Thank you very much, Mr Speaker. May I use this opportunity to pay tribute to my predecessor, my hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Dehenna Davison), who bravely used this moment to raise the challenges faced by people with chronic migraine? I thank her for her work and wish her the best of health. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear!”]
We have established 12 levelling-up missions principally aimed at tackling regional inequality and ensuring that, wherever someone lives—in cities, towns, island, rural or coastal communities—their opportunities are the same. Progress on the missions will be formally reported through an annual report as set out in our landmark Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill, which returns to the House of Commons tomorrow.
The Secretary of State says that we must have infrastructure that allows us to move towards zero-emission vehicles as quickly as possible, but the biggest 14 cities in the north of England have fewer electric vehicle charge points than the City of Westminster alone. How does the chasm between the number of charge points in London and those elsewhere demonstrate levelling up?
A conservative think-tank recently reported that coastal communities such as mine have lower life expectancy, inadequate transport links and people who are comparatively poorer. After repeated rejections for towns and levelling-up moneys, are my constituents not right to blame the Government of the last 13 years for this deliberate levelling down?
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Minister on his new post. May I remind him of the huge opportunity and pent-up potential in former industrial mill towns such as those in my constituency? One of the most gratifying things about the Government’s levelling-up programme has been how it has seen the potential in towns such as Rossendale, Rawtenstall, Bacup and Darwen and supported that with real money, with £120 million of town deal money for Darwen and £17.8 million for Rossendale. Does he think that this is the right Government to drive forward the ambition of people who live in mill towns?
I completely agree with my right hon. Friend. This morning, I met the leaders of Lancashire County Council, Blackburn with Darwen, and Blackpool, and they all agree with me that a devolution agreement in Lancashire will be fantastic. I am sure that you agree as well, Mr Speaker.
I welcome the Minister to his new job. Several months ago, Essex MPs met his predecessor to talk about the possibility of a combined authority for Essex. We were overwhelmingly against it. The people of Essex do not want this ridiculous white elephant; there is no demand from them. This is all being brought about by some highly ambitious Essex county councillors and some officers who think they would do well out of it. As most people in Essex do not even know that it is going on, will he and his boss meet me and other Essex MPs to hear our objections?
I am absolutely delighted to hear that the Minister met the leaders of Lancashire County Council, and Blackburn with Darwen and Blackpool councils this morning to discuss the enormous opportunity that devolving transport and skills responsibility to Lancashire presents. Will he and the whole of the Treasury Bench look favourably upon this? It is an opportunity that we are keen to take to deliver for people in Lancashire and South Ribble.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for her question and to you, Mr Speaker, for your point. I hope to meet Lancashire MPs next week to discuss devolution. I hope that we are able to announce a devolution deal in advance of Lancashire Day at the end of November.
I welcome the new Minister to his place. In the Secretary of State’s address to his party conference there was barely a mention of levelling up, and no mention whatsoever of the Government’s 12 missions, which were central to the original White Paper designed to tackle regional inequalities across England. There now exists a gaping chasm between a transformative change promised by the rhetoric of levelling up and the actual reality. Is the truth of the matter not that Downing Street has totally lost interest in that agenda, while the Department’s leadership bumbles on directionless and toothless, its bold promises unfulfilled and, in many cases, utterly disregarded?
I thank the hon. Lady for her kind words and her question, though I completely disagree with her. At the party conference we announced £1 billion for our long-term plan for towns, which will help us level up towns right across the country. I hope she welcomes that.