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South-west of England: Levelling up

Volume 820: debated on Thursday 7 April 2022

Question for Short Debate

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what are their ‘levelling up’ plans for the South-West of England.

My Lords, I am privileged to serve a diocese in one of the most beautiful parts of England, except the picture postcard view of the region loved by tourists is only half the story. In keeping with most shire counties, the population is older than the national average. Dorset has the oldest population and Devon the second-oldest, with the average age in both counties set to rise significantly over the next 10 years, putting further strain on the NHS and our care services. However, the great thing about an older population, which became evident during the lockdown, is their resilience—they bring ballast and a honed wisdom to their communities. But this does not permit us to underestimate the logistical and economic challenge of sustaining an ageing population, particularly in coastal communities and remote rural areas.

I am proud of what the churches in our region are trying to do to improve people’s life chances. Initiatives such as Transforming Plymouth Together provided more than 126,000 meals for poor families in Plymouth in the eight months from February to October last year, and our Growing the Rural Church project is helping village churches become the weekday hub of their communities where all other public buildings have disappeared. I flag this up because, as we recover from the pandemic, we have a golden opportunity to forge coalitions of good will between national and local government, the private sector and voluntary agencies, including those of church and faith organisations, to secure the flourishing of the region.

I support the Government’s levelling-up strategy. However, the narrative accompanying it continues to focus on the north/south divide to the neglect of other regional inequities and the unacknowledged urban/rural fault line that runs through many of the Government’s policies. There are challenges within regions, not simply between regions. Rural poverty may not show up on government statistics because it is dispersed in small pockets but it is just as real as in parts of our inner cities.

The south-west has a number of reasonably sized conurbations, such as Bristol, Plymouth, Exeter, Swindon and Torbay, around which our hospitals and services constellate. Between them is a patchwork of market towns, villages and hamlets, served by a rail network that is vulnerable to the weather and poor public transport that disadvantages poorer residents and young people who wish to engage in educational and apprenticeship opportunities.

A fundamental question is whether the Government’s strategy for targeted interventions actually reaches into this rural hinterland to effect change. I support the Government’s aspiration to improve public services, but unless the current funding formulae for the allocation of national funds to local authorities and public service organisations are adjusted to take account of the additional cost of service delivery in remote rural areas, the inequity will not be addressed.

In the south-west we enjoy an honourable partnership with the Armed Forces and Brixham boasts the largest fishing fleet on the south coast, but, fundamentally, the region has a low-wage economy that is seasonal and heavily reliant on tourism. The challenge is to generate jobs that are worthwhile and invite investment. We have cutting-edge research institutes, such as the Met Office, and universities of international stature that are the economic dynamos of our region. My question to the Minister is this: how can we enhance their capacity for innovation?

Beside economics, there are profound concerns around the vulnerability of coastal communities, rural sustainability and the patchy provision of medical services. The Chief Medical Officer observed last year, in his report on coastal communities such as Torbay, that some of the

“most beautiful … and historically important places in the country … have some of the worst health outcomes in England, with low life expectancy and high rates of … major diseases.”

I hope that other noble Lords will pick up on these concerns, but I will confine myself to four matters: farming, education, housing and connectivity. The south-west boasts some of the best farmland in England, and we need to strengthen its capacity for home food production. The loss of the wheat harvest in Ukraine shows how vulnerable we are to global markets. Farmers are anxious about the rise in the cost of fertiliser, the drop in domestic milk production, the phasing out of direct payments to farmers and the introduction of environmental land management schemes. If the south-west is to flourish, the legitimate concerns of farmers need to be addressed by the Government.

Secondly, many of us are concerned about low educational attainment and lament the poverty of aspiration among many young people. If young people in Devon, enticed by the buzz of London, have an aspiration, it is to get on the train in Exeter and get off at Paddington—whereas, if you are over 60, your aspiration is to get on the train at Paddington and get off at Exeter St David’s. We have to raise educational standards and expand young people’s horizons so that they attain their full potential. We need to ensure that there are opportunities for young people to stay and inspire future generations. With 134 Church schools in my diocese, we look forward to working with the Government to that end, following the publication of the White Paper on schools last week.

