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Levelling-up Missions: East of England

Volume 727: debated on Tuesday 31 January 2023

I beg to move,

That this House has considered progress on the Government’s levelling up missions in the East of England.

It is a pleasure to serve with you in the Chair, Mr Davies. I thank the Backbench Business Committee for granting this debate, which comes a year after a similar debate, when the opportunities and challenges facing the east of England were also considered through the prism of levelling up.

Last February the Government published their White Paper, “Levelling Up the United Kingdom”, in which they set out 12 levelling-up missions, with targets to be achieved by 2030. Last month, in December, the all-party parliamentary group for the east of England, which I co-chair with the hon. Member for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner), published a report in conjunction with the East of England Local Government Association and various private sector partners that analysed confidence in the region in achieving those targets.

In summary, the report found that there was high confidence in achieving three of the levelling-up missions: employment and pay, research and development, and wellbeing. There was medium confidence in achieving four of the missions: improving digital connectivity, delivering pride in place, reducing crime and widening devolution. However, there is low confidence in five policy areas, many of which are the most important to the people of, and the prospects for, the east of England: improved educational attainment, more skills, better transport, longer, healthier living, and more affordable housing to buy and rent.

The hon. Member is doing an excellent job of making the case for the east of England. One of the five areas of concern he referenced was transport. Does he agree that it is essential to keep up the pressure for important rail improvements at Ely and Haughley junctions, to restore four trains per hour to London Stansted, to secure East West Rail and to ensure that affordable, reliable bus services become the norm rather than the exception across the region?

I thank the hon. Member for that intervention, and I greatly enjoy working with him on the APPG. He is correct to raise those issues. I will comment on the rail issues in passing a little later, but they are vital to the east of England and to the whole UK.

I will comment in a little more detail on the five issues where there is low confidence and on what needs to be done so that we can get on course to deliver the 2030 targets. I anticipate that colleagues will home in on areas and issues that are important to them and their constituents. I should add that each of the issues warrants a debate of its own, and I am conscious that I will only scratch the surface of each mission.

Earlier this month the Government published the results of round 2 of the levelling-up fund. In the two rounds that have taken place so far, there have been 12 awards in the east of England, with a total value of £252.5 million. In both rounds we secured the fourth lowest amount of funding in the UK. Although, on an allocation per head basis, the situation has improved significantly, from £14 per head in the first round to £26 per head in the second, the east of England remains the region with the third lowest funding over both rounds.

It would be wrong to judge levelling up solely on the basis of those grants, but there is a worry that there is a lack of understanding in Whitehall of the challenges faced by many people in the east of England and of the exciting opportunities available in the region. With the right policies and support, the Government can help unlock these opportunities, which will benefit not just our region but the whole United Kingdom.

Down here in London, there may be a view that East Anglia is a comfortably-off region where levelling up does not apply. That is wrong, as we have relatively low levels of pay and there are deep pockets of deprivation in coastal communities such as Lowestoft, which I represent, in rural areas and in our larger cities and towns, such as Norwich and Ipswich.

Does my hon. Friend agree that some coastal regions around the country suffer from pockets of deprivation that are unrecognised because the central hinterland looks wealthy?

My hon. Friend raises a good point. I am mindful of the fact that Jaywick, which is in his constituency, is statistically the most deprived area in the east of England. As he rightly says, pockets of deprivation can be hidden, because there are often areas of wealth within a few miles of them that camouflage that deprivation.

The east of England is an economic success story, and it is one of only three regions that are net contributors to the Exchequer. With the right policies and the necessary initiatives, we can significantly reduce poverty and create what, in effect, would be a global powerhouse, with specialist skills and expertise in such sectors as low-carbon energy, agritech, life sciences and sustainable fishing. Despite the drawbacks, a good start has been made locally in Waveney, and much of Lowestoft resembles a building site at present, with work well under way on the Gull Wing bridge—the long-awaited and much-needed third crossing of the port, which divides the town—as well as on the construction of permanent flood defences.

