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Levelling Up across the UK

Volume 738: debated on Monday 16 October 2023

Levelling up is a UK-wide project. That is why we have delivered city and growth deals across Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland; why we have launched our investment zones programme, including zones in the north-east of Scotland and Glasgow; and why we are investing £4.8 billion through the levelling-up fund in projects ranging from the transformation of Burnley’s historic mills to the development of a cultural quarter in Peterhead.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. However, as he develops these policies further, will he remember that even in apparently affluent areas, there are pockets that would benefit significantly from levelling-up investment, especially across Basildon and Thurrock? Will he therefore tell the House what plans he has to include those areas in the next round of investment?

My hon. Friend makes a very important point, and in particular, it is vital to make sure that we level up that community in Thurrock. Our plans to extend the economic development of Docklands east to make the Thames estuary a powerhouse for economic growth have been inspired by my hon. Friend’s work and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Jackie Doyle-Price).

It was a pleasure to welcome the Prime Minister to Burnley two weeks ago, when he announced that Burnley was one of the many towns getting money as part of the long-term plan for towns, on top of more than £32 million from the levelling-up fund. I was particularly pleased to see that a key part of the long-term plan for towns is community engagement. Will the Secretary of State set out what that community engagement will look like? In particular, will it be a one-off, or can communities expect to be consulted throughout the decade for which the £20 million is allocated?

My hon. Friend is right to point out that this is a decade-long investment in 55 towns across the United Kingdom. We will work with people in Burnley, with its excellent Member of Parliament and with other representatives to ensure that we can tackle antisocial behaviour, revive high streets and make sure that the pride that people have in Burnley is reflected in investment from Government.

One of the economic sectors that provides levelling up across the whole of the United Kingdom is the creative industries, whether that is film production, theatre, the arts, video games or modern high tech. Will the Secretary of State have conversations with Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs and the Treasury about the proposals to change business rates, which may have a dramatic effect and curtail the opportunities for the creative industries?

Absolutely. The vital role that our creative industries play across the United Kingdom in levelling up is one we need to not just protect, but enhance.

The delivery of local services is so important to levelling up all areas of Britain. The Secretary of State will be aware that in rural areas, the cost of delivering public services is much higher than in their urban counterparts. In rural counties such as Shropshire, for example, the cost of providing social care is much higher and the proportion of people who need that care is higher, because there are older residents. Will the Secretary of State consider taking into account the cost of providing those services when determining the local government settlement in the future?

It is a very fair point, and absolutely, on the Government side of the House, we understand that rural communities need additional investment, not least when it comes to the cost of adult social care.

As my hon. Friend the Member for South Basildon and East Thurrock (Stephen Metcalfe) has said, there are pockets of deprivation even in wealthier areas, including Lichfield. Will the Secretary of State give some indication of what sort of timescale there is for the next round of applications?

I simply cannot believe that there are any pockets of deprivation in Lichfield, given who has been representing that constituency since 1992. The idea that there is any home unvisited by its Member of Parliament or that there is any hearth where there is a chill seems to be inconceivable. But nevertheless, we will make sure that levelling-up fund round 3 is brought forward just in advance of the autumn statement, and Staffordshire, I hope, will have its voice heard.

We understand that the Secretary of State is planning some rushed, back-of-a-cigarette-packet devolution deal with Hull and the East Riding. Can I urge caution? After 13 years of deliberate, sustained and savage cuts to our city, the last thing we need now is a botched deal ahead of the general election. The very least I expect the Secretary of State to guarantee is proper consultation, so that the people of Hull, who have been badly let down by this Tory Government, get the opportunity to understand the implications and to speak on the issue. Will he guarantee that?

I have a lot of respect for the hon. Gentleman, but we are not rushing or embarking on any botched process. We are talking to representatives from both the East Riding and Kingston upon Hull councils in order to ensure that we can get a devolution deal that works. We have devolution in York and North Yorkshire, West Yorkshire and South Yorkshire; as far as we are concerned, east Yorkshire should not be left out in that progress, but it is important that we get that right. In the meantime, we are developing a levelling-up partnership with Hull, in order to ensure that vital investment, not least in transport, matches the investment that we have already secured on the south bank of the Humber.

Prior to Scotland’s being dragged out of the European Union against its will, EU regional development policies allocated up to £827 million from 2014 to 2020. Crucially, the Scottish Government played a key role in directing the funding, in stark contrast to the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, which bypasses Scotland’s Parliament and undermines devolution. Will the Secretary of State and his Cabinet colleagues stop playing politics and devolve levelling up to Holyrood?

We are devolving levelling up—we are devolving it to local government. That is why our recent towns fund announcement was welcomed by all councils, including SNP-led councils. I say to the hon. Lady, with respect, that the SNP conference, meeting in Aberdeen today, has decided that if the SNP gets 29 MPs, that is a mandate for independence. Given the rate at which the SNP is losing MPs to defection and by-election, it will be at 29 by Christmas, so let us discuss it then.