Thirdly, there is a shortage of affordable housing, which is acute in holiday areas. Cornwall suffers from an unregulated housing market, with surging demand exacerbated by the pandemic. Coastal communities are being hollowed out by second and holiday homes, and local people are unable to find accommodation, as more housing is turned into lucrative holiday lets. Some 16,000 people in Cornwall are looking for council housing, but currently only 43 properties are available there. In tourist hotspots in Devon, such as the South Hams, property prices have skyrocketed to more than 14 times the average local salary, making homes unaffordable for most of the local population. In Ilfracombe, on the north coast, only four homes were available for private rent last month, compared with 326 Airbnbs. This is having a devastating effect on the sustainability of these communities because, with reduced indigenous populations, shops close and school rolls fall, precipitating a downward spiral of deprivation that is very difficult to arrest.

Finally, I come to connectivity. According to Defra, 9% of rural premises do not have access to a decent fixed-line broadband connection, 10% of rural areas do not have 4G coverage from at least one mobile network operator and, in contrast to urban areas, which have 97% 4G coverage from all four network operators, only 63% of rural areas have this sort of coverage. Boosting connectivity, through both transport and digital infrastructure, is essential to the underpinning of the regional economy, if we are to become net zero and safeguard the environment. We need the Government’s help to address the historic and current underresourcing of the region.

In conclusion, and in company with the Rural Coalition, I say that the south-west is more than a holiday destination or a green lung for city dwellers. It is a place of innovation, creativity and joy, and it merits greater investment than the Government’s levelling-up strategy currently offers.

I congratulate Bishop Robert—the right reverend Prelate—on securing this debate, which is really important. I absolutely agree with his theme that we think so much about the levelling-up agenda as being north versus south—or, indeed, on occasions, as has been shown factually in terms of government funding programmes over the years, urban versus rural. Of course, the south-west is important in its rural population and its rural contribution culturally and economically.

If noble Lords will forgive me, I will talk mainly about Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, and the shared prosperity fund. What I say is not a criticism of the Government; one of the things I want to succeed is the shared prosperity fund. There are a number of questions here that I will go through and I would be happy to have those answered subsequent to the debate rather than necessarily here today.

Nearly everything that I talk about will also be relevant to the rest of the greater south-west. It is perhaps symbolic that all the speakers in this debate are lined up on the same side of the argument, apart from the Minister—

I apologise. But we have a unity here.

In Cornwall, our earnings are some 20%—one-fifth—less than the national average. Our GDP is 30% less than the national average. It is interesting that if you look at the contours of productivity, as you move further south-west, productivity goes down significantly east to west. Is that inevitable? I look across to the Republic of Ireland, which used to be one of the tigers of the European economy. It is still more affluent than many parts of the UK. That remoteness is not something that we should take for granted; actually, it causes those differences. Of course, exactly as the right reverend Prelate said, house prices go in the opposite direction. They are high and largely unaffordable for the resident population.

We are still unclear how the shared prosperity fund will operate. We have a framework there. We understand it is going to be £2.6 billion over three years. The promise by the Government—certainly the Prime Minister—has been that the funding that Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly had under European programmes will be replicated. I ask for confirmation that, in that first period of three years, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly will have something like £300 million in funding, and that over the seven years—it was a seven-year programme in European days—it will be something like £700 million.

One of the positives about seven-year programmes was that you could plan over that time. Three years is a lot more difficult. Perhaps we could have an assurance that we will not have a programme that starts late and has to spend by the end of year 3, meaning that those projects are short-term and not optimal. I think the Minister would understand that issue.

I also understand that the programmes will be primarily revenue-based. Yet when we come to productivity—I will say more on this later—yes, it is around skills, which I will also come on to, but it is also around investment. A lot of that needs to be capital expenditure rather than just revenue. Will the Government recognise that as that programme proceeds?

I also understand that in the first year 20% of the funding for shared prosperity will go towards a fund called Multiply, which is all about adult numeracy and language. Excellent though that is, it means that there will not be any skills element in the first year, meaning there is a gap between the ESF programmes we have at the moment and skills-based programmes we might have in future after the first year.

One of the great frustrations of European funding was that it took two years to agree the programmes between local authorities, Whitehall and Brussels. It is absolutely essential that these programmes start on time. They need to be agreed and then roll out as soon as the money is available on projects that are not too short term. I ask the Minister: will there be flexibility for the whole south-west—whether Cornwall, Devon or Dorset—as it understands its own needs best? Will that delegation of decision-making downwards, which was sometimes also absent in European programmes, be improved?

