First, Mr Speaker, I apologise; we can always improve on our communications. I believe letters were sent both to MPs and to councils last night and the Secretary of State did make a written statement, but I accept that we can improve on this going forward.
Levelling up is one of the driving missions of this Government as we look to build a stronger, fairer economy. As the Prime Minister set out a fortnight ago in his five people’s priorities, levelling up is how we will grow our economy, spread opportunity across the country and build stronger communities with safer streets for people to live on.
The levelling-up fund is essential to how we will develop that opportunity, which is why we have today set our next wave of investment for projects up and down the UK. The second wave will see up to £2.1 billion-worth of funding, awarded to 111 bids that we know will stimulate growth and benefit communities.
The levelling-up fund is about directing funding where it is needed most. Local leaders and Members across this House have seen the impact of the first round of funding, with 105 bids receiving £1.7 billion to drive regeneration and growth in areas that have been overlooked and underappreciated for far too long. That is why we received a tremendous response to the second round, with more than 500 bids received totalling £8 billion, which is a significant increase on the 300-odd bids received last year.
Across the two rounds of the fund, we have allocated nearly £4 billion to more than 200 bids from communities across the UK. I am pleased that we have been able to work closely with parliamentarians, local authorities and the devolved Administrations in all parts of the United Kingdom.
The levelling-up fund has a clear and transparent process for determining how bids are selected. Each bid is assessed by officials against the published assessment criteria, with the highest scoring bids shortlisted. To ensure that there is a fair spread of bids across the UK, funding decisions are then based on the assessment score and by applying wider considerations such as geographic spread and past investments. A place’s relative need is also baked into the process. In this round, 66% of investment went to category 1 places. As we did for round 1 of the fund, an explanatory note setting out the details of our assessment and our decision-making process will be published on gov.uk. Ministers did not add or remove bids from the funded list, as set out in the note.
There will be a further round of the levelling-up fund, along with other investments. I look forward to working with hon. Members across the House as we protect community assets, grow our local economies and restore pride of place where people live and work.
Thank you, Mr Speaker, for granting this urgent question.
The Government are running scared of Parliament and their own Back Benchers—judging by the faces behind the Minister, I can understand why. However, there are serious questions to be answered. Levelling-up is a failure: the Government are going backwards on their flagship missions—they cannot even appoint levelling up directors—and today we see that reach its maximum. There is a rock-bottom allocation for Yorkshire and the Humber, nothing for the cities of Birmingham, Nottingham and Stoke, and nothing for Stonehouse in Plymouth, which is a community in the bottom 0.2% for economic activity, but there is money for the Prime Minister’s constituency and money for areas in the top quartile economically. What on earth were the objective criteria used to make those decisions? How on earth are only half the successful bidders from the poorest 100 communities?
Over the last decade or so, the cut to local government —in cash terms rather than real terms—is £15 billion. Today’s announcement gives back £2.1 billion. The Government have nicked a tenner from our wallets and expect us to be grateful for getting less than two quid back. We are pleased for the communities that have been successful because they have been starved of cash for years, but in reality even those communities will still get back less than the Government have taken from their budgets. The Minister must be honest that, in levelling up, even the winners are losers.
Is not the reality that this “Hunger Games” approach to regional growth creates a huge amount of waste in time and energy? Why will the Government not instead adopt our commitment to end these beauty parades in favour of proper, sustained investment that is targeted at need?
We are to believe that levelling up is to be rebranded as stepping up or gauging up. Let me save the Minister the trouble. It is not levelling up, it is not stepping up and it is not gauging up. It is time’s up.
I would like to correct what the hon. Gentleman suggested about which areas got funding across the country. He mentioned Yorkshire and the Humber, and I would like to clarify that, across rounds 1 and 2 per capita, every region got more than London and the south-east. Of course, the figures can be cut in different ways, but this is funding of £4 billion across the two funds for areas across the country. Combined with what we are doing with our Metro Mayors, it is the biggest transfer of power away from Westminster since world war two. Sixty-five per cent of the north is now represented by a Metro Mayor and, together with significant amounts of funding through other pots of money, we are ensuring that areas such as the north grow and communities get the delivery that they need.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned the Prime Minister’s constituency. I am proud that we are regenerating a town where there is an infantry base. I am comfortable that we are supporting our country and the people who serve in it. He forgot to mention that the Leader of the Opposition had a successful bid in his constituency and that the shadow Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Wigan (Lisa Nandy), got £20 million. He also forgot to mention that Nottingham North got £18 million in round 1 and therefore is benefiting from the Government’s levelling-up programme.
