Skip to main content

Blackpool: Levelling Up

Volume 723: debated on Tuesday 29 November 2022

I call Scott Benton to move the motion. I will then call the Minister to respond. As is the convention with 30-minute debates, there will not be an opportunity for the Member in charge to wind up.

I beg to move,

That this House has considered Blackpool and levelling up.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Murray, and to open this debate on levelling up in Blackpool. What is levelling up? Ask the vast majority of British people and, although everybody will have heard of the term, very few will be able to articulate exactly what it is. I suspect that if we asked Conservative MPs, who were elected on a manifesto pledge to level up, we would get 350 different answers on what exactly the term means.

For me, levelling up means a child growing up in Blackpool having exactly the same life chances as a child growing up in Bracknell, Bournemouth, Brighton or anywhere else in the country. There is also a second element to levelling up. It is not just an intergenerational challenge, which takes time; there is also the fact that people love and value their communities and want to see them change, which, of course, requires an instant big bang. The Government’s capital investment programme, levelling-up funds and so on have been so important to address that challenge.

Regional disparities, including those in the north-west and Blackpool particularly, have persisted for far too long. It is fair to say that towns, disproportionately in the north and midlands, have been forgotten by Governments going back a number of decades—but no more. It makes me proud to be a Government Member: this Government are probably the first in history to take levelling up seriously and invest to such an extent in communities such as mine in Blackpool. Sadly, we are top of the list of the communities most in need of levelling up, according to most metrics. That is clearly a place that Blackpool does not want to be. It is something that all stakeholders in the town are trying desperately to address.

Blackpool’s tourism board, Visit Blackpool, probably will not thank me for doing this, but let me illustrate the context of the challenges we face in Blackpool and why we require Government support to try to turn our resort around. According to the multiple deprivation index, we are the most deprived local authority in England. Eight of the top 10 most deprived communities in the whole of England are in Blackpool, including six in my constituency. We have the worst life expectancy in the UK, with life expectancy three years lower on average; however, in the most deprived parts of my constituency and that of my constituency neighbour, my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys (Paul Maynard), it is 12 years lower on average than the national average.

We have the highest rate of drug-related deaths in the whole of England and we are among the top five most dangerous towns. We have the largest child learning gap, the third highest proportion of obesity among adults and the sixth highest teenage pregnancy rate in England. That is quite a list—I hope it illustrates the need for Government support in Blackpool going forward. However, we have very strong communities and a brilliant, thriving voluntary sector, all of whom work with stakeholders—not least Blackpool Council—to try to turn the situation around.

My hon. Friend is setting out a compelling picture of the challenges in Blackpool. Will he join me in praising Business in the Community for the work it has done through Pride of Place to pull together a coherent plan to address the issues he has raised? Will he also join me in urging the Government to reinstate the Cabinet Sub-Committee on Blackpool, which brought together Ministers to address each specific challenge in our town? We need that back now that we have a new Government.

I agree with both points—not just the Business in the Community aspect but the wider policy ask. Following my hon. Friend’s intervention, it would be remiss of me not to highlight the contributions of not just local groups but big businesses in Blackpool, which employ thousands of people and really do put their money where their mouth is when it comes to regeneration. I particularly want to mention people such as Kate Shane and Amanda Thompson, who need a special thanks in that regard.

Although the challenges are stark in Blackpool, it would be remiss of me not to point out the tremendous support received not only from the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities but from the Government as a whole since I was elected in 2019. With your indulgence, Mrs Murray, I will read out a compelling but lengthy list of the investment that we have received in Blackpool since 2019.

We have one of the largest town deals in the country, worth 39.5 million, which has been spent on a plethora of different projects, from upgrading the illuminations to the new multiversity, with investment and jobs created at the enterprise zone and a new Revoe sports village. Only two weeks ago the Department gave Blackpool £40 million to relocate the court complex, which will allow a £300 million private sector-led development to go ahead. That creates 1,000 new jobs and pumps £75 million into the economy every single year.

Within weeks of my being elected, we received £8.6 million for the future high streets fund, which is being spent on Abingdon Street market and upgrades at the Houndshill centre. The Government are relocating 3,000 civil service jobs to Blackpool, and that will inject an ongoing £1 million into our local town centre. We have also seen £2.9 million to upgrade the winter gardens and £1 million for the high street action zone, which my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys and I saw at first hand only on Friday, and we have received £650,000 for a homes-led regeneration study of housing projects in Blackpool—a point I will touch on later.

In education spending, £10 million has been spent on the opportunity area, and there is £8.7 million of other educational investment over and above the revenue from the direct grant to schools coming into Blackpool. The Blackpool Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust has had £67 million of its debt written off, which means that money can now be spent on servicing patients rather than servicing a debt, and we have a brand-new £25 million upgrade to A&E occurring at the moment.