Lastly, I want to talk about productivity for 15 seconds. This is a practical thing. Whenever companies I know have applied for European funding in the past it has all been “Jobs, jobs, jobs”. The problem is not jobs; the problem is productivity, careers and decently paid jobs. I ask the Minister that, when people have to fill forms out, they are not just around jobs; they are around productivity and quality. We as the south-west and as Cornwall want to contribute to the rest of the United Kingdom. Please let us do so.

My Lords, I am delighted that the right reverend Prelate chose this debate to throw a light on a part of England which is all-too-often overlooked. I agree entirely with the points he made. I would just say that I have very poor internet connection. I live in a very small village in east Devon surrounded by farmland, and I love it. My husband and I first bought a house in east Devon in 1964 in another small village. There we were surrounded by active farms of cows, beef cattle and sheep. It was usual to be held up on the road because the cows were passing to be milked. It was a busy community. The present village, which we moved to in 1978, was also a very busy farming community—mainly small, family farms.

The fields today are largely empty. The last local farm near our village is about to close. A hundred acres of solar panels are proposed. I am totally in favour of solar panels, but we are already surrounded by them. I am not against them, but I see that the excellent pasture, to which the right reverend Prelate referred, is being filled with panels and not with animals, other than a few horses and some sheep.

As an example, a farmer friend of mine who lives locally, who inherited his farm from his grandfather and father, and farmed with his son, gave up farming seven or eight years ago. Why? Because the amount of money he received for his milk—he had a milking herd—was nothing like as much as the cost of production; he could not afford to keep farming. The farm is now covered with donkeys from the Donkey Sanctuary Sidmouth, where the son drives one of their vehicles.

There are of course some large and medium-sized farms, but I ask the question rhetorically: how long will medium-sized farms continue to be viable? This is a serious food production issue, which the right reverend Prelate referred to, as well as the loss of livelihood of many small farmers. We should worry about the loss of home-grown foodstuffs such as milk. What, I wonder, will levelling up actually do for Devon?

My Lords, I am very grateful to the right reverend Prelate for securing this important debate and for the way he covered many of the issues facing the south-west.

In the Library briefing for this debate, we are told that Cornwall and Devon perform consistently worse on a number of metrics than better-off areas towards Wiltshire and Gloucestershire—but I do not want anyone to run off with the idea that Gloucestershire does not share many of the problems of Devon and Cornwall. We too suffer from healthcare shortages and the problems brought about by the Government’s failure to address the cost of living crisis—and indeed by their insistence on making the problem even worse with their increase in NI contributions.

Local residents in Gloucestershire and visitors to the county have had to put up with the worst state of roads and pavements I can remember. When I was growing up, we were told, “A stitch in time saves nine”. Gloucestershire County Council does not seem to have heard about this. Instead, it lets many roads decay to such an extent that large amounts of hard-earned council tax payers’ money is now having to be spent on patching up some of the worst areas. Many roads still have bone-shaking, suspension-damaging potholes. Yesterday, on the way to a medical appointment, I endured Douro Road, one of the worst in Cheltenham.

Nationwide figures released this week show an alarming rise in the truly appalling number of children growing up in poverty. Gloucestershire is not immune to this. How can children be expected to concentrate on their schoolwork if they arrive at school having had an inadequate breakfast or, in many cases, no breakfast at all? When I was MP for Cheltenham, we had no food banks. Now they are a necessary part of our town’s efforts to feed our citizens. I pay tribute to the dedicated people who give their time to help those in need.

I have tabled Written Questions about the number of dentists who accept NHS patients in the south-west. The number is painfully low in Gloucestershire, while in Devon, Cornwall and the Scillies there are none at all. There are few things worse than agonising toothache, and more dentists need to be trained.

There has been a crisis in Gloucestershire with ambulance waiting times and access to Gloucester Royal Hospital. Part of this problem was caused by Cheltenham General Hospital being deprived for too long of 24-hour accident and emergency services because of a lack of staff, with patients being diverted to Gloucester. On three occasions, my own life was saved only by rapid access to A&E. I am grateful to the medics who saved me. To take another example, an elderly relative of mine was found on the floor of his home at 7 am one morning by his carer. An ambulance was called, but it took more than four hours before paramedics arrived. After stabilising him, they took him to hospital. Sadly, he died there later that week. I am not saying that the delay in the ambulance’s arrival contributed to his death, but I suspect it did not help his condition.