The Department did advise the Labour leader of Worthing Borough Council that we had been unsuccessful in our “connected cultural mile” bid. We should not make this issue partisan. Most people understand that all the bids were worth while.
Will the Minister arrange for departmental officials to talk with those who put in the bids about how some of these important projects could be funded in other ways, rather than waiting for the third round?
My hon. Friend makes a number of important points. Local councils were informed last night that we can improve on that. There were successful and unsuccessful areas, and that is because this levelling-up round was so successful. Some £8 billion-worth of bids were made, so of course there will be unhappy people this morning. However, £2 billion-worth have been successful.
On my hon. Friend’s second point, we will be providing feedback because there will be a third round and we want people to understand why they were not successful in this one.
Scotland’s share of the funding is £177 million out of £2 billion—some 8.5%. That proves that the distribution of the funding is not needs-based at all and therefore, by definition, not levelling up. Around £1.1 billion of the £1.6 billion total levelling-up funding in England has been awarded to areas where there is a Tory MP or a majority of Tory MPs. The Chancellor’s constituency, one of the most affluent in the UK, has been successful; my own constituency of North Ayrshire and Arran, one of the most economically challenged constituencies in the UK, has not been successful in this round.
Let us not forget that the last successful bids, which took place last October, were based on costings at that time. However, labour and material costs have soared. Unless the funds are renewed, the bids cannot be delivered as envisaged and therefore they cannot level up as anticipated at the time. Is it not the case that the whole so-called levelling-up pantomime is more about Tory PR, spin and pork barrel politics than any attempt to reduce inequality?
The answer to that point is absolutely not. The hon. Member forgot to mention that Scotland got £177 million—[Interruption.] The total is £349 million across both funds. The Opposition are making points about party politics, so I would like to point out that 45% of investment across both rounds has been allocated to areas held by Opposition parties.
Culture, drama and theatre are very much among the UK’s great soft power assets. West Worcestershire is in the heart of the midlands, which is why I am thrilled that Malvern Theatres has been awarded nearly £20 million to level up drama opportunities across that part of the west midlands. I say to colleagues who were not successful this time around that we were not successful last time. We took on board the feedback and improved the bid, and now we have been successful. Keep on asking, is what I say to the other bids.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. Why do we not stop the pretence that this has anything whatever to do with levelling up? Councils have to spend a lot of time bidding for one of about 300 pots of money. There is no real strategy at all and no joining up between the different bids. They look more like photo opportunities so that Ministers can go around the country announcing the successful results. Why will the Minister not listen to the Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee? We called for the bid process to be dropped for the most part and for Government Departments to instead consider how they can reposition the totality of their spending on a strategic basis to help the poorest parts of the country. The Secretary of State agreed that that is what should be done, but the permanent secretary said no progress has been made. Just say it—she wants a photo bid. Come up to Sheffield in South Yorkshire and stand at a bus stop. She will have a long time to wait before one comes along, because once again we have been unsuccessful with the bid we put in.
I am very sorry that the hon. Gentleman has not been successful. There is, of course, a round 3. There is co-ordinated action across Government to ensure that we support and level up. I am sorry he does not feel that £2 billion for levelling up across the country in terms of culture, transport and improving the areas where communities live is not worthwhile. We believe it is.
While I cannot hide my disappointment about today’s announcement with regard to Swindon, it is right to say that we have benefited to the tune of approximately £100 million from previous announcements, including from the future high streets fund and the towns fund. Will my right hon. and learned Friend and officials work closely with me and Swindon Borough Council to ensure that we are able to be successful in round 3, in particular with regard to the projects relating to Health Hydro and the Oasis, which are so important for the future of my town?
I thank my right hon. and learned Friend. I am sure it will be possible to discuss how Swindon can continue to grow. His area has indeed been successful in previous rounds. He mentioned the towns deal, which was allocated nearly £20 million. South Swindon will continue to be well represented—I know he fights for the area on a day-to-day basis.
