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Levelling-up Fund

Volume 723: debated on Monday 21 November 2022

As the Chancellor set out in his autumn statement, the Government remain committed to the levelling-up fund and will allocate at least £1.7 billion in the next round to priority infrastructure projects that improve everyday life for residents across the UK. I look forward to announcing the outcome of round 2 before the end of the year.

I thank the Minister for that response, and I welcome the Secretary of State and his ministerial team to their new roles after a three-month hiatus. While we have had the merry-go-round of a revolving door, with Ministers changing and, indeed, Prime Ministers changing, communities such as mine in Horden in the Easington constituency are being starved of investment. We need the Secretary of State and his Ministers to approve our bid so we can address some of the serious issues, including the poor standard of the private sector housing in Horden. It would be marvellous if the Minister could give a date and ensure levelling up remains a Government priority by approving the Easington bid sooner rather than later.

The hon. Member will know that at this stage I cannot comment on the merits of individual bids, but I know how passionately he campaigns for his own constituency and for County Durham from meetings that we have locally, and he will be informed of the outcome in due course.

Could I use this opportunity to make a shameless plug for the Marple active communities hub, which in round 2 must surely be among the strongest applications in my hon. Friend the Minister’s in-tray? Does she agree that it is high time we put health and wellbeing at the heart of levelling up, and her approving this bid, in a totally transparent process, which I know it is, would be just the ticket?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising his bid. Again, I cannot comment at this stage on the merits of individual bids, but I am certainly happy to engage with him further on this. I know what a great champion he is for Hazel Grove, and I know he will continue to push for every levelling-up opportunity for his constituents.

I have heard “shortly” and I have heard “sometime before Christmas”, so I am thinking maybe there is a date in Ministers’ minds here, and I would be grateful if we could have a share of this. In Inverclyde, local government money and Scottish Government money work hand in glove with us to improve the area. We need to know when so that local stakeholders can be involved in this decision process and take the whole thing forward.

Briefly, I say to the Secretary of State that earlier he made a slur on my constituency and the good workforce of Ferguson Marine. If he wants to come to Ferguson Marine with me, and stand toe to toe and make that same remark, I will hold his jacket.

I am grateful to the hon. Member for his question, and looking at the Secretary of State I think that point was heard loud and clear.

The hon. Member will know that, in round 1 of the levelling-up fund, the amount that went to Scotland was above the Barnett formula calculations. Round 2 will be coming in due course and I am sure that many people across this House who have been so involved in their bids will have an incredibly happy Christmas.

In Mile Cross in my constituency, healthy life expectancy is below the national average, children’s social mobility is in the bottom 10% of the country, per capita rates of violent crime are double the national average and claims to universal credit are also double the national average. Will the Minister and the Secretary of State throw their support behind the bid in my constituency to improve community facilities around Sloughbottom park to help people on all those counts?

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for her passion in campaigning for her constituents. Again, at this stage, I cannot comment on the merits of individual bids, but she is a great, passionate advocate for her constituency and we will be announcing the results of levelling-up fund round 2 in due course.

Barnsley town centre is thriving. That is as a result of hard work locally, but also powered by our belief not in a handout but in a hand-up. To that end, can I commend the Barnsley Central levelling-up fund bid to the Minister? It is an excellent piece of work that would make a huge difference to my constituents. I very much hope that the Government will be able to support it.

I am very grateful to the hon. Member for his pitch. I was in Barnsley a few months ago—an area very close to where I grew up—and I did have some local people making their own representations on the importance of this particular fund. At this stage I cannot comment on the merits of individual bids, but I heard loud and clear his pitch, and we will be announcing the result in due course.

Will the Minister please confirm as she moves towards the award of these moneys, that she has sharply in her mind the fact that hidden among the averages of the otherwise prosperous south-east, there are some serious pockets of deprivation, not least in those London overspill towns that still ring the capital? Those include Andover in my constituency, which as well as importing an unfortunate number of Arsenal supporters, also brought with it a number of social and demographic problems with which the town still struggles, and towards which the grant award could significantly assist.

I had best keep my comments about Arsenal to myself in this House, but my right hon. Friend is right: levelling up is not something that can be simplified purely by region or by north and south, and there are pockets all over the country that need to benefit from funds such as the levelling-up fund. I know how much of a passionate advocate he is for the Andover bid, and we will be announcing the result in due course.

The autumn statement confirmed that round two of the levelling-up fund is to be frozen in cash terms, meaning that the Government’s inflation crisis has significantly eroded the value of the fund in real terms. The Government must now either reduce the quality and scope of the winning bids, or accept fewer bids—which will it be?

This is an incredibly difficult time for economies across the world, based on global factors—[Interruption.] Right across the world, based on global factors. We are working with local authorities to see how we can help support them to ensure that they deliver their bids to the maximum potential. We have made adjustments to the project adjustment request process, to make it easier for local authorities to take that autonomy and make decisions about what is right for their community.