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Regional Inequality

Volume 723: debated on Monday 21 November 2022

4. What recent assessment he has made with Cabinet colleagues of the potential impact of increases in (a) interest rates and (b) inflation on regional inequality. (902294)

It is because we are concerned about the impact of inflation and increases in interest rates that this autumn statement protected the most vulnerable by uprating benefits and pensions with inflation, strengthening the energy price guarantee, and providing cost of living payments.

With your permission, Mr Speaker, I would also like to update the House on the score in Qatar: it is now 5-1 to England. I feel it is appropriate for me to do this because the hon. Member for Nottingham North (Alex Norris) has been providing a running commentary on the answers being given from the Treasury Bench, so it is only fair that we provide a running commentary that the country actually wants to hear.

Excuse me! Secretary of State, I thought you were in charge of levelling up—it doesn’t look that way with that score!

I would have informed the House of that, had the Secretary of State not got there before me. After promising to match EU structural funds in the Government’s manifesto, and then taking £1 billion a year out of them for the replacement shared prosperity fund, how can the Secretary of State claim to be levelling up when his Government have presided over a net loss in funding across the country, including in the north-west, which stands to lose £206 million under the shared prosperity fund, which the Government have failed even to inflation-proof?

It is not just the UK shared prosperity fund, but the levelling-up fund that has seen money go to not just Liverpool city region, but all those areas we are targeting that have been overlooked and undervalued in the past. Specifically, the UK shared prosperity fund has provided £52 million for the Liverpool city region—money that I know will be well invested by Steve Rotheram and others.

May I pay tribute to the Iranian team, who refused to sing their national anthem, which was very brave of them?

In areas such as Lichfield, which have very high property prices, people who hold mortgages will also be affected by high interest rates. Although Lichfield is generally regarded as an area to which others might wish to level up to, we do have areas of deprivation. For that reason, may I urge my right hon. Friend to look at our levelling-up bid because it is desperately needed for Lichfield’s people—not those in expensive houses, but those who are in more difficult positions?

Lichfield is the jewel of Staffordshire, but even the most glittering jewels sometimes have flaws and, as a rough diamond himself, I know that my hon. Friend will appreciate that. I recognise that there is a need to help all those parts of the United Kingdom and the west midlands where, even though there may be prosperity, there is inequality that needs to be addressed.

I welcome the update on the football scores; it foreshadows what we intend to do to the Government side at the next general election. The truth is, before they crashed the economy, they were already struggling. Twelve months; 12 directors not in post; 12 missions going backwards. Only a third of the levelling-up funds has been allocated, and after wasting our time with the short-lived investment zones, the second round is months behind schedule. According to a circular, a local planning department performing at this level would have been put into special measures by now, by the Secretary of State. Can we bring some sense to this madness, end the “Hunger Games”-style competition, and allow all our communities—not just his favourites—to decide how their own money is spent?

I welcome the questions from the Marcus Rashford of the Labour party—the person coming on at the last minute may actually change the fortunes of the team for the better, who knows? I wish the hon. Lady good luck in all future penalty shoot-outs. If it is “The Hunger Games” we are talking about, it is the Labour party leadership contest that is closer to that than any other contest in this House. On the substantive point that she makes, it is important that we look at how we fund local government overall. There of course needs to be competitive funding to make sure we can learn from the best, but we need to look at formula funding as well, and we shall.

I am more than happy to be compared to Marcus Rashford, feeding our kids when the Government let them go starving hungry. We have almost as many funding pots in the Secretary of State’s Department as we have had Ministers in the past 12 months. Can he not see the problem? We both know that the only way out of this crisis is to get local and regional economies growing, so how can it be that the key Department responsible for that was the biggest loser in last week’s autumn statement? It makes no sense, unless the Government have collectively decided to abandon attempts to level up our regional economies. Can he clarify this for the House: when they came for his budget, was he just ignored by the Chancellor, or did he not put up any fight at all?

The autumn statement was at a time of challenging news for the global economy. It was absolutely the right response and, again, not only did we secure a significant, record increase in funding for local government at the previous spending review, but we, as my hon. Friend the Member for North East Derbyshire (Lee Rowley) pointed out, secured billions additionally for adult social care and for children’s services. Once more, local government is securing the funding it needs under a Conservative Government who are putting stability and growth first.