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Levelling-up Fund

Volume 720: debated on Monday 17 October 2022

3. How much and what proportion of the £4.8 billion levelling-up fund has his Department allocated to local authorities since that fund was announced in October 2021. (901631)

17. When his Department plans to announce the allocation of funds under the levelling-up fund round 2. (901645)

21. What his planned timetable is for (a) announcing the successful bids under levelling-up fund round 2 and (b) disbursing that funding. (901649)

Round 1 of the levelling-up fund saw a total £1.7 billion awarded to 85 lead applicants across 105 bids from the UK. Of this, my Department has awarded £1.24 billion, with £187 million paid out to date. We expect that figure to increase significantly as these projects move through the delivery phases. I expect to announce the outcome of round 2 by the end of this year, with funding decisions based on the framework set out in our levelling-up fund guidance.

Inverclyde has a very strong bid in, but we need maximum co-operation between this UK Government and my Inverclyde Council to ensure that we can line up all the ducks at our end and therefore get a maximum return on the investment. I heard the Minister saying that this would be announced at the end of the year, but last week I was being told that it would be at the end of November, so things seem to be slipping there, which concerns me. When will he tell me that Inverclyde has been successful, and how much money is he going to give me?

Fond as I am of the hon. Gentleman, I will not give him the money directly, but we will deliver it by the end of the year.

I welcome my right hon. Friend’s answer, but can he confirm that levelling up is about need and not about geography, because while Essex as a whole may be seen as prosperous, there are pockets of deprivation that would greatly benefit from levelling-up funding?

My hon. Friend is exactly right: levelling up is all about pockets of need, wherever they occur in this country. I know that there are many pockets in the south of England that are deprived, and it is vital to get the message out across the House that levelling up is a Union-wide concept with benefits for every corner of the country from London to Leeds right up to the north of Scotland and to the west of Wales. It is a concept with applicability wherever there is need.

Dover District Council has developed the exciting Dover Beacon bid project, which would deliver £90 million-worth of economic benefit to the town and up to 60 skilled jobs, transforming a derelict site into a new creative and digital campus and a Dover school of art and design. Does my right hon. Friend agree that this is an excellent proposal from Dover District Council, and can he confirm when a decision will be made?

My hon. Friend is a fantastic advocate for Dover on so many issues. She will understand, I hope, that I cannot comment on the merits of specific bids while we are evaluating them, but it is vital that she continues to champion the bid that has been brought forward for her town.

Eastwood is famous for two things: D. H. Lawrence and a whole list of lazy Labour MPs who have not brought one penny of investment into the forgotten town of Nottinghamshire. Things are going to change. We have just put in a £20 million levelling up bid, which will help the most deprived town in Nottinghamshire. Will my right hon. Friend please meet me to discuss my ideas to make sure that we get this money in the bank as soon as possible?

I am always happy to meet my hon. Friend, who is such a fantastic advocate for his constituency, which I think he has made iconic through his work. As I have just said to my hon. Friend the Member for Dover (Mrs Elphicke), I cannot comment on a specific bid, but I am always happy to talk about the issues affecting places such as Eastwood.

Please could I remind the right hon. Gentleman that levelling-up funding was a pivotal part of this Government’s general election manifesto in 2019? Could I also remind him that round 2 of the levelling-up funding was expected by now? We are now in mid-October. Could he let me and my constituents know when we might see an answer on round 2, such that we might fund the Cullompton relief road?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his reminder, but I need no reminder of the importance on the need for levelling up. That is indeed why my colleagues and I were elected in 2019, and we will bring forward our answers on round 2 by the end of this year.

How can the Minister claim to be levelling up when his Government have presided over a net loss in funding for large parts of the country, such as the north-west, which will lose out by £206 million under the shared prosperity fund?

I can absolutely defend our record on levelling up. There is a £4.8 billion levelling-up fund, which is transforming opportunities across this country. The hon. Member need only look at the response of communities across the north-west to our manifesto in 2019, when we were joined on the Government side of the House by so many fantastic colleagues from that region, to see that people buy into that vision.

When the Secretary of State launched the levelling-up fund, it was denounced by the Scottish nationalist Government in Holyrood as a “power grab.” Now, of course, SNP MPs and SNP councils are only too eager to apply to benefit from the levelling-up fund. What conclusions does my right hon. Friend draw from the vast divergence between the rhetoric of Nicola Sturgeon and the reality of SNP MPs wanting all the financial benefits of being in the United Kingdom?

This is a fitting opportunity to pay tribute to my right hon. Friend for all his work in this Department. He is a fantastic champion of not only levelling up but the Union as well. As he rightly says, on this day of all days, when Nicola Sturgeon is bringing forward her vision, it is particularly ironic that we hear so much about the strength of the Union and the support it offers to communities across Scotland, to the benefit of SNP Members’ constituents.

We were told that major transport projects would be secured as part of the Government’s commitment to levelling up. There is no bigger major transport project in Wales than closing the level crossing at Pencoed in my Ogmore constituency, which opens up the gateway down to Swansea and Pembrokeshire. The project costs in excess of £20 million. If the Secretary of State wants to commit to the people of Wales, he should fund the level crossing closure, improve the area around Pencoed and ensure my constituency gets the money it was promised.

The hon. Gentleman makes a passionate case for this project, which obviously needs to be considered in the round, including by my colleagues in the Department for Transport. We have certainly heard him today. There is no doubt that accelerating infrastructure that unlocks growth is a key priority for this Government.

Although I support the Government’s levelling-up agenda and funding, there is concern in rural parts of Shropshire and the semi-rural borough of Telford and Wrekin that some areas of the west midlands are perhaps being overlooked. Can the Secretary of State reassure my constituents that the bids from Telford and Wrekin Council and Shropshire Council for electric buses and the regeneration of Wellington will not be overlooked in the second round?

I can certainly give my right hon. Friend that assurance. Not least thanks to his efforts, there will never be any chance of his part of the world being ignored.

The Government’s levelling-up plans have made so little impact that they have had to resort to paying local newspapers to carry positive stories. That is right: they are paying for positive coverage. These ads breach Advertising Standards Authority rules and have subsequently been banned. This is a risible episode. Will the Secretary of State come clean that the only conclusion to be drawn is that levelling up is a sham?

I am afraid I will neither do that nor accept the premise. With regard to these seven adverts, we have apologised. They all bore the HMG logo very clearly and were marked as advertorials. We accept the ASA’s decision, but we fundamentally believe it was appropriate for us to try to spread the message that levelling up has applicability across this country and is doing real good. Colleagues on both sides of the House have spoken about the projects they want to see delivered, which shows the appetite for this programme to succeed.

I am grateful for that answer, but the reality is that the Government have taken £431 per head in funding from local authorities. Now, through the programme that the Secretary of State trumpets, they will be handing back just £31 per head from the levelling-up fund. Even the winners lose.

Those who have been promised money are now concerned that Downing Street’s economic crisis and soaring inflation will mean their bids are no longer affordable. Will the Secretary of State commit that no bid either submitted or approved will have to be downgraded to accommodate the mess the Government have made of the economy?

The hon. Gentleman has to understand the situation we are in with regard to inflation. It is absolutely the case that, owing to the consequences of Putin’s war, prices are rising—[Interruption.] I will accept many things at the Government’s door, but I will not accept inflation as a consequence of Putin’s war. There is a clear read through to the costs of many issues, and this affects economies across the west. Neither central Government nor local government can expect to buck inflation, or to accommodate the cost of inflation in our settlements. There is therefore a mechanism within the levelling-up fund to allow bids to be resized for inflation.

Thank you, Mr Speaker.

My hon. Friend the Member for Inverclyde (Ronnie Cowan) has raised his concerns about levelling-up funds reaching his constituency, but if levelling up is to mean anything, it should ultimately be about reducing child poverty. In Scotland, the Scottish Government are doing what they can to deal with child poverty, but in my constituency it stands at a shocking 25%, and that figure is set to increase thanks to the decisions made by the UK Government. So will the Secretary of State explain what reduction in these shocking levels of child poverty he believes will be achieved as a result of the levelling-up agenda?

The levelling-up agenda is broad and wide, but it does not take account of the levers that sit with the hon. Lady’s parent Government in Holyrood. Whether on welfare, drugs or education, so many of the things that will make a difference to children’s lives sit within the responsibility of the Scottish Government. They need to work those levers.