Waiting times for GPs and cancer treatment in the south-west are unacceptably long. All the GPs I know have been working their socks off, beyond full capacity and with long hours, and they are quite rightly angry when the Health Minister criticises them. One resident told me the other day that he suspects the Government are deliberately underfunding the health service to encourage people to complain about the NHS, so that they can continue to privatise the whole service to their rich friends. The Bill we voted on this week shows that that may not be far from the truth.

Finally, another serious concern is that, far too often, rivers and waterways in the south-west are being polluted by having raw sewage pumped into them. In 2020, water companies released raw sewage into rivers more than 400,000 times over a total of 3.1 million hours. In many cases, such discharges are happening routinely, not just in exceptional circumstances such as extreme rain. I voted for a ban on sewage discharges, but this was reversed by the Government with a useless amendment of their own. Why on earth will they not force the water companies to clean up their act? My local water company, Severn Trent, made over £400 million profit last year, around a quarter of its income. Those profits disappear into large bonuses for bosses and dividends for shareholders, instead of funding infrastructure necessary for the clean-up. Why are hard-pressed taxpayers expected to pay for cleaning up this pollution, which is killing our wildlife and endangering those who participate in water sports?

Sadly, the Government’s levelling-up White Paper is short on detail and contains no magic nuggets for the south-west. If the Government think they can take voters for granted in our beautiful part of the country, they have a rude awakening coming their way.

My Lords, I thank the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Exeter for securing this important and timely debate. It is a pleasure to welcome—somewhat tardily—Bishop Robert to this House. He is a friend and a passionate champion of our region. I note my interests as a resident of the south-west and as the Earl of Devon.

Chronicles of medieval Exeter record that the Bishop of Exeter and the Earl of Devon fell out over the supply of River Exe salmon for their respective households during the Middle Ages. The argument reputedly led to a schism between the cathedral city and its rural and coastal surrounds that lasted for centuries. This division between urban society and the rural and coastal communities was repeated and replicated nationwide, and is one of the key reasons why the levelling-up agenda is far older and more complex than oft-debated post-industrial issues.

This rift is also the cause of our greatest national shame—the environmental degradation and rural deprivation that has caused ecological Armageddon across our countryside. Nowadays, there are next to no salmon in the River Exe, a river whose Latin name Isca means an abundance of fish—how tragically ironic. This environmental catastrophe occurred as urban populations lost all connection with the rural hinterland and the natural capital on which they depend for food, fresh air, energy and clean water. It is therefore a pleasure to join the right reverend Prelate in an effort to heal that schism and to invite the Government to bring urban and rural communities back together for the common purpose of restoring our environment and raising living standards for all. By focusing resources on the south-west, as our nation’s natural powerhouse, we can do that.

We have already heard the grim statistics, which make depressing reading for anyone who cares about the south-west. The prevalence of second homes and wealthy retirees among dispersed, rural and coastal communities masks huge underlying challenges, as do the seasonality and low pay of employment in the region. In education and skills, the south-west struggles. Soon-to-be-published research by Dr Anne-Marie Sim and Professor Lee Elliot Major of Exeter University shows that the south-west has the worst educational outcomes for disadvantaged young people in the country, and particularly low social mobility compared with other regions. School attainment gaps between poorer pupils and others are the largest for all English regions, and only 17% of disadvantaged children go to university, compared with 45% in London. Those who succeed often move away, up the M4 and M3 corridors to London and the south-east, leaving behind an older population for whom health and social care present many challenges for local government and the NHS.

As we have heard, connectivity is one of the key disadvantages, with road, rail and air travel all challenged and digital connectivity falling behind targets, leaving some rural communities in the digital Dark Ages, particularly during recent lockdowns. Utilities are also below acceptable standards, with the uptake of renewable energy hamstrung by capacity limits in the national grid, and sewage and water-treatment plants, as we have just heard, regularly poisoning our rivers due to lack of capacity.

These shortcomings are hardly a surprise, as there has been a track record of underinvestment in the region. There is a lack of access to finance that means that companies and entrepreneurs simply do not get the support they would elsewhere. For example, the local growth fund investment is at £134.40 per head for the region, which is considerably less than the national average at £150.90 per head and far below the investment in the northern powerhouse, which stands at £210.80 per head. There is similarly low investment from Innovate UK, at only £40.30 per head, compared with £172.50 per head nationally. Investment in transport stands at £308 per head against a national average of £474. These are stark differences, which show that the south-west is simply not being given the same opportunities as other regions.

