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Levelling-up White Paper: Impact on Regional Inequality

Volume 710: debated on Monday 7 March 2022

5. What assessment he has made of the impact of the proposals in the levelling-up White Paper on regional inequality in the UK. (905899)

15. What assessment he has made of the impact of the proposals in the levelling-up White Paper on regional inequality in the UK. (905909)

18. What assessment he has made of the impact of the proposals in the levelling-up White Paper on regional inequality in the UK. (905912)

The proposals in the levelling-up White Paper are already reducing regional inequality. Whether it is through urban regeneration in Wolverhampton and Sheffield, new education investment areas across the country, or a commitment to addressing the health inequality that holds so many people back, this Government are making progress to make opportunity more equal for all.

I have been supporting the levelling-up fund bid by my hon. Friends the Members for Dewsbury (Mark Eastwood) and for Penistone and Stocksbridge (Miriam Cates) to upgrade the Huddersfield-Penistone-Sheffield railway line. I have also been working on my own bid to regenerate disused mills in my Colne Valley constituency. Will the Secretary of State please tell me when we will get more details on the next round of levelling-up fund bids, which are transforming our constituencies?

Colne Valley, and indeed Kirklees more broadly, has no more effective advocate than my hon. Friend, and the bid he has put forward has much to commend it. I will discuss with the Secretary of State for Transport and the Chancellor of the Exchequer what we can do, but more detail will be shared when the Chancellor makes his spring statement.

Dudley Metropolitan Borough Council and I are currently working on a masterplan for an area called Lye, an historic market town in my constituency that is in much need of regeneration. The intention is to put in a bid for the levelling-up fund. Will my right hon. Friend support me in encouraging my constituents to put themselves forward and have their say in the consultation? There is of course an open door and my right hon. Friend is welcome to come to my constituency to see exactly what regeneration is needed.

There are few more attractive parts of the Black Country and the west midlands than my hon. Friend’s constituency. I have not yet visited the community of Lye—I am sure that all sorts of puns could follow—but the proposition that she puts forwards, which is increased community involvement in town masterplanning, is at the heart of our approach towards redevelopment.

I am delighted that the UK Government have recently signed a memorandum of understanding with Wrexham and Denbighshire councils in order to allow the first phase of the £13.3 million levelling-up projects in Clwyd South to progress. Will my right hon. Friend provide further detail on how he sees these levelling-up fund projects addressing regional inequality in my part of north Wales?

My hon. Friend makes a very important point. North Wales has been neglected under previous Labour Governments. It is only this Conservative Administration who are making sure that communities such as Wrexham and Llangollen get the investment they deserve. He and my hon. Friend the estimable Member for Wrexham (Sarah Atherton) have put forward exciting propositions and we want to make sure that the whole north Wales corridor, from Ynys Môn, over the border into Liverpool and Chester, becomes a supercharged corridor for growth, and that will only happen under this Government.

The Government’s White Paper is rightly ambitious. I think there will be general support for that ambition across the House, and rightly so, because we have some of the most unequal economies and societies among any developed countries. Is the Secretary of State not slightly concerned, however, that the tools he has at his disposal to address this are actually a small number of separate spending pots, completely disjointed and unconnected, and distributed according to a completely inappropriate bidding process? Does the Secretary of State not really want to see a review of total Government spending, of where it is spent in the country, and then the allocation and more control over that to local councils and local mayors so that it can be spent in the interests of local communities?

My constituents in Fleetwood hear about levelling up an awful lot, but they are not really seeing the benefits of it. Applications by Wyre Borough Council for the future high streets fund and the levelling-up fund have been knocked back, so can the Minister tell my Fleetwood constituents when they can expect to get this levelling up?

Absolutely. I am more than happy to talk to Lancashire County Council and, indeed, to the hon. Lady about how we can ensure that levelling-up funds and UK shared prosperity and other funds flow to her constituents.

There was much to welcome in the White Paper, but, as we have just heard, we now need to see the investment to match that ambition. I understand that the Secretary of State might be in my neck of the woods in the very near future. He will be warmly welcome, particularly if he brings the Treasury cheque book with him. May I ask him specifically for an update on the £900 million that I have requested for South Yorkshire to match the shared prosperity fund commitments that the Government have rightly made to Cornwall?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for the points that he makes. He is absolutely right: we need to make sure that the replacements for EU funding are distributed equitably and efficiently across the country. I completely understand the desire that he and others in South Yorkshire have to see that money out of the door as quickly as possible and in communities making a difference. We will be updating the House on our progress towards ensuring that that money is available along the timeline of the spring statement.

The reality is that the rhetoric is just not matching up to what the Government say they want it to deliver, but those analysts at Oxford Economics are not fooled. They say the levelling-up White Paper contains

little that is new or significant.

They say that there is nothing to cause them to revise their national and regional growth forecast, and they call its targets and missions either “pre-existing or “vague”. That is a damning indictment. What we needed was a plan to bring good jobs back to all communities to breathe life into our high streets and to transfer power from Whitehall to local communities. This White Paper is not going to address regional inequalities, is it?

The hon. Gentleman said that the rhetoric is not matching up to the delivery, which suggests, actually, that we are underselling what we are doing. I think what he meant to say, if he had written out his question more clearly, is that the delivery is not matching up to the rhetoric. I have to disagree with him on that, because a plethora of organisations from Onward to the Institute for Public Policy Research have pointed out that everything in the levelling-up White Paper is what Labour should have been doing when it was in power.

Scotland was promised £1.5 billion a year when the UK left the European Union, as part of a so-called Brexit bonanza. In reality, only £172 million has been announced so far. That means that, for every pound promised to Scotland, only 11p has been committed. Can the Secretary of State explain why Scotland is being short-changed by 89%, and will he tell us when that shortfall will be addressed?

It is the case that we want to welcome more bids to the levelling up fund from Scotland; indeed, we are in discussion with Scottish local authorities and others about the distribution of the UK shared prosperity fund. However, I hope I can avoid provoking a blush on the hon. Lady’s cheek if I say that her local authority of North Ayrshire, North Ayrshire’s Member of the Scottish Parliament and the hon. Lady herself have been uniquely successful in securing funding from the levelling-up fund. I encourage other Members of the Scottish National party to be as energetic, co-ordinated and effective as she, the MSP for North Ayrshire and North Ayrshire Council have been.