At this stage it is appropriate to pause and to recall that this evening is the 70th anniversary of the 1953 storm surge that hit our coast so cruelly, causing death, destruction and, ultimately, the demise of the beach village in Lowestoft. Today the region remains extremely vulnerable to rising sea levels and the threat of climate change, but the drive towards net zero presents our economy with significant opportunities, which we must grasp. In Lowestoft, work is also getting under way on the various towns fund projects designed to regenerate the town centre and the surrounds. These projects, together with the flood defence scheme and the new bridge, currently represent a public investment in the town of in excess of £220 million.

Due to inflation, the shortage of raw materials and supply chain challenges, delivering such construction projects is not easy at present, and I commend the project managers at Suffolk County Council, Coastal Partnership East and East Suffolk Council for their hard work. Our task locally is to ensure that the developments act as a catalyst for private sector investment and that they fit in with and complement the overall economic strategy for the region.

I will now briefly touch on the five missions where there is low confidence of meeting the 2030 targets.

The hon. Gentleman’s constituency and mine are very alike from a fishing point of view. He mentioned 1953, which is also an anniversary for us back home: the MV Princess Victoria went down that year, and I was at the service on Sunday, so 1953 also resonates with us.

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it sometimes appears that the regions that shout the loudest get the lion’s share of the funding? Does he agree that the Government should consider introducing a scoring matrix, which would ensure that each constituency sees projects delivered? That would mean that my constituency could level up with the rest of the United Kingdom.

The hon. Gentleman is quite right that there are significant similarities between the east of England—East Anglia—and Northern Ireland. As far as a matrix is concerned, I am not 100% sure about that, but there needs to be much better feedback from Government on why particular bids are not successful. We probably need to look at the criteria that bids must satisfy before we come on to the next round.

I will comment on the five missions where there is low confidence in achieving the 2030 targets, and I will start with transport. It should be highlighted at the outset that the east of England, with 17 ports and airports—including two freeports and Stansted—is very much a strategic gateway to the whole UK. If the east of England has a fit-for-purpose, 21st-century transport system, the whole UK benefits; unfortunately, we are some way from achieving that. There is concern that the transport needs of the region are being overlooked in Whitehall, notwithstanding the good, co-ordinated work of our two strategic transport bodies, Transport East and England’s Economic Heartland.

On the railways, it is vital that funding is provided for the upgrading of the Ely and Haughley junctions. That will improve connectivity from the Felixstowe-Harwich freeport to the midlands and the north, thereby facilitating levelling up in those regions. It will get freight off the busy A14 and help to provide additional capacity for passenger services into London Liverpool Street. Reinstating the four trains per hour from Liverpool Street to Stansted would help to attract investment from airlines and to secure new routes to destinations such as San Francisco and Boston—that is the one in Massachusetts, not our near neighbour in Lincolnshire, although that road also needs improvement.

It is estimated that, if such routes are opened up, they will deliver £95 million in new investment to the east of England. However, if we are to deliver such investment, there is a need for good transport links to and from the airport. Locally, the Waveney constituency is served by two railway lines—the East Suffolk and the Wherry—which must be upgraded to improve accessibility and connectivity. That is vital to deliver meaningful levelling up to coastal communities such as Lowestoft and Yarmouth.

I will turn now to education. Achieving good grades not only benefits the individuals themselves, improving their life chances and sense of wellbeing, but enhances the prospects of economic growth. Unfortunately, the overall level of attainment across the region is behind that in England as a whole. That is predominantly because the funding for east of England schools is way below the national average. The f40 is a group of the lowest-funded education authorities in England; it is a club to which one does not aspire to belong but, unfortunately, Suffolk, Cambridgeshire and Central Bedfordshire are all members. To ensure that young people in the east of England have a fair opportunity to realise their full potential, attention should be given to revising the funding formula that applies to rural schools, and a significant part of the increased funding of £4.6 billion over the next few years should be allocated to councils to support children and young people with educational needs and disabilities.