Is there a solution to these issues? Of course there is. It is not simply the spending of more money; rather it is the directing of investment into the areas in which the south-west leads the country and indeed the world. The south-west is our nation’s natural powerhouse. Not only do we bear the brunt of the weather—and therefore of climate change—with more sunshine, wind and rain than anywhere else, but the peninsula is unmatched in its natural capital, with an abundance of coastline, landscape and habitat, along with a green and blue economy which knows best how to manage and live in harmony with them. We boast a massive amount of renewable energy, as well as the specialist resources needed to harness it. This ranges from offshore and onshore wind and geothermal, lithium and tin extraction in Cornwall, to marine technology in Plymouth and Europe’s pre-eminent cluster of climate scientists at the University of Exeter and the Met Office.

Kwasi Kwarteng MP, the Secretary of State for BEIS, accepts that the south-west is at the forefront of both the fight against climate change and the green industrial revolution. If the Government are serious about levelling up and about climate change and biodiversity, they can achieve multiple goals through a specific and dedicated focus on the south-west of England by supporting the Great South West’s natural powerhouse campaign. Will the Government do this and, if not, why not?

My Lords, I congratulate the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Exeter on securing this debate so early in his parliamentary career. I also congratulate him on his excellent introduction to this subject matter.

The Government, in their weighty levelling-up document, concentrated almost exclusively on the north of England, and there was very little mention of rural areas. The right reverend Prelate has rightly raised the plight of elderly people in rural areas. The Institute for Fiscal Studies, conducting its analysis of regional inequalities in different countries, found that the UK

“is one of the most geographically unequal countries in the developed world”.

This was not earth-shattering news for those of us living in rural areas in the south-west. While the south-west peninsula is beautiful and enjoys dramatic coastlines, it has serious issues of connectivity. One fact which I learned many years ago is that it is further from Bristol to the tip of Cornwall than it is from Bristol to Carlisle. Yet, we think of Carlisle as being very distant, while the coastline of Cornwall appears to be on our doorstep—at least emotionally.

Onward think tank research indicated areas where the south-west performs poorly against other regions: unemployment is falling more slowly, much of the work is part-time and poorly paid, there is a growing

“skills shortage among young people”—

to which other noble Lords have referred—and both digital connectivity and transport are poor. Tourism is vital to the south-west, but the jobs created are poorly paid. The hospitality industry finds it difficult to recruit, with a shortage of chefs and those willing to wait at tables. Before the lockdown, it was difficult to recruit; currently, it is almost impossible. Those who previously did these jobs have moved on to less demanding roles.

Our young people, especially in rural areas, are often isolated with no access to public transport or the internet. They are dependent on either school transport or their parents—if their parents have a car. They leave home to go to college or university, and they do not come back. We need to provide an environment where they can flourish and find a job and a home in which to live independently. The productivity gap between Cornwall and Devon is clear, when compared with Gloucestershire and Wiltshire. There is no mention at all of Somerset, which appears to have been squeezed out between the four larger counties. The parent company of South West Water, Pennon, in its report Levelling Up the Great South West—a naff title if ever I heard one—indicated the clear gap between Cornwall and Devon and the productivity of the rest of the UK. This is damming indeed. We are hard working in the south-west; that is not the issue.

I remember many years ago fighting in the then South West Regional Assembly in Exeter for Objective 1 status for Cornwall. However, it would seem that this success has not brought the levelling up for Cornwall which we all hoped for. My noble friend Lord Teverson eloquently set out the case for Cornwall. Many commenting on the levelling up for the south-west have referred to rehashing of previous announcements; the rhetoric is good, but the detail is totally absent and there is nothing like enough money.

Earlier this year, the Government announced their bus service improvement funding allocations. Somerset bid for £163 million. This is the exact sum allocated to the north-east and North of Tyne. Somerset was awarded £11.9 million—a pathetic amount to fix transport connectivity in a county with huge rural areas in Exmoor, the Mendip Hills and the Quantocks. The secondary school in Minehead covers an area of 600 square miles, with children leaving home extremely early and some having three changes of transport before arriving at school. Wheddon Cross is a transport interchange for these children, but it is absolutely nothing like any transport interchange you will find in Manchester or Tyneside.

The noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, raised the plight of farmers, who are currently struggling with increasing feed prices, and the noble Earl, Lord Devon, reminded of us of when salmon were plentiful in Devon rivers. No doubt pollution has contributed to their demise.

The Government’s plan to address regional inequalities appears to cover the ground: private sector, increased opportunity, health, education, policing, strengthening local leadership, pride of place and quality of life—all good stuff, but no detail. Those of us campaigning in the Somerset unitary elections in May know that “strengthening local leadership” means the will of the local people being swept aside as the Government’s ideology of “bigger has to be better” holds sway. Strengthening devolution legislation means, as we saw yesterday, that mayoral elections will no longer contain a second choice by the supplementary vote system, but will revert to the old and stale first past the post scenario used for non-mayoral elections.

The plans for the south-west include 11 new hospitals —marvellous. However, we currently have excellent hospitals that are chronically and dangerously understaffed. In many cases, 50% of clinicians are off with Covid, and others are leaving their professions at all levels due to burnout, a feeling of total helplessness and years of being undervalued. My noble friend Lord Jones of Cheltenham offered a statistic that shows that there is a chronic shortage of dentists.

“Levelling up” is a phrase that has little meaning for us in the south-west. I wish I could be more positive, but years of experience tell me that successive Governments produce phrases, documents and rhetoric, but absolutely no action or commitment.

My Lords, I thank the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Exeter for his Question and his excellent introduction to the issue before us. He is right to highlight the current disadvantages for people in the south-west in education, housing, farming, transport, digital infrastructure and life chances for young people. I also thank all noble Lords for their thoughtful contributions, including discussing productivity, connectivity, careers and decently paid jobs.

The current economic settlement is not working. For decades, the places that used to power our country have got only the crumbs from the table. That has created huge inequalities, which Labour will focus on fixing. In the last decade, the Tories have stripped the nations and regions of funding and power. An IPPR North report shows that the Tories have taken £431 from every person in cuts to council funding and handed just £31 back in levelling-up funds. For all the talk about levelling up, we are being completely short-changed again by the White Paper. After 12 years, we are left with a list of 12 things the Government have failed to achieve—no new money nor new powers.

Boris Johnson’s answer to our communities calling for change is to shuffle the deckchairs by tinkering with government structures and recycling announcements. This is not what was promised. We deserve far more ambition than this. We need to change the settlement for our country back in favour of those who built it. Labour will do that by ensuring that jobs and opportunities are spread fairly across the country, so that you do not have to move hundreds of miles just to find good work or prospects.

The UK is one of the most regionally unequal countries in the world, but inequalities can also occur between towns, cities and villages within the same region. In the south-west of England, there are prosperous towns such as Bath in Somerset and Poole in Dorset, but there are also areas that face deprivation and lack opportunities.

Despite this, the south-west receives less spending per head, and less spending on public services and transport per head, than the national average. Let me give a few examples. Stroud has recently applied for levelling-up funding to transform public services in its town centres. Truro in Cornwall suffers from high levels of antisocial behaviour. Latest police figures show that it has the highest levels of crime in the country. Every constituency in Cornwall except one has higher deprivation than the England average, including Camborne and Redruth, which is 23% higher.

The right reverend Prelate is right to point out that the narrative accompanying the Government’s levelling-up strategy focuses on the north/south divide, to the neglect of other regional inequalities such as in the south-west. I say this as someone from a northern town. Both the north and the south-west of England have languished regarding key indicators such as life expectancy, educational attainment, well-being and wages. If the Government want to close the UK’s regional productivity gap and boost living standards, they must promote cross-party support and develop a long-term strategy and commitment that lasts longer than a single parliamentary term or a single party’s political agenda. Now is the moment to set a new direction of travel and for people start thinking about every government policy, in line with the UK regions; but certainly, the current plan and approach will not level up the UK.

It has come to my attention, not through research but through eavesdropping, that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Exeter and the Minister were at Trinity College, Cambridge together. The right reverend Prelate was a young chaplain and in those days, he was giving the Minister wise words and advice. I am not sure how much importance he attached to them then, but today the message is clear, and I hope the Minister will react to it. I look forward to his response.

My Lords, I too congratulate the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Exeter on securing this debate. He was known as Robert Atwell when he was chaplain during my early years as an undergraduate. He looked a lot younger then—but then, so did I. I used to row, which you cannot believe, given the physique I have now. He said, “You got on the first boat, in your first term!” As a Roman Catholic, he got me into the chapel and made it very much part of college life. That is what he has brought to his current job. He really cares about his region, and it comes through palpably. He has raised a lot of very important issues.