If we rank the 317 districts in England, we will see that Nottingham is the 11th most deprived. Despite our clear need, not one of our three levelling-up bids was successful, yet the Prime Minister’s own very wealthy constituency was awarded £19 million. When will the Government end this ridiculous charade of favouritism and truly level up places such as Nottingham by restoring the billions in funding that Conservative Governments have cut since 2010?
Dover is a priority 1 area and we were unsuccessful in the first round. We engaged with officials, whom I thank for their professionalism and guidance in the very transparent and open round 1 process. That enabled us to put in a different, successful bid for £18 million for our new creative and digital hub, bringing jobs and skills to Dover. I would be grateful if my right hon. and learned Friend could encourage everyone who has been unsuccessful to take that guidance and keep going.
This has been another kick in the teeth for the people of Leeds from this Conservative Government. After cuts totalling £2 billion to Leeds City Council’s funding since 2010, a bid to redevelop Fearnville sports centre in my constituency has been rejected yet again. All six bids from Leeds were rejected. There are zero pounds for Leeds, while in the Prime Minister’s wealthy constituency up the road, there is £19 million for him. Is it not the case that what this is really about is not levelling up, but Tory favouritism and the Tories looking after their own? Leeds deserves far better.
As someone who grew up in Leeds, I think it is a great area. It has had significant regeneration over the years, which I have seen at first hand. Of course, further generation would be welcome. On the point about Opposition parties, I reiterate that 45% of the funding has gone to Opposition areas.
I warmly welcome the funding that has been secured for transport projects in Staffordshire, including in Cannock, which will support the regeneration of Cannock town centre. May I invite my right hon. and learned Friend to Cannock to show her what our plans are and how this is going to make a real difference to my constituents?
My levelling-up bid for a closure and redevelopment in Pencoed was rejected, for the reason that the spend could not be in the 2022-23 financial year. That was despite Department for Transport Ministers saying that this was the only way in which the level crossing issues could be resolved, and despite the Welsh Secretary and the Transport Secretary announcing increased services on this line, which means that the crossing will simply be closed. Yet in the Conservative neighbouring seat of Bridgend, funding is granted to the Porthcawl pavilion. The convenience of this speaks for itself: communities such as mine, which have large levels of deprivation, are ignored and Conservative seats are supported. The Minister needs to get a grip. If the phase 3 funding is coming, it needs to be made clearer, officials need to work better with councils and we must not have the debacle—because that is what it was—of the phase 2 funding process.
I wish to clarify that the bidding process was transparent and clear. It will be published, as was done for round 1. I know that the hon. Gentleman’s area has had money from the UK shared prosperity fund in the past, and I am sure that if he makes further bids, they will be look at according to the criteria.
I thank the Minister for her notification last night. Clearly, the decision not to proceed with Bracknell’s bid was disappointing. It is a good bid; it regenerates Bracknell’s town centre and was submitted by a solvent and well-run council. Will she confirm that in principle more affluent areas in the south-east will not be precluded from successful bids? Will she meet me to help Bracknell refine that bid to ensure success in tranche 3?
The Department is keen to ensure that those areas that have not received round 1 or round 2 funding understand why that was the case and how they can improve their prospects in the future. I, or another Minister, would be happy to have a meeting to discuss how we can progress any further bids.
Whatever concerns there may be about the process as a whole, I can only welcome in the warmest possible terms the announcement of funding for the new Fair Isle ferry. In that announcement, the Minister has given hope for a future to one of the remotest and most economically and socially fragile communities in the country, and I am enormously grateful for that, as are the people of Fair Isle and Shetland as a whole. Of course, that does come at the second time of asking, so I pay tribute to the council officials and officials in the Department, who have worked together to learn from the experience of the first time of asking. Will she assure me that if Orkney Islands Council now comes back for a second time of asking with its also very worthy project, it will be given the same help and support?
I am grateful for the right hon. Gentleman’s comments, because they show that not only is funding being spread across the country and across parties, but that serious and considered work with feedback does make a difference. I cannot give him any assurances about any future funds, but those will be announced and dealt with in due course.
Dudley was the birthplace of the industrial revolution, so industry, heavy industry and manufacturing have been the story of Dudley over many decades. For the very same reasons, however, for many decades, it has also been one of the areas of the country with low investment, with a lot of offshoring and therefore with those forgotten communities that we have often heard about, so it is clearly very disappointing that Dudley has not been successful in its levelling-up fund bid. Can the Minister assure me that her officials will work with Dudley Council’s officials to ensure that at least in the third bid Dudley may be successful?
I thank my hon. Friend for those points. Feedback will be given and I am sure that officials will work in the manner that he suggests. I would like to point out that Dudley got £25 million from the towns fund, which I hope he welcomed, but of course we can do more.
In her letter rejecting our bid, the Under-Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Dehenna Davison), said that she knew how much time and effort were spent on our ambitions for South Shields town centre. With respect, she doesn’t. It is an absolute insult. Our freeport bid was rejected, our towns fund bid was rejected and now two levelling-up fund bids have been rejected, all in favour of wealthier areas. When will this Government stop using public funds for their own political advantage?
Blackpool’s successful bid for £40 million from the fund will deliver a new multiversity skills complex, which will help to deliver skills for the jobs of the future. That takes the total amount of additional Government investment that Blackpool has received since I was elected to a staggering £300 million. Does the Minister agree that it is only under this Government that towns such as Blackpool, which have been left behind for decades, can truly be levelled up?
There is bitter disappointment that the really good bid from Holbeck—one of the most deprived parts of my constituency, which is the 18th most deprived in the country—has received nothing. As the Chair of the Select Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield South East (Mr Betts), said, huge efforts were put in and hopes were raised, only to be dashed when bids were unsuccessful. Since this is all about control, surely it is now time to devolve the money to local areas so that they can determine their own priorities according to their own decisions, rather than continuing to ask them to jump up and down at the whim of central Government.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his points. There was £8 billion in funding and of course not everyone can be successful, even though a lot of very good bids were made. He makes a very important point about devolved powers; he will know that this Government have taken great strides in devolving power to Mayors across the country. Indeed, we very recently announced a number of other areas that are gaining devolved authority. We are continually looking at how we can further devolve powers to ensure that power and authority are directed to local areas, driven by local communities.
I am extremely disappointed that Stroud was not successful in its levelling-up fund bid. Stroud District Council chose not to make an application in the first round, but it worked really hard on the most recent application. I hear from colleagues today that, when they lost out initially, they worked with ministerial teams and the civil service to improve their bid. I want to ensure that we can get Stroud District Council up to Westminster to meet whoever is needed to improve our application and that we get our GFirst local enterprise partnership involved, too. Will the Minister take that back to her colleagues so that we can arrange that session?
Does the Minister agree that the British people have an innate sense of fair play? Independent analysis of the largest cities and towns in England identified Bradford as the UK’s No. 1 levelling-up opportunity. None of the four Bradford bids was successful in this round. Does the Minister believe that the people of Bradford will think that that is a fair outcome, or that the process stinks?
As I mentioned earlier, as someone who grew up in Leeds, I understand how important that area is and how much more we can do. As I have also mentioned, we had £8 billion and were only able to allocate £2.1 billion in this round, but further funds are available, and round 3 will take place in due course.
It was extremely disappointing that Keighley was not successful in its bid for additional levelling-up fund moneys, over and above the £33.6 million that had already been ringfenced for it through the towns fund. Following discussions with the Department, I understand that Bradford Council’s application for the fund was not detailed enough to meet the standard for a successful bid. That is reflected in the fact that none of the four Bradford seats was successful, and, of course, the council did not make an application in the first round. Will the Minister meet me to discuss the Keighley bid, and will she also ask her officials to write to Bradford Council as a matter of urgency to explain how it can significantly enhance the quality of its bids so that Keighley does not suffer as a result?
In true grubby, greedy fashion, levelling up vastly benefits Tory-voting areas across the UK. Of the £1.6 billion going to English councils, £1.1 billion is going to areas represented by Tory Members, and Scottish councils are receiving only £177 million. There is nothing for Coatbridge, which made a fantastic bid, and nothing for our neighbours in the city of Glasgow: that is staggering. Does the Minister not agree that grubby pork-barrel politics is not levelling up Scotland, but leveraging us out of this Union?
As I have said, significant funds are going to Scotland. The Barnett formula applies to every budget, and Scotland overall has received record sums across the board. I am proud that £20 million will be spent on developing important cultural assets in Aberdeenshire’s coastal towns.
Wolverhampton has been incredibly well supported by the Government, who have made strategic investments in, for instance, the National Brownfield Institute, the City Learning Quarter and the modern methods of construction taskforce in order to anchor an industry in Wolverhampton, change life chances and upskill the local population. I am very grateful. I am also very proud that we are home to the second headquarters of the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, although I am disappointed that our latest bid to regenerate a stretch of canal in my constituency was not successful. Will the Minister guarantee that the Department will work with me, and with Wolverhampton City Council, to ensure that any corners that need to be tidied up will indeed be tidied up so that our bid—which was acknowledged as having great merit—will be successful next time?
Before Christmas, the Government pulled £41 million out of the super health hub project in Stonehouse, putting its future at risk, and now they have turned down Stonehouse’s £20 million levelling-up bid to create jobs. Given that Stonehouse is in the bottom 0.2% of areas according to the economic measurements that the Government produce, how can it be right that, when 99.8% of areas are richer, it was not deemed suitable for being levelled up?
The hon. Member’s constituency has not done badly overall—it has previously been given £4 million through the UK shared prosperity fund and £12 million through the future high streets fund—but I understand the points that he has made and, as I have said, a third round is coming up.
As a Gedling resident, I am naturally disappointed that the bid submitted by the Labour-run borough council was not successful. According to feedback on its first-round bid, it was disparate and insufficiently compelling, so I look forward to the prompt feedback on round 2. However, given that the council has been unsuccessful in respect of a number of funding pots, will the Minister meet me, as a matter of urgency, to go through the history of its funding bids, chapter and verse, so that we can gain a better understanding of where things are going wrong and better bids are submitted in future?
With rich country areas such as Guisborough and Richmond successful, what does the Minister have to say to the people of Billingham? Is it, “You are not deprived enough and you are undeserving”, “I didn’t have enough money and I needed to put what I had into the Prime Minister’s constituency and those of Tories he sacked from his Cabinet”, or, “I’m sorry, we are Tories, and we have areas where we need to shore up the Tory vote”? It stinks.
I would not say any of those things to the hon. Gentleman’s constituents because I have repeatedly said that 45% of the funding has gone to Opposition areas. There were £8 billion-worth of bids, which were excellent, and unfortunately the fund was £2 billion. I am pleased that his area got £16 million of future high streets funding quite recently.
I was pleased that Doncaster was successful in round 1, but I cannot hide my disappointment that we were unsuccessful in round 2. The bid was for Edlington to have a leisure centre and for the high street to be made good—it is in a terrible state. However, I tell the children in our schools that they should never, ever, ever give in, and nor will I, in my campaign. Will the Minister meet me so that I can start my next campaign and Edlington will get its levelling-up fund in the next tranche?
The round 1 bid for Reddish to refurbish Reddish baths as a new business hub was rejected. The round 2 bid for Denton town centre to refurbish the Festival hall as a new community hub and regenerate Denton town centre was rejected. The Minister says that councils should waste more money on a round 3 bid, when clearly the Government have got something against Denton and Reddish. Why should Tameside or Stockport councils waste officer time when it is clear that, if at first you don’t succeed, fail, fail and fail again?
What we have heard across the House this morning is that people who were unsuccessful in round 1 were successful, after taking on board feedback, in round 2. The pot was significantly over-subscribed. Of course we can improve areas and I look forward to round 3.
Come on. We have heard that an estimated £15 billion has been cut from council budgets under this Conservative Government since 2010, including £160 million from my council in Luton. The impact has been that children’s centres have closed, bus routes have been chopped and social care is squeaking at the pips now to look after our older people. We are meant to be grateful that councils have been given back £2.8 billion, when £15 billion has gone. Does the Minister really think that we are going to believe the Government?
This morning we have an urgent question on the levelling-up fund, but that is not the only funding that is coming through the Government. The hon. Lady mentioned social care, and she will know that my right hon. Friend the Prime recently announced an additional £7.5 billion for social care and £27 billion to ensure that those who are struggling with the cost of living are supported over the course of this year.
As someone who, until earlier this month, was a local authority leader and the place-based regeneration lead for Greater Manchester, I know better than most just how much time and resource local authorities up and down the country have invested in this process. What assessment has the Minister made of the costs incurred by local authorities in doing so, and does she agree that they would do better spending that money on frontline services? Does she agree that this process should be scrapped in favour of allocating levelling-up funding based on need?
I do not believe the UKSPF funding was allocated like that. Greater Manchester got £98 million. Of course it is important that the areas that need it are assessed, which is the basis on which we assessed the £2 billion-worth of funding we announced this morning.
Barnsley East has been rejected for funding again, yet the Prime Minister’s wealthy constituency received funding in both rounds. Will the Minister stop pretending that levelling-up funding is about helping areas that need it most and accept that there are serious questions to answer about how and where it is allocated?
I thank the Minister and her Department for writing to me at 11.30 pm last night, an hour after the information was released to the press, to tell me that Hull City Council’s transport bid had been rejected. The bid was about Hull being the third most congested city in the country, with people waiting, on average, 73 hours a year in traffic jams. Hull has poor air quality and worse traffic than Bangkok and São Paulo. Will she admit for once that, having rejected Hull for the towns fund, the Government have absolutely no interest in levelling up Hull?
I woke up this morning to the news that the “Rishi Riches” of Richmond have received funding for a second time—having their mouths stuffed with gold. The right hon. Member for Richmond (Yorks) (Rishi Sunak) flew into my constituency in a private jet and drove in a limousine past cold council houses and past the Minister’s former school site, which is now dilapidated. The six bids from the people of Leeds got no money. In the third round, the money should be devolved to the Mayor of West Yorkshire, Tracy Brabin. The people of Leeds have heard the Government loud and clear, and in the next general election they will be consigning the Government to the dustbin of history.
The unsuccessful bids of North Shields and Wallsend were capped at 80% by the Government, who deemed our area not to be a priority, yet the Prime Minister’s leafy constituency and many marginal Tory seats were deemed a priority. Will the Government urgently commit to a review of the levelling-up fund’s allocation criteria to ensure that money goes to areas where it is really needed, such as North Tyneside?
Further to your point at the start of proceedings, Mr Speaker, I am led to believe that Conservative list MSPs were also told well before the MPs who sponsored the project applications.
Some of the most deprived areas of the country are in my constituency, which also missed out on its green freeport bid, which went to the much wealthier east. The fraudulently titled levelling-up fund is meant to replace EU funding previously allocated to deprived areas. How is it possible that areas of multiple deprivation missed out while the Prime Minister’s constituency, one of the wealthiest in the UK, nabbed £19 million, and while £45 million went to help fix the mess of the roads in Dover caused by the Government’s kamikaze Brexit? Is the Minister not utterly ashamed at some of these announcements? If not, why not?
The promise of levelling-up funding rings hollow in many areas. The Government’s decision to overlook local projects in Axminster and Seaton in Devon, where I live, and also in Gloucestershire and Shropshire reminds people in these counties that they continue to be taken for granted. I know that Army personnel at Catterick garrison in the Prime Minister’s constituency would prefer to have homes fit for heroes rather than funding for a new glass pavilion in that town. What assurances can the Minister give the House that the Government’s method for assessing rural bids was objective?
I am happy for all colleagues who were successful in round 2. I was disappointed to see that the bid to remediate Shawfield in my constituency was unsuccessful. The team at Clyde Gateway delivering the project have worked incredibly hard and have a proven track record. Can the Minister confirm how detailed the feedback will be for unsuccessful bids so that it can inform potential future bids from constituencies and give them the best chance of success in round 3?
I thank the Minister for her time. I am expressly thankful for the levelling-up funding received in the last tranche, but I am concerned that Northern Ireland is not receiving its share in this round. Can the Minister outline what has been allocated to Northern Ireland and, particularly, to my constituency of Strangford, which is in desperate need of levelling-up funding for shovel-ready projects such as the Whitespots environmental scheme, which is ready to go and will create jobs and be a real boost for the Northern Ireland economy?