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Regional Inequality

Volume 684: debated on Monday 16 November 2020

What steps he is taking to ensure that local authority funding is used to tackle regional inequality. [R] (908780)

Since the start of the pandemic, we have given over £7.2 billion directly to councils. Sheffield city region has received £127 million in un-ringfenced covid emergency funding, on top of an increase in core spending power of over £70 million this year, and it is set to benefit further from the latest round of support for the November lockdown. Households in the most deprived areas in England receive nearly three times as much spending per home as those in the least deprived areas.

I thank the Minister for that response. He will know that since 2015, South Yorkshire has received £363 million from the local growth fund—money that has created 15,000 jobs, funded the revitalisation of town centres and supported investment from companies such as Boeing and McLaren. What plans does his Department have to extend this crucial pipeline of funding beyond next March, so that Mayors and local leaders can rebuild their economies?

I thank the hon Gentleman for his question, and for working so constructively with Government throughout this pandemic. He is right to highlight the importance of local growth funding to places and people up and down this country. The Budget this year did confirm up to £387 million in 2021-22 to provide certainty for local areas, which allows them to continue with existing priority local growth fund projects that require funding past this financial year. We will work closely with LEPs and Mayors to understand the changing need of local economies, and will look at how this funding can be used alongside other resources to support local economic recovery efforts. Further funding decisions will be announced in due course at the spending review.

When a Conservative Chancellor delivered his austerity Budget a decade ago, he said we are “all in this together”, yet the reality has been far from that, with communities in the north seeing a disproportionate impact on council budgets—in Blackburn, cut by over 50%—dramatically reducing our resilience to the covid crisis and our ability to recover and bounce back. Can the Minister assure the country that the Government will not break their promises again, and that his Department will take real action to address the health and economic inequalities in the north?

I disagree with the hon. Lady’s assertions. The council self-reported covid costs through September stand at £3.6 billion. We have provided £7.2 billion on top of our sales fees and charges scheme, which recoups councils with 75% of their lost income past that first 5%. The hon. Lady’s own council has had £87 million in funding, £15 million in additional un-ringfenced covid funding and £1.37 million in test and trace support. The hon. Lady is also wrong to say that we are not targeting the funding where it is needed. In distributing our covid emergency funding, we have taken into account the roles of deprivation and population, and the different cost drivers up and down the country. We are listening to councils, we are working with them and we praise their extraordinary ability to respond to the pressures of this pandemic.