I take issue with the idea that the Government do not have the credentials to speak for the south-west. Here today we have the noble Lord, Lord Khan of Burnley, a former cabinet member for Burnley. We also have with us a very distinguished leader for six years of Somerset County Council, which is a pretty good innings for the Liberal Democrats. But the Government Whip here has been—

Fair enough, but the Government Whip here, my noble friend Lady Scott of Bybrook, was for 16 years—not just six—leader of Wiltshire Council.

That is living there; this is leading a council for 16 years. I managed six, which is in itself an achievement. The knowledge, the experience and the drive that it takes to lead a council for 16 years is here supporting me. What is more, I have covering fire from my noble friend Lord Whitby, who represents the great Birmingham City Council, which he led with great distinction for many years—

There you go; on this side of the House we have real experience. I want to deal with the accusation from the noble Lord, Lord Khan, that there is no money and no power. Let us deal with the money first and the power second.

On commitment to the south-west and the money currently being spent, these are staggering sums. There is an initial £131 million investment through round one of the levelling-up fund—that is money. The towns fund is investing £198 million across nine towns in the south-west—that is money. Eleven places in the south-west have received over £138.5 million of funding through the future high streets fund—that is money. The noble Lord should recognise that that is money. There is £92.6 million allocated to the south-west through the getting building fund—that is money. In 2017, the West of England Combined Authority agreed a devolution deal worth over £900 million in investment in the area over 13 years—that is money.

Let us think about the future, because now we are talking about real power: devolution and devolution deals. I know that a number will come to the surface in the next few years in the south-west, devolving real power away to the south-west. That is the power that follows the money.

I want to deal specifically with the right reverend Prelate’s issues; since he secured the debate, I should address most of my remarks to them. He talked about the capacity for innovation. One of the things I learnt in preparation for this debate is that we are increasing public R&D investment to £20 billion by 2024-25. Of this, at least 55% will go to places outside London and the south-east, helping those places to develop competitive advantages. Obviously, I hope that much of that goes to the south-west. There is a lot of money there to deal with the deprivation that the right reverend Prelate has outlined. Certainly, the south-west has benefited from £303 million of Innovate UK funding since 2008. We continue to see R&D investment, which can only get bigger, going to the south-west.

The right reverend Prelate is also a great champion on issues of rural and coastal deprivation. He asked a couple specific questions about whether targeted interventions reach the rural hinterland. The Government will publish the second report on rural proofing in England this spring—imminently. It will set out how government departments are working to support levelling up in rural areas through targeted approaches where needed, and how we are strengthening the rural economies. More on that anon.

On connectivity and the patchy provision of rural services, last week the Government announced a further £32 million of funding to protect the crucial Dawlish rail link in Devon. This is part of £155 million to level up investments between communities in the south-west.

The noble Lord, Lord Teverson, wanted to know about the UK shared prosperity fund. It is a good question, but he will just have to wait a bit. The prospectus will be published imminently, but I take the point about having time to plan and having flexibility. As a former local leader myself, I completely agree with those principles, and they are points well made.

The noble Lord, Lord Teverson, who I think is a distinguished former Member of the European Parliament, also wanted to know whether EU funding levels will be matched for Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly. I have been told that the Government will match current EU funding levels in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly and will publish details of allocations in due course. There is some information for the noble Lord that I think is positive.

Will there be flexibility? I think I have answered that. Let us get the detail about that on the table in future.

It is important to recognise that the Government set out an ambition that takes us to 2030, along with some clear missions, and through the spending review they have been driving the spending around those missions. They will measure those and publish an annual report, but I thank the right reverend Prelate for once again making us realise that it is not a north/south issue or a rural/urban issue: there is deprivation and issues that need to be tackled throughout all four nations of this great United Kingdom.

The Church plays an incredibly important role, particularly in education, and I recognise that. The right reverend Prelate mentioned the diocesan schools. In my patch, Hammersmith and Fulham, we have wonderful voluntary aided schools that provide first-class opportunities within the maintained sector for young people to get on in life. Long may that continue.

This has been a great debate. There is a lot to be said for the south-west—but you would never know it, listening to the noble Lord, Lord Khan.

Sitting suspended.