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Levelling-up Agenda

Volume 723: debated on Monday 21 November 2022

8. What recent discussions he has had with his counterparts in the devolved Administrations on the potential impacts of (a) levels of Government spending and (b) the cost of living on the levelling-up agenda. (902299)

24. What recent discussions he has had with his counterparts in the devolved Administrations on the potential impacts of (a) levels of Government spending and (b) the cost of living on the levelling-up agenda. (902315)

Ministers meet their counterparts in the devolved Administrations regularly, and on 10 November the Prime Minister and First Ministers met in Blackpool to discuss the economic outlook and working together on the cost of living. The Chancellor of the Exchequer joined that meeting virtually. The Chief Secretary to the Treasury met with Finance Ministers in the context of the autumn statement, and officials in all Departments remain in constant contact in the interests of all of the people across these islands.

This Government like to talk levelling up, but implementation delays have robbed poorer areas of £1.5 billion, with an additional £0.5 billion lost due to spiralling inflation. The Tories de-industrialised west central Scotland in the 1980s. We are bringing it back with the advanced manufacturing innovation district, including the National Manufacturing Institute Scotland and the medicines manufacturing innovation centre in my constituency. When might we hear that this Government will play their part by ensuring that the stand-out Clyde Green freeport bid and the Renfrew community hub levelling-up bid will be successful?

We will announce shortly the details of levelling-up bids and freeport bids. But when it comes to delays in implementation and the industrial investment that the west of Scotland needs, I simply and gently draw the hon. Gentleman’s attention to the divergence between a UK Government who have recently delivered six new warships on the Clyde and the Scottish Government who in the meantime could not even finish painting the windows on a ferry.

We are supposed to be eternally grateful for the £1.5 billion of Barnett consequentials over two years, but that is easily dwarfed by the £1.7 billion of inflationary pressures on the Scottish budget this year. When the Secretary of State discussed with the Scottish Government Scotland’s needs, such as the need to cover that £1.7 billion inflation cut, the additional money for pay and their other spending priorities, did he just ignore what they were saying?

No, we never ignore what the Scottish Government are saying. We have fruitful relationships with Ministers in not just the Scottish but the Welsh Government. I gently point out to the hon. Gentleman that, although he rightly acknowledges the Barnett consequentials—the Union dividend—that the Treasury pays to the people of Scotland, when he talks about inflation, he does not acknowledge that, if we were to follow the Scottish National party’s approach to a separate currency for an independent Scotland, we would see a flight of capital, massive interest rate increases and galloping inflation there. There would be no worse consequence for working people in Scotland than the currency folly that his colleagues put forward.

I am delighted to support the Isle of Anglesey County Council’s £17 million levelling-up bid, which includes excellent representation from the Holyhead Town Council, Môn CF, the Ucheldre Centre and the Church of Wales. Does the Secretary of State agree that the levelling-up fund can transform places such as Holyhead? Can we have an update on timing? Will he accept my invitation to see first-hand how transformational the fund could be to Holyhead?

Yes. Every time I visit Wales, I am continually impressed by the superb advocacy that Conservative MPs bring to bear for their communities, not least in Ynys Môn. I look forward to making that visit, I hope, early in the new year after the levelling-up fund bids will have been confirmed.

It has been quite something to listen to hon. Members on both sides of the House arguing for more powers for councils in England while they conspire to prevent powers for the Scottish Parliament—they are better together. After several tumultuous and wasted months while the Tories fought with each other as households struggled, I welcome the Secretary of State back to his place. During the autumn statement, levelling up did not merit a single mention, yet we are told that it is the Government’s flagship policy. With deeper austerity cuts slated for after the next election, the future of the levelling-up agenda is more in doubt than ever. Does he agree that levelling up requires a long-term commitment and that a levelling-up agenda cannot credibly survive the planned Tory austerity on stilts?

The hon. Lady knows that I have enormous affection for her. As one of the first and most effective advocates for levelling-up funding going to her constituency, alongside the Holyrood representative for that constituency, I look forward to working with her and her colleagues to make sure that the levelling-up fund bids from Scottish authorities, which are enthusiastically supported by many SNP colleagues, are delivered on time. It is wonderful to see so many people in the Scottish National party arguing for more UK Government spending in their constituencies—long may it be so.

Despite what we have just heard, the Office for Budget Responsibility estimates that there will be a 7.1% fall in real-terms wages over the next two years in the sharpest fall in living standards since the second world war. That is before the Government implement their new rocket-charged austerity agenda, which will reduce living standards significantly more—so much for levelling up. With Scotland short-changed and suffering from a Brexit-inflated recession as part of broken Britain, can the Secretary of State explain if that is why the Government are reduced to seeking to deny democracy to Scotland, because Scots now know that, with all the powers of an independent country, we could do better?

It is certainly the case that there are many talented politicians in the Scottish Government and on the SNP Benches, including the hon. Lady. I gently point out, however, that in England, there has been a devolution of powers to local government, and there has been cross-party consensus between Labour and the Conservatives that we should have that. Sadly, while the Scottish Government have been in power, we have seen no similar devolution of powers to local authorities in Scotland; quite the opposite: we have seen centralisation, with business rates hitting the north-east of Scotland and Police Scotland centralising powers in a way that goes against the spirit of trusting local people. I know from the many conversations I have with people in the north-east, the highlands, the islands and the Borders, that they wish to change the central belt centralisation of the Scottish Government—and I know that she agrees.