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Levelling-up Fund Round 2

Volume 728: debated on Monday 20 February 2023

9. What assessment he has made of the adequacy of the levelling-up funding allocated in the second round. (903621)

19. What assessment he has made of the adequacy of the geographical spread of the funding awarded in the second round of the levelling-up fund. (903633)

The second round of the levelling-up fund will invest up to £2.1 billion in 111 vital local infrastructure projects. We prioritised investment in high-quality bids in places that have not previously received levelling-up fund money in order to maximise the spread of overall funding from rounds 1 and 2. In this round of the fund, two thirds of the funding went to those places in the greatest need, which we designated as category 1. In Scotland, across both rounds, the amount of money awarded exceeded our public funding commitments.

The Earl of Rosebery said at the opening of the People’s Palace and Winter Gardens 125 years ago that they would be

“open to the people for ever and ever”.

The M8 motorway driven through the centre of Glasgow was called the

“scar that will never heal”.

Can the Minister tell me why Glasgow’s bids to address both of those issues were rejected in a process that she has already admitted to Members of this House was rigged?

I ask the hon. Lady to retract that statement, because in no way have I said that the process was rigged. It absolutely was not. The decision-making framework that we use was outlined in full, in writing, in the technical note that we published, and I would be happy to send her a link to it on gov.uk. She has raised the question of the People’s Palace, and I would be happy to sit down with her to talk about the bid once she has received the written feedback, to see if we can strengthen it for any future funding rounds, potentially including round 3 of the levelling-up fund, which will be announced in due course.

Projects to protect coastal communities against erosion and flooding bring significant economic and social benefits on their own. Can my hon. Friend therefore review the investment criteria for round 3 of the levelling-up fund to include stand-alone coastal defence schemes that are not part of a wider transport regeneration or cultural bid?

My hon. Friend is a fantastic champion not only for the east of England but, in particular, for coastal communities. We know that coastal communities add unique value to our country and offer significant growth potential, which is why 22 coastal areas are benefiting from more than £673 million of investment via the towns fund, why eight English freeports are in coastal areas and why coastal areas such as Ramsgate continue to benefit from the levelling-up fund, but of course I will be happy to meet him to discuss this further.

It was not just councils that put time and money into these bids; local people put their heart and soul into developing their community’s submissions, only to find that their bid would never have been allowed to win, that their time had been wasted and that they had been taken for fools. The Minister does not seem troubled about wasting Members’ time, and certainly not local authorities’ time, but surely she will apologise to those volunteers.

I have already expressed my admiration for the incredible work put in by local government officials, volunteers and Members across the House, and I have apologised—the hon. Gentleman can read the Select Committee transcript for himself.

I need to make the point that we had £8.8 billion-worth of bids for round 3 of the levelling-up fund and only £2.1 billion to allocate, which unfortunately means difficult decisions had to be made. We are not a Government who shy away from making difficult decisions, and my own county council unfortunately faced a detriment, too. Ultimately, in line with the decision-making framework outlined in the technical note, we were keen to ensure geographic spread so that the most areas possible benefited from the levelling-up fund across rounds 1 and 2.

The Minister gave assurances in Westminster Hall less than two weeks ago that unsuccessful local authorities would receive feedback and their scorings. Local authorities are now being told that they will not receive their scorings. Why has that decision been taken?

As I outlined in the Westminster Hall debate, local authorities will receive detailed feedback on their specific bids in due course. Some areas have already received feedback, and it will be rolled out further in the weeks to come.

Let me recap, then. As the Minister admitted in Westminster Hall, councils that received money in round 1 were told at the very end of the process that they would not receive money at the end of round 2, despite the many hours that officials had spent putting bids together. We are now being told that councils will no longer receive their scorings. What confidence can local authorities have that this process is fair and transparent? Or is it simply the case that this policy is in tatters and no faith can be placed in this process?

I would ask the hon. Gentleman to visit some of the areas that are benefiting from the levelling-up fund. He should visit some of the incredible projects that are benefiting local communities and then look me in the eye and tell me that this policy is in tatters.