that was as pro-enterprise as I would like. The key thing is that we need to make sure the UK remains competitive overall. His constituents in Carmarthen East and Dinefwr will benefit thereby.

I welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement today and thank him for Southport’s £38.5 million town deal. But will he ensure that jobs, growth and investment are at the heart of his levelling-up agenda and that vanity projects, such as those proposed under the active travel scheme, do not supersede them?

My hon. Friend makes a very important point. We of course want to encourage cycling and walking, but we need to balance that with the need to ensure that thriving economic areas such as Southport, which are at the heart of the success of not just Sefton but Greater Merseyside and Lancashire, are given the opportunity to provide the economic growth for which he has been such an effective champion.

The Secretary of State talks about shifting power and resources to communities. I think he made one mention of Wales. In the case of Wales, the opposite is true. These proposals ride roughshod over devolution, override our democratically elected Government and short-change us to the tune of £1 billion by 2024. The truth of the matter is that the proposals will result in further hardship and poverty for my constituents in Cynon Valley and throughout the UK. So I implore the Secretary of State to listen to my constituents and the people of this country, respect devolution and restore the missing £1 billion to Wales.

I respectfully disagree. When I was recently visiting Merthyr and Pontypridd, I found that actually the investment we are making through the levelling-up fund was welcomed by Labour and independent councillors in south Wales. Obviously, we need to do more not just for south Wales but for north Wales, which is why there is a commitment in the White Paper to ensure more civil service jobs move to Wrexham.

I, too, welcome the investment in education and public transport in Derbyshire. While my right hon. Friend is negotiating county deals in Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire, will he perhaps give a little shove towards full proper devolution and a mayor for the east midlands?

That is definitely worth exploring. I recognise that there are particular geographical—what is the word?—issues across the east midlands, but I think the success of Andy Street in the west midlands has meant that more options are opening.

Since 2010, £465 million has been cut from Liverpool City Council, with £34 million in this coming financial year. Local government staff have had their pay cut by 20% since 2010 in real terms. Will the Secretary of State, if he is genuinely committed to tackling and reversing inequality, tell us when local government workers can expect a 50% pay increase like the commissioners in Liverpool City Council, or will he agree to meet me and my colleagues to look at that eye-watering decision?

Liverpool City Council has had a troubled past recently, but it has a new leadership committed to change and reform. The commissioners are a vital part of that process. I am more than happy to talk to the hon. Lady and other Liverpool MPs—[Interruption.] If we did not have those commissioners there, we would not be dealing with the legacy of corruption and incompetence, and whether the hon. Member for Wigan (Lisa Nandy) wants to defend that past or be part of a brighter future is her choice.

Levelling up is as relevant in North West Norfolk as it is in the north, so I welcome the invitation for Norfolk to negotiate a county deal, which I hope will see more local powers and resources. Education is at the heart of spreading opportunity, so will my right hon. Friend confirm that Norfolk’s selection as one of the new education investment areas will mean extra support and dedicated action to give more young people a good start in life?

Absolutely. For example, we want to ensure that the sort of model used at Sir Isaac Newton Sixth Form in Norwich, which provides an excellent opportunity for children denied it in the past, is spread across Norfolk as part of our EIA initiative.

Wales is set to be denied £4.6 billion as a result of the Government classifying HS2 as an England and Wales project, despite the Treasury finding that Wales would lose out on £150 million per annum as a result of HS2. That does not sound like levelling up to me. Does the Secretary of State agree?

I do not think Wales loses out as a result of HS2. I think north Wales in particular benefits significantly because of increased connectivity. However, I respectfully say to the hon. Gentleman that the Labour party needs to sort out its position on HS2. When the Leader of the Opposition was campaigning to be elected in Camden, he said that one of top priorities was to oppose HS2, and then when we brought forward proposals to extend HS2, he criticised them. There is an inconsistency in the Labour party’s position on infrastructure investment. I know that the hon. Gentleman’s heart is in the right place, but the Labour party’s HS2 policy currently is not.

I represent a London constituency with two of the most deprived wards in the entire country. Does my right hon. Friend agree that levelling up is also about deprived areas in our inner cities? Will he back my campaign for step-free access at Ladbroke Grove tube station?

Absolutely. My hon. Friend is right. One of the things that the White Paper brings out in a look at the borough of Kensington is the fact that it contains both some of the wealthiest areas in the country and some of the poorest. Without wanting to stray into another important area—although it is important to refer to it—the suffering of Grenfell families and the community around them is a reminder of our need to ensure that opportunity and security are extended to those who have suffered in the past, and they have had no better champion in this House than my hon. Friend.

Order. I am afraid that we must bring this statement to an end. I am sorry that we have not been able to get everyone in, but we did manage about 70 in the hour and a half that was allocated. We have more business to move on to, but I thank the Secretary of State for his statement.