On skills, exciting opportunities are emerging in the east of England, such as in the energy sector and in further education colleges such as East Coast College, with its campuses in Lowestoft and Great Yarmouth. Such colleges are doing great work, but they are hamstrung by a lack of revenue funding and a shortage of teachers and trainers. The key recommendations in the APPG’s report when it comes to meeting the region’s future needs are that there should be much greater in-work education provision and participation in further education and skills training for adults; improvements in the overall quality of training; better access to training, taking into account rurality and transport challenges; and better alignment with employers’ needs.

Local skills improvement plans, which are being worked up by chambers of commerce, councils and local enterprise partnerships, are the vehicle for bringing about that sea change. However, when we look at energy—with the construction of Sizewell C, with 50% of the UK’s offshore wind fleet anchored off our coast and with the potential for hydrogen production distribution starting from the gas terminal at Bacton—there is concern that the scale of the opportunity has not been fully recognised and acknowledged. The fact that we do not have a bespoke institute of technology is a disappointment.

With regard to the health mission, insufficient regard is had to the fact that population of the east of England is increasing and that a higher percentage of elderly people are resident in the area than in other areas. Those factors apply added pressure to our health and care sector, which is grappling with unprecedented demand and a workforce crisis. There are also significant health inequalities, including an increasing number of children living in poverty and an alarming gap in healthy life expectancy between areas that are often only a few miles apart. To meet those challenges, Government policy should recognise the significant population growth and pressures in the east of England to ensure that the region gets a fair share of funding overall for its demography and that the most deprived areas are recognised within that.

While home ownership in the east of England is the highest of any English region, at 67.4% in 2021, those homes are less affordable than in the rest of the UK. In 42 out of 48 areas in the region, average house prices are more than eight times the median wage. The bottom rungs of the housing ladder have, in effect, been sawn off. In my own constituency casework, the No. 1 issue is the challenges faced by many people seeking a comfortable, warm and dry place to live that they can truly call home. To meet that challenge, we need to build more houses, with the necessary supporting infrastructure, across all tenures, including social housing. We need to meet the needs of all people, whether those setting up home for the first time, those starting families or those looking to downsize or rightsize as their children leave home.

Moreover, the Government need to follow up on their recently announced and welcome ambition to reduce energy demand by driving forward a national retrofit programme. We have successful individual schemes, such as the energy company obligation, but we are yet to embark on the journey to upgrade the bulk of the UK’s existing building stock. Policies should be set in Whitehall—hopefully, the Chancellor will have more to say on that next month—and then delivered locally, carried out by local craftsmen who are trained in local colleges and overseen by local councils.

In conclusion, I will make three observations about levelling up in the east of England. First, those living in the east of England will clearly benefit if we achieve the 2030 targets for the 12 missions, but so will the rest of the UK. For example, as I mentioned, improved connectivity and transport links across the region will lead to benefits flowing to all corners of Great Britain.

Secondly, there is the opportunity not just to level up but to create global exemplars in sectors such as low-carbon energy, life sciences and agritech. Low-carbon energy is particularly important in my constituency on the East Anglian coast—the all-energy coast. Nowhere else in the UK, quite likely nowhere else in Europe and possibly nowhere else in the world, do we find offshore wind, nuclear, carbon capture and hydrogen clustered so closely together. We must realise the full potential of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. It is an open goal staring us in the face, and it is vital that we do not kick the ball over the bar.

Thirdly, in these uncertain times, we need to have in mind our national security, which the east of England played a crucial role in providing during world war two, when the RAF and the US air force flew from our network of airfields across the region. I hope that security in that form will not be necessary again, but in a geopolitical context, we are in worrying and uncertain times. As the breadbasket of Britain, and as the aforementioned all-energy coast, we have a vital role to play in providing food and energy security.

Delivering on the levelling-up missions, not just in the east of England but across the country, requires collaboration. There is a need for Departments to be properly co-ordinated—I am conscious that I have commented on many issues that do not fall within the Minister’s remit, and I apologise for that. There is also a need for collaboration between national Government and local government, and with the region’s businesses. We need a delivery vehicle to achieve that. I look forward to the Minister’s summing up, and I hope she can pledge that the Government will commit to this important partnership approach.

Thank you so much; that was very interesting. I remind Members that they need to bob to indicate that they want to speak.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies. I congratulate the hon. Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous) on securing this important debate, and for the work that he and others here do with the APPG to promote and improve the eastern region. I read the APPG’s report into levelling up with great interest. It is obvious that the potential in the region is not being unleashed. In essence, we are underfunded; our funding per head of population is near the bottom of the table, despite the fact that the region is one of only three that are net contributors to the Exchequer.

I will not be the only MP in the room to feel profound disappointment at the Government’s latest levelling-up fund allocation. My constituents in Bedford and Kempston got a raw deal yet again, when a second attempt to access levelling-up funding was rejected. The funding would have regenerated the area around the Saxon Centre in Kempston by encouraging new businesses and public services, including a desperately needed new health centre, and improving the town’s walking and cycling infrastructure. It is a real blow to everyone at Bedford Borough Council who worked so hard on a great bid that ticked a lot of boxes in the Government’s stated levelling-up aims—in particular, delivering pride in place and crime reduction. My constituents pay their taxes too, so it is not right that they miss out. They can see where the money has gone, and they know the area has not been levelled up, which has become a meaningless slogan.

Instead of pitting towns, communities and regions against each other, we need the Government to improve areas through long-term, sustained support that is based on need—not these random, piecemeal hand-out schemes. The public continually have to pay more for less, and that is most obvious in health services. There is an overall failure to invest in critical infrastructure, such as modernising in-patient mental health services and GP hubs. Government bureaucracy is holding up Whitehall capital funding allocations. As a result, the Borough of Bedford is unable to attract desperately needed GPs and community-based health professionals to the area because the primary care estate is not fit for purpose. I hope that the Minister will say when the Government will finally release the funding to build the facilities to relieve the pressure on our hospitals and get patients in Bedford, Kempston and across the eastern region the appropriate community care.

On transport infrastructure, the Government’s handling of the East West Rail project has been shambolic. Bedford residents are sick and tired of waiting for a detailed decision on the project. Reasonable requests for information from residents, such as to see a business case, have not yet materialised. A lack of transparency has created significant and understandable distrust in the project. It also came as a big blow for rail users when train services on the Bedford to Bletchley line were suspended when Vivarail entered administration in December.

So far, the Government’s levelling-up agenda has delivered the worst living standards in the past 70 years. I think my constituents would prefer the Government concentrate on getting the basics right and delivering public services that work again. Only thoughtful, long-term investment in our region will unlock the vast potential and deliver the prosperity my constituents richly deserve.

It is an honour to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies. I am incredibly grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous) for securing this great debate. He is a great champion of levelling up the east and I thank him very much.

As was mentioned, it is just a year since our last debate on levelling up the east of England. I am happy to say that my local authority has been successful in its bid to receive £20 million for the much-needed rejuvenation of Clacton town centre. It was a fantastic result and I want to thank the Minister. One does not always anticipate a great phone call, but it was a great one to receive. I also want to thank the leader of Tendring District Council, Neil Stock, the chief executive officer, Ian Davidson, and all the other officers who backed them to achieve that result.

We mentioned Jaywick earlier. Seventy years ago today, 37 people lost their lives in that very small village, of the 307 across the east of England. Although the local council is making great efforts to improve that particular area with flood-proof homes and building a brand new market area, it is still served by one very poor road. It is one of the areas in my constituency that needs investment.

We are not an urban city down in Clacton, like Chelmsford or Colchester. We are multiple communities spread across a rural landscape. We have two railway lines that come into Walton and Clacton, with an hourly service that takes 90 minutes to cover the 69 miles to reach London. I have always said that is not acceptable in this day and age. It is certainly not appealing to commuters and is a great barrier to levelling up my patch. There is the unfair and flippant view, about which we heard earlier from my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney, that the east of England is just universally wealthy. We know that it is not. Try telling that to pockets of my constituency, which have deprivation issues that outstrip anywhere in Scotland or Wales. That is just a fact.

The roads are a core part of that and some are in a very poor state. They are the only way to get from one end of my constituency to the other. If we throw in some roadworks, which we recently had in Kirby Cross, it is somehow quicker to get to London than it is to cross the 14 miles of my constituency. That is ridiculous. We must invest in my constituency’s roads, which means affordable homes and sustainable jobs, if they can be built in the right places. We currently lag behind urban neighbours. We talk about how future rail such as High Speed 2 will change the world. What about the old-fashioned, crumbling roads that are holding back areas such as Clacton?

The east of England has been granted a fantastic and brilliant opportunity with Freeport East. That will help enormously with the global powerhouse that my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney mentioned earlier. It will create jobs and provide long-term income for the area. We need to utilise it, and I can think of no better way than by investing in transport infrastructure, so jobs in the freeport can be accessed from areas such as Jaywick, which is the most deprived ward in the country. This is our opportunity not to gloss over the situation. It is a better chance than any for the Government to show their long-term ambitions for levelling up and really improve the lives of my constituents. My plea to the Minister is that she should not think the job is done following the latest round of investment. Instead, I urge her to work with colleagues in the Department for Transport and the Department for Work and Pensions, to maximise the benefits of levelling up in tucked-away coastal communities such as mine in Clacton.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies. I begin by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous) on securing the debate. I pay tribute to him and to the hon. Member for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner) for their leadership of the important all-party parliamentary group. It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Clacton (Giles Watling). I am very fond of Clacton. I have been a resident of the east of England for nearly 17 years, and I know my hon. Friend’s constituency well. We campaigned on a by-election together, with good long-term results.

It is important to say that the contributions so far have included some serious issues that need to be addressed, which I say as the Member of Parliament for Witham for just over 12 years. My hon. Friend the Member for Clacton is the chairman of GEML, which for the benefit of Hansard is the Great Eastern Main Line taskforce. I co-set that up nearly 10 years ago: GEML was all about getting infrastructure investment into that main line. We have been successful, though I will touch on some elements that have not materialised. There are important areas, highlighted by my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney, that speak to lamentable actions across Government and the low confidence that my hon. Friend touched on. I want to speak specifically about those.

First and foremost, infrastructure clearly covers road and rail. That has frankly become a joke in the overall way that Whitehall has failed to integrate. That is not to do with the Minister’s Department; it is a failure of the Whitehall system to work across Departments and integrate funding. Basically, securing investment in our infrastructure is one example of how we can support levelling up. It is a statement of the obvious.

We have new rolling stock on our line—part of the GEML taskforce—for a very good reason. A decade ago, I and colleagues across that network went to the Treasury and the then Chancellor of the Exchequer, the former Member for Tatton, and put forward a business case. Some of us are capable of putting together presentations and business cases. We put that forward in conjunction with Network Rail and it secured £600 million, linked to a nine-year franchise that was very much about delivering rolling stock, improvements on productivity, performance and so on. We achieved that, but it is only one example.

The failure to secure funding for Ely junction and Haughley junction was not the fault of the taskforce but of Whitehall, and its lack of integration. Those sites are not in my constituency, but they are east of England infrastructure projects that would unlock the economic potential not just of the east, but of the nation. It is interesting that, at a time when HS2 is again being vilified for a range or reasons, such as being over budget and not on time, we have to stick the course with infrastructure projects.

The problem is that the Armitt process has not been published. That is the funding mechanism, which sits in the Department for Transport, for securing these major infrastructure projects. The other problem, as we have already heard, is that the east of England is a net contributor. Our main line has been subsidising the rail network for the rest of the country for decades. That money goes to the Treasury. The revenue base sits with Treasury, and the Department for Transport is deprived of the funding stream to help with the financial pipeline of rail investment.

Does my right hon. Friend not believe that the investment in Haughley and Ely is relatively low? We are not asking for a lot of money. It would unblock the blockage; it would take the cork out of the bottle of the entire east-west connection.

My hon. Friend, the chair of the GEML rail taskforce, has hit the nail on the head: this speaks to a fundamental failure in Whitehall, and my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney repeatedly highlighted that. This is the core message that has to be taken away, and that is just on rail. Of course, rail supports economic growth. The west Anglia line is another classic case. With four trains an hour to Stansted airport, it feels like “Mission Impossible” right now. Some proper work needs to be undertaken, and the Government need to support that. We have been successful in getting Emirates into Stansted. We want to get other international airlines, as my hon. Friend said, including from India.

On roads, I have again secured funding, as a Member of Parliament, for feasibility studies on the A12 and A120, but yet again we are going round the merry-go-round of not getting the commitment from central Government to proceed with those schemes. Quite frankly, that is down to inadequacies with National Highways, which fails to operate in a transparent way, to engage with local community or the county council, which has responsibility for the strategic road network, or to engage with the Department for Transport, so we are not getting the road upgrades we need in the county. Those road networks are the economic arteries of the east of England.

Integration in the planning of infrastructure goes beyond just roads and rail; there is the integration of offshore wind into the national transmission network. Only in East Anglia are there radial connections from offshore wind to the national transmission network. The rest of the country benefits from the holistic network design. Does my right hon. Friend agree that East Anglia should be included in that design and that we should move away from these radial connections?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I will come on to energy shortly for another reason, and I will pick up on that point after I conclude on the issue of roads.

Essex is a net contributor, and the A12 and A120 are literally roads from the dark ages. They are deeply unsafe roads. If we care about road safety and the people who get up every day at the crack of dawn, such as lorry drivers and commuters, to service our public services or to come to London to provide services for major hotels and the UK’s service sector, we must upgrade these roads. It is becoming a joke right now—it really is. It is an insult to commuters and the people who use the roads who have to navigate the potholes and poor quality of the roads every single day. They feel, by the way, that they are getting an unfair deal when they fill up their cars because of the cost of fuel at the pump. This is not a criticism of the Minister’s Department, but it shows the breadth of issues that need to be grasped across Government on integration to provide those levelling-up outcomes. Otherwise, levelling up will just become a slogan.

I would like to touch on a couple of other areas, which are both linked. One is skills and education. I am proud not just to be the Member of Parliament for Witham, but to represent Essex and the east region. When I became the MP for Witham, the majority of my schools locally were in special measures or required improvement. I am pleased to say right now that we have great schools—good schools and outstanding schools—and, as a result, Witham is now a commuter town. People want to live and work there, and some schools are outstanding—that is a great thing. We need not just to give our youngsters great educational opportunities through our schools, but to ensure that they can get jobs and that they inherit skills for life. That could be skills within the region for the great energy coastline that we have developed over the past decade, which has been remarkable, and previous Ministers in Government should be thanked for their hard work on that matter.

Essex is a county of entrepreneurs, and I never tire of saying that. We are the home of small businesses and innovators, and R&D is big in Essex. However, our prosperity masks challenges when it comes to deprivation, as we have heard, but also skills, opportunity and aspiration. We need businesses to work with our schools and get their foot in the door to talk to pupils at an earlier age. I have a careers fair taking place on 24 March on Witham. I never tire of being a champion of those skills fairs, and we are bringing in businesses from former industries I have worked in to those schools. I want to see Government embrace that, because the apprenticeship levy is, quite frankly, not delivering the outcomes it was originally set up to deliver. I maintain that it needs reform. Of course, by getting those skills locally, we can create jobs with skills that focus on areas that Members have touched on already. I feel very strongly about that.

I want to touch on health, which has been raised. My hon. Friend the Member for Waveney said that we do not have a technology campus in the east of England—I agree, and we should work to achieve that—but we do have a university medical school. I was involved in the original bid to do the business case for that, and I am proud that we achieved it. However, I am afraid that our health infrastructure across the east of England is inadequate. Our patient-GP ratio is one of the highest in the country, and we are not training enough students in our medical schools. We need to do much more. When he was Health Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for South West Surrey (Jeremy Hunt) worked well with us to deliver some good health outcomes, but there is much more that needs to be done. We are an ageing part of the country, but we must work with our young people to grow skills in health and social care. I pay tribute to Essex County Council for the work it is doing in that area.

This is a message to central Government: we cannot have people working in silos in Government anymore. When I was Home Secretary, the Health Department said to me, “Please do much more on health and social care visas,” which I am pleased that we have done—I did that as Home Secretary. However, there is more that we need to do in that area, and we also need more home-grown talent.

Finally, planning is the biggest issue in my constituency casework. Witham has become a building site over the past decade. We are building homes, and it is right that we do that. The question is, are they affordable homes? We have already heard of the high income ratio that is required to live in our fantastic part of the country. This point is specific to the Minister’s Department. Planning is contentious, and we are not getting it right in this country; there is no doubt about that.

In Essex, and in my constituency in particular, we stopped the West Tey development, a proposal for a garden community of 45,000 new homes—which, by the way, was without any infrastructure at all. The entire concept was an absolute scandal and a disgrace. I pay tribute to campaigners such as Rosie Pearson and others in my constituency who worked together to bring that to the Planning Inspectorate and get that proposal overturned. Five-year land supply has also been a problem, along with local councils that have no neighbourhood plans. I want to put on the record the fact that I think it is deeply disappointing that the Department, in its former guise as the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, used taxpayers’ funds to boost and beef up that concept without working in a considered way with the local community on the kind of housing that was required.

I am afraid that this is not specific to the Minister’s Department. We are going through this all over again with another project: pylons. It is less about housing, but it will become a planning issue. The development of pylons across the east of England will, frankly, have a detrimental impact. We are pioneers in offshore grid wind farm development and renewables, and we must absolutely look to invest in that capability, rather than putting up more infrastructure that will bring great blight to our local communities and, I am afraid, agitate them even more.

I know I have taken up a great deal of time, Mr Davies. In conclusion, there are great things about the east of England. We are net contributors to His Majesty’s Treasury, and we cross-subsidise much of the United Kingdom through the hard graft of the great men and women of the east of England, but we are lagging behind on these key assets that are of national significance. My hon. Friend the Minister can only do so much with her remit in her Department. My wider message is about devolution and local government reorganisation, as well as about the size of the state in Whitehall; how bloated and unaccountable that has become, and how detached it is from the good men and women of the east of England who, as taxpayers, contribute to the bureaucracy of Whitehall and get very little back. That is where reform has to start. The devolution train is well under way now—certainly in our part of the country. In Essex, I back it. Quite frankly, we need reform of the core of Whitehall to start delivering for the good people of the east of England.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous) on securing this debate and on the great work that he does with the hon. Member for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner) in chairing the APPG. I will begin by marking the 70th anniversary of the terrible floods that look lives in Hunstanton, Heacham, Snettisham, King’s Lynn and along the east coast in my constituency.

As we have heard, the east of England is a driver of growth and one of only three regions that are net contributors to the Exchequer. However, the full potential of our region is being held back by barriers including skills, connectivity and housing. I am fortunate to represent one of the most attractive constituencies in the country, but it is also a priority 1 levelling-up area due to the deprivation that exists in certain parts, as it does in other areas of Norfolk and across the east. Levelling up is therefore as relevant in North West Norfolk as it is anywhere in the country.

For me, levelling up is about spreading opportunity, which starts with education. The paper from the APPG highlights the challenge of meeting the 2030 reading, writing and maths targets. That mission is essential to giving young people the best opportunity to realise their potential. Much will depend on the White Paper’s parent pledge and on supporting teachers to deliver the improvements.

Giving children the best environment in which to learