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Levelling Up Communities: Fiscal Steps

Volume 725: debated on Tuesday 20 December 2022

The Treasury is making significant investments to level up communities across the UK—101 towns, including Dewsbury, will benefit from more than £3.2 billion from the towns fund, supporting long-term economic and social regeneration. Of course, communities will also benefit from the £4.8 billion levelling-up fund, the £2.6 billion shared prosperity fund and the £250 million community ownership fund.

The decision on the £47 million Penistone line levelling-up fund bid is due to be announced shortly. Can my right hon. Friend assure me that this important round 2 category 1 bid will be subject to the same financial considerations and eligibility as bids submitted in round 1?

I can absolutely reassure my hon. Friend that all round 2 bids are undergoing a robust and thorough assessment through that decision-making process. That is consistent with the approach taken in round 1. Of course, the individual decisions will be made in due course in the very near future.

One way the Government could level up low-income families with young children is through healthy start vouchers. This year, I have tabled four written questions asking what the take-up rate of that scheme has been since digitisation in April, but the Government have been unable to give me an answer, despite the fact that we are eight months on and in the middle of a cost of living crisis. How do the Government know what the take-up rate of the scheme is and whether it is working in balancing out inequalities?

I obviously cannot answer that specifically, but I can say that the Government have, over recent weeks, shown the commitment to helping the most vulnerable across the United Kingdom. But I take the hon. Lady’s question seriously, and I am very happy to look into that and to work with colleagues across Government to find an answer.

As the Minister will know, fiscal steps in investment zones can help to boost and level up communities—I am thinking in particular of Paignton in South Devon, where South Devon College and the photonics industry exist side by side. Will he meet me to discuss how that initiative could help to support growth in Paignton?

I am very happy to meet my hon. Friend, who is, as ever, fighting strongly for his constituents. As he knows, the investment zones are designed to be a meaningful mechanism to catalyse growth, sometimes, although not exclusively, through university, looking at where we can find clusters across the United Kingdom to drive the economy forward.

Clearly, we need to level up on housing. In my constituency, many people just cannot afford a private rented home or to own their own home, and we need more social housing, but that is not possible without Government subsidy. What is the Treasury considering to make sure that people who desperately need a permanent roof over their head can get it?

We are working very closely with the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities to look at specific interventions. We have just released an extra amount of capital money to work alongside the Ukraine support scheme. But I totally recognise that this is a critical issue, and we will make further announcements about it in due course at the next fiscal event.

I fully support my hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury (Mark Eastwood) in his levelling-up bid for the Penistone line, as it goes through my constituency, with stations in Brockholes and Honley. I also have my own levelling-up bid to regenerate a disused mill in Marsden for commercial space. These bids are good not only for connectivity and regeneration, but for the economy, because they create jobs and growth. Does the Minister agree that this allocation of funding therefore makes sense?

I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend—perhaps unsurprisingly. The Government have developed a bespoke and objective index of priority places. We are very keen for this investment to work effectively, wherever it is. I very much respect the representations he has made this morning for the bid in his own constituency.

An important part of levelling-up communities is to invest in the community transport network. Last week, I visited Shettleston-based Community Transport Glasgow alongside Councillor Laura Doherty. They were telling me that they were having real difficulty attracting volunteers because of HMRC rules around mileage rates. Is that something that the Government are willing to look at? Will the Minister be willing to meet me and Community Transport Glasgow to discuss that issue?

We keep these matters under review, but I am sure my colleague the Financial Secretary, who takes a close interest in these matters, will follow up in the appropriate way.