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Industrial and Mining Towns

Volume 801: debated on Thursday 13 February 2020


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to enhance the economies of former industrial and mining towns and villages in the North of England.

My Lords, this Government are committed to levelling up regions and supporting communities in former industrial and mining towns in the north of England through the continuation of our numerous devolution policies. Alongside the refreshed northern powerhouse strategy and building on considerable investment through the local growth fund, the Government are providing funding to towns through the £3.6 billion towns fund and the future high streets fund. The north will also benefit from an array of national funding pots.

My Lords, the old industrial towns and villages are suddenly in the news following the general election. We are not the major regional centres, such as Newcastle, Leeds and Manchester, but across the north of England and the Midlands there are hundreds of such places. They are the towns around, the areas on the edge, the places in between. We need the resources, powers and, often, new infrastructure to tackle problems such as transport and flooding, but our futures cannot be successfully micromanaged from Whitehall or even from the large cities. Do the Government understand that the local successful futures of these areas must be firmly in the hands of local councils, local people, local organisations and local businesses? The local communities themselves, with local democratic control, will let a thousand democratic local flowers bloom.

I agree with much of what the noble Lord said. I am very pleased that we have commenced a grand tour of the north. On Monday we focused on Yorkshire, and here we are on Thursday focusing on Lancashire. The noble Lord has spoken about local communities, and that is exactly what we are aiming to do. We are committed to levelling up the economy across the UK, with a focus on the north. We have made huge strides in rebalancing the economy. Over the past few years, the Government have delivered on one of the most ambitious devolution agendas in more than 70 years. The noble Lord might also like to know that the details locally are coming through. He will know about the redevelopment of the Brierfield Mill, which will see the mill changed into a mixed-use leisure, learning and community destination, to be known as Northlight.

My Lords, on effective communities, will the Government restore a significant proportion of the moneys withdrawn from the support of local government in the past few years, which in Newcastle’s case alone amounts to £330 million a year? I declare my interest as a member of Newcastle City Council.

The noble Lord is right, and that is exactly what we are doing. We have announced the £3.6 billion towns fund, which will support an initial 100 town deals across England. We also have the future high streets fund, for which £1 billion of the towns fund has been made available. We are looking north and directing funding into the areas where it matters, directed by the wishes of local people.

My Lords, 90% of the economy goes by road. The A1, the main road from London to Edinburgh, is not even dualled. The A69 over the Pennines is a constant brake on the movement of transport. If we want to get the north of England moving, we must improve the road system as well as the rail system.

My noble friend is right. Again, there are several announcements coming out on transport. There was the announcement on HS2 this week, and we now have a new national bus strategy. On his point about roads, I remember answering a Question on the A1. It is very much on the radar, and I will write to my noble friend with the details of the A1 and the new road that is going to be built towards Carlisle.

My Lords, former mining towns that voted more for Brexit than anywhere else in the country do not want investment that goes round them; they want investment in them—that people can see inside them. Do the Government realise that their credibility in the next five years will be judged on this more than on any other issue?

The noble Lord makes a good point to the extent that we are focusing in. It takes us back to the Question raised by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, on coalfields, regeneration and steelworks. The Government have provided funding to the Coalfields Regeneration Trust—the CRT—which seeks to support former mining communities in England; in the last seven years, we have provided £22 million. On the steelworks, he will know that much funding has gone into the Redcar steelworks, to the tune of £46 million.

My Lords, Governments cannot do everything, but if the Government are to re-engineer their criteria for investing in infrastructure to support the older industrial areas, might they encourage the private sector to do the same? The private sector has social obligations to places, as well as financial obligations to shareholders.

Absolutely—that will definitely be looked at. I make the point that, as the noble Lord will know, we are publishing a White Paper and setting out our strategy to unleash the potential of our regions. This will look at further devolution across England and levelling up powers, and will also include liaising and engaging with local businesses and getting their buy-in to what we plan to do.

My Lords, are the Government aware that SMEs in the north of England are already doing better than those in the south? Exports are up something like 50% on average over the last two years; a whole lot of incredibly good statistics have been confirmed by the Office for National Statistics. So we are on the right track already.

Yes, and, indeed, many SMEs have started up after the changes in some of the big industrial companies. The LEPs have also played their part; that informs investment decisions and drives economic growth. As I say, the White Paper will explore how we can align future local growth with further devolution and the institutional reforms entailed.