On transport, we have £20 million for electric buses, £9 million for bus and light rail projects, and £500,000 for the active travel grant. Project ADDER will receive a £1.9 million investment to tackle antisocial behaviour and serious drug crime in Blackpool, £1.1 million for the youth offending team to help get troubled youngsters off our streets, £550,000 for the safer streets fund, and £400,000 to help to address violence against women and girls—a horrific crime in our community. The Minister will be pleased to hear I am nearly at the end of the list, but I hope he can indulge me slightly longer.

The culture recovery fund saw £4.8 million spent on our brilliant Blackpool Grand Theatre and upgrades to the Blackpool Tower Ballroom, where we saw “Strictly” only last week. There was a bid for £12 million for flood defences on our sea walls. We had £80,000 for the changing places fund, £800,000 for the rough sleeping initiative and £1.7 million for the hardship fund.

There has been £237 million of extra investment in Blackpool since I was elected at the 2019 general election. If we include the support throughout the pandemic, that rises to £409 million of extra Government investment, over and above what we give to the local authority and spend on health and education, since 2019. Yet some people in the community question the Government’s commitment to levelling up and question the funding we have had. I hope those figures illustrate the tremendous support that the Government have given to Blackpool over the past few years.

Of course, Blackpool being Blackpool, as much as we have valued that £237 million investment there is always more that we can do, given the extent of the challenges. I know I have been speaking for a while, but I have two or three quick asks of the Government.

The biggest challenge that Blackpool faces, and the reason we are at the level we are in terms of social characteristics and demography, is the housing issue in Blackpool. The Secretary of State has been a bit of a trailblazer in recognising that. If we can tackle some of the grot-spots and the awful conditions in the private sector rental market, it will invariably improve people’s life chances. That is why the £30 million ask for housing-led regeneration in Blackpool is so important. It would be spent on upgrading Bond Street, Waterloo Road, Revoe and the Claremont area. The Government have already committed to a £600,000 feasibility study on that. Improving people’s housing conditions in those areas would be transformative, not just for the next few years but for generations ahead in Blackpool. I know that the Minister is very much aware of that—I spoke to her about it several days ago—and I look forward to meeting her and the Secretary of State once the feasibility process has been considered and concluded in January.

The Minister will not be surprised to hear that my second ask is Blackpool’s £63 million levelling-up fund. Of the £63 million, £40 million would go to the multiversity, which will invariably and conclusively improve people’s life chances, skills and opportunities to face the challenges of the future in Blackpool; £8 million would go to converting the former post office building on Abingdon Street into a brand new five-star hotel, which would completely regenerate that part of the town centre; and £15 million would go on a town centre access scheme.

Those are the two things on which I and my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys are looking for support. In the last few seconds, it would be remiss of me not to mention two non-Departmental asks. One is upgrading and implementing a passing loop on the South Fylde line, which would double the number of trains that come into Blackpool every single hour. That train line services a pleasure beach—the UK’s second most visited tourist attraction—and the upgrade would improve its ability to get visitors in on busy summer days. The second is returning commercial passenger flights to Blackpool airport, which has been my main campaign since 2019. The Government have a brilliant record to sell on regional aviation. We have halved air passenger duty, we are looking to subsidise public service obligation routes, and we have the Union connectivity review. All of that has changed the landscape of regional aviation in this country, but we need support from Blackpool Council to get Blackpool flying once again. The council owns the airport and has the ability to take commercial passenger flights seriously.

The Minister and Members have indulged me long enough. I thank the Department for the superb support it has provided to our town so far. There is always more we can do—hence the distinct asks of the Minister and the Department—but I look forward to continuing to work with the Minister over the coming weeks to address some of the challenges.

May I start by saying what a pleasure it is to serve under your chairmanship for the first time, Mrs Murray? I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool South (Scott Benton) both on securing the debate and, more importantly, on giving such an impassioned speech. It is clear that he is a tremendous representative for Blackpool, as is our hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys (Paul Maynard)—what a team! I reflect on the numbers that were mentioned: £237 million in additional funding for Blackpool and, including the support under covid, an additional £409 million. That is a record of which both Members of Parliament should be very proud. I must say that I am rather envious.

We are here today to talk about very important matters: the significant challenges and opportunities that Blackpool faces. I am grateful to speak on the Government’s levelling-up agenda, which is our ambition to spread investment, growth and opportunity across the UK to those towns, cities and areas that have been overlooked by successive Governments. As my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool South rightly points out, Blackpool is a town with significant strengths and potential. There are almost 19 million visitors to Blackpool a year, and the tourism economy is worth more than £1.4 billion. Despite these strengths, we know that for too long Blackpool has been held back by deeply entrenched problems, and my hon. Friend listed many statistics showing the level of deprivation and the issues in health, local housing and living standards.

That is why the Government have been working in partnership with both Members of Parliament for Blackpool on the transformational regeneration of the town, supporting their vision for Blackpool to become a leading UK tourism destination and a good place to live and work, with improved jobs, housing and skills. Today, I am delighted to be able to talk about some of the successes we have seen and what we have achieved, and I will look to address the particular points that my hon. Friends raised.

To that end, I was delighted that earlier this month the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, my right hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove), announced £40 million in funding for the relocation of the magistrates and county courts. Anyone familiar with Blackpool knows that the aging, outdated courts complex has persisted for decades. It was not only blighting the town but occupying land that had been earmarked for major commercial redevelopment. I am pleased that, working together with the Ministry of Justice, £40 million of funding is being used to create a new state-of-the-art court elsewhere in the town.

That means the Ministry of Justice can finally leave the outdated courts complex, freeing up the land to be redeveloped and enabling the growth-spurring regeneration scheme to go ahead as planned. That will create up to 1,000 new local jobs, while attracting an estimated 600,000 more visitors to the seaside town each year. What is more, the judicial system and its employees will be much better served by a modern, efficient new courts building.

That is not the only way that the Government are working with Blackpool to bring fresh investment and new job opportunities to the town. As part of our ambition to bring policy makers closer to the communities they serve, the Department for Work and Pensions and Blackpool Council will be constructing a new service hub in the centre of Blackpool. It will be home to up to 3,000 civil servants and only a short walk from Blackpool North station, in an area that is seeing a cluster of new developments, which promise to be transformative for the town.

It is also worth noting, as my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool South did, that Blackpool is benefiting from just shy of £40 million of investment from our towns fund, which is being spent on a host of job-creating, tourism-boosting projects. As my hon. Friend will know, that includes rejuvenating the illuminations in order to attract more visitors to the town in the autumn and winter period, and support for a youth hub, giving more young people in the town vital access to jobs and training. To cater for businesses that are adopting hybrid models of working in the post-covid economy, the funding will also support the development of flexible managed workspace in Blackpool town centre.

My hon. Friend stressed the importance of housing. As Minister for housing and homelessness, I completely concur with him. I want the same level of ambition for Blackpool’s economy to be mirrored in improving the housing provision. At the moment, too many homes in Blackpool do not provide the safe and secure accommodation that residents expect or deserve. If we are truly to tackle deprivation and unlock Blackpool’s economic potential, we need to provide a wide range of quality homes across the public and private sectors—homes that cater for people at different stages of their lives. That is why, in March, we announced that Homes England, the Government’s housing accelerator, would work closely with the council to develop a transformative plan for reshaping the town, backed by £650,000 of new funding. I am pleased that that work is coming on in leaps and bounds, and my Department looks forward to examining the proposals when they are finished in the new year. Once we have seen them, we will sit down with my hon. Friends the Members for Blackpool South and for Blackpool North and Cleveleys, and I look forward to that conversation; it is clear that there is work to be done on housing in Blackpool.

To ensure that everyone has somewhere safe that they can call a home, we need to tackle rogue landlords both in Blackpool and elsewhere. We plan to do that with our reform of the private rented sector. I know that the Housing Secretary is very committed to that, and I am glad that my Department is already working with our partners to toughen enforcement on the minority of landlords who consistently break the rules.

Alongside our work with Homes England, in Blackpool we have announced £1.26 million of funding for an expanded local enforcement team, which will continue to take tough action against those who are not meeting existing standards, while proactively measuring landlords against the proposed future national standards. This enhanced inspection regime will tackle exploitation in the local private rented sector, driving up housing quality while protecting the most vulnerable. It will sit alongside a series of further pilots in other locations announced last week by the Secretary of State, to test ways of improving enforcement in the sector.

My hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool South talked about education and skills, which are clearly critical in Blackpool. The Government are exploring innovative ways of helping people get into work and build their skills through three pathfinder places, one of which is Blackpool. The idea behind the pathfinders is to bring together local delivery partners in skills and education to look at what skills local employers are looking for and how we most effectively build that skills base locally. This will ensure that the support available to people is more targeted and more relevant.

My hon. Friend asked about the levelling-up fund. I am sure he will appreciate that bids are currently being reviewed and I cannot comment on specific bids, but we will have clarity before the end of the year. I wish him and Blackpool every success with the bid. He talks passionately about it, and I am sure it is a good bid.

My hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys asked about the Cabinet Sub-Committee. I want to reassure him that Blackpool will continue to benefit from cross-ministerial deep dive and working together. Blackpool is a big priority of Government.

I finish by thanking everyone for their contributions today, and I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool South for securing the debate. It is a powerful reminder of how individual MPs can make such a difference to their constituencies, and Blackpool is fortunate to have these two MPs. I keep on coming back to the amount of Government investment that they have secured in their town. While I recognise that there are significant challenges in Blackpool, I believe that if local MPs and central Government work together with key local stakeholders, businesses and the council, we really can make a difference in Blackpool, leverage its unique strengths and restore pride to the town, so we can truly say that Blackpool is being levelled up and that people are proud and happy to work and live there. I commend both my hon. Friends.

Question put and agreed to.