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Long-term Funding Settlements

Volume 714: debated on Monday 16 May 2022

We know how important multi-year certainty is to local authorities and we aim to provide it whenever possible. We are making £54.1 billion available to local government in England through this year’s settlement—an increase of up to £3.7 billion on last year. We are also providing an additional £1.6 billion of grant funding per year across the spending review period.

Long-term challenges need long-term solutions. We have had too much of an ad hoc bidding war, which creates winners and losers. A perfect example is my constituency: in the past three years, we have had our bids to the future high streets fund, towns fund, Restoring Your Railway fund, levelling-up fund and Bus Back Better fund rejected. Any one of those could have made a real difference to the constituency, but after each bid, we have been back at square one. Can the Minister not see that to truly level up, we need a strategy, not a lottery?

I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman’s area has not been successful in bidding for funds, but I remind him that it has received £12.6 million from the shared prosperity fund. The levelling-up bids are competitive, and the strength of the bids is part of what is measured, so I encourage him and his local authorities to continue trying.

A new study by the Centre for Business Research shows that by the end of next year, more than half the UK’s slowest-growing economies will be in the north of England. So much for the Government’s commitment to levelling up the country! If we want true levelling up, we need proper regional investment. Instead, we have a rolling series of beauty parades: the levelling-up fund, the towns fund, the high streets fund, the buses fund, the brownfield fund and all the others. Do Ministers really believe that levelling up is best served by making communities come cap in hand to Whitehall, where only some can win, and most must lose?

Competitive funding has its place, and we think that it has been an effective tool for protecting value for taxpayers’ money. The hon. Gentleman knows that, as I said in answer to his colleague the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Justin Madders), that is not the only funding that we are providing. We have increased funding for local government by £3.7 billion.

The hon. Lady knows that the story for local government over the past decade has been a devastating one. Even if an area is successful in the bids that I have talked about, it will still be worse off overall as a result of Government cuts. With this Government, the reality never matches the press release, and we see that once again with the shared prosperity fund: the Tory party promised, in its 2019 manifesto, that the amount in the fund would match the what used to be received, but now we can see that the fund is worth hundreds of millions less. So I ask the Minister what I asked the Secretary of State last month, when I received only a grammar lesson in response: levelling up is a sham, is it not?

I completely reject the hon. Member’s assertion. It is not true that the shared prosperity fund is less; it is more. The Opposition are looking at different sources of funding to arrive at their inaccurate figures. If he would like us to explain how it works, I would be very happy to provide him with a letter.

Bloomberg’s devastating forensic analysis of the Government’s progress with their so-called levelling-up agenda has found no overall levelling-up progress in Scotland. On the contrary, the UK Government are levelling down Scotland compared with London, which has had significant levelling-up funding and gains since 2019. Disparities across the UK are widening. To what extent does the Minister agree with Bloomberg’s analysis that the Tories are levelling down Scotland and prioritising the south of England?

I am afraid that is not a statement that we accept. I looked at the Bloomberg figures, and I noticed that Bloomberg was using a 2019 baseline, when the whole purpose of levelling up is to ensure that we solve the problems identified. I would like the hon. Lady to look at the metrics that we have included in the “Levelling Up the United Kingdom” White Paper, and at the missions in it; it is through those that we will level up across the country.