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UK Levelling Up

Volume 733: debated on Monday 5 June 2023

Levelling up is a central mission for this Government. We want to ensure that the full potential of our economy, businesses, people and places is reached. The Government have allocated £9.9 billion to my own Department alone since 2019 to support levelling up, in addition to the £7.5 billion committed to the nine mayoral combined authorities in England.

I thank my right hon. Friend for his response. May I ask him to join me in congratulating the towns of Peterhead and Macduff in Banff and Buchan on the success of their levelling up bid? Can he confirm that the success of that bid does not necessarily disqualify future bids, particularly if they are of a strategic transport nature, such as the much-needed safety improvements on the A947, which my right hon. Friend, being from the area, will be familiar with? That road travels not just through my constituency but through multiple others in the Aberdeenshire Council area.

I congratulate Aberdeenshire Council on its success in levelling-up fund round 2. My hon. Friend is absolutely right: success in that round does not preclude further investment. One thing, though, that would be devastating for Aberdeenshire and the north-east of Scotland would be if the Labour party’s policy of stopping all new oil and gas development in the North sea were taken forward. That would be catastrophic for levelling up and for the north-east of Scotland.

I thank the Secretary of State for his efforts on levelling up, but I must stress to him the importance of speed in reaching the communities of my Sedgefield constituency. It was disappointing that the knife was applied to the second round, knocking out many Durham bids, particularly mine in Newton Aycliffe, and it is painful to see the slow progress on the restoring your railway fund bid for Ferryhill station. It is critical for my constituents that these initiatives get past the decision stage so that we can get spades in the ground. When does my right hon. Friend think we will see delivery?

My hon. Friend makes a good point. It is important that we support the work that is anticipated for Ferryhill station. In his constituency, Hitachi produces state-of-the-art railway investment, and we need to make sure that its vision is matched by the Government’s commitment.

Given that the UK is one of the most regionally imbalanced of all of the major economies, and given the massive potential that is waiting to be unleashed, is it not time to accelerate the now stalled Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill and push forward urgently with Northern Powerhouse Rail, planning reform, devolution, secure affordable energy supply, gigabit broadband and all the other levelling-up measures that will make this the strongest and most prosperous economy in Europe?

I take this opportunity to thank my right hon. Friend for his leadership on this issue. The levelling up White Paper would not have been published without his determination to ensure that there are 12 clear missions at the heart of Government to ensure that this country achieves its full potential. It is interesting that the Leader of the Opposition, as he currently is and will long remain, decided that the way to endear himself to this country is by having five missions. As ever, he has nothing like my right hon. Friend’s scale of ambition and vision when it comes to making this country great.

The Government took £15 billion from local authorities—local communities —and set them a “hunger games” competition to fight over £3 billion. How is that levelling up?

I do not recognise that characterisation. Once again, I smile at the way in which “hunger games” trips from the lips of Labour MPs. Only this Administration have been responsible for devolution in England outside London. In 13 years in power, Labour had an opportunity to institute meaningful devolution, and it did not do so outside London. Now Labour is attempting to deny the people of the north-east of England a democratic choice to have Jamie Driscoll as their Mayor. I will not take anything on this from the hon. Gentleman.

I place on record my sincere condolences to the family of stalwart trade unionist Tyrone O’Sullivan, who recently passed away. Tyrone was a typical Welshman: proud of his roots while always fighting for more for our communities. He was an inspiration to us all.

The all-party parliamentary group on coalfield communities will soon publish a landmark report on the next steps for levelling up. As it stands, millions of our constituents across the country are being left behind, so will the Secretary of State commit to meeting me to discuss the report’s recommendations?

I also pass on my condolences to Tyrone O’Sullivan’s family. The coalfield communities’ travails throughout the 1980s and ’90s weigh with us, and some of the investment made since then has seen many of those communities turn the corner, but there is more to be done. I look forward to talking to the hon. Lady about what more we can do.

On any index we choose—social mobility, inequality, deprivation, the funding of public services and so on—our constituencies in the so-called red wall have been sinking throughout this Administration. A Minister recently told the House that we will get £20 million from the levelling-up fund, but it never came. In any case, £20 million would not transform our constituencies. What does the Secretary of State say to the old miner I met in the Co-op on Saturday afternoon in our village, who said, “Will you say to Mr Gove, ‘Levelling up, who does he think he’s kidding?’”?

The hon. Gentleman is a very effective and passionate advocate not just for his constituents but for coalfield communities more broadly, but recent work by the Onward think-tank has pointed out that, under this Government, coalfield regeneration—the establishment of new enterprises and the creation of fresh opportunities—has accelerated at a rate not seen under the last Labour Government. That is why so many coalfield communities, from Blyth to Derbyshire, voted for the Conservatives, under the leadership of my right hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson), in 2019.

Thanks in part to £20 million-worth of levelling-up money, Peterborough University has constructed a brand-new research and innovation hub and is constructing a new living lab. We are turning Peterborough into a high-skill, high-wage economy. Will my right hon. Friend come to Peterborough and visit the university to see our progress and to congratulate everybody who is transforming Peterborough?

I can think of few things I would enjoy more. I always enjoy visiting Peterborough, which gives me an opportunity not only to work with my hon. Friend, who is such an effective advocate for Peterborough, but to meet the stellar council leader Wayne Fitzgerald, who did so well in the recent local elections—a vote of confidence in Conservative leadership in Peterborough.

One of the clearest examples that rural communities are in desperate need of levelling up is the shocking state of bus services and the decline in access to them. The £2 fare is very welcome, but it is of no use to people who live in a community with no bus service. In the next few weeks, we face the withdrawal of the 530 Cartmel Peninsula service and the S1 Sedbergh to Kendal service. What funding and additional powers can the Secretary of State promise to the new Westmorland and Furness Council to make sure such communities retain their buses and that less well-served areas get new services?

The hon. Gentleman is right to say that bus services are vital, not least for rural communities such as those he represents. I would like to talk to him and to Westmorland and Furness Council, which is relatively newly formed and Lib Dem-led—at the moment. I am looking forward to talking about what we can do to provide, with the Department for Transport, suitable services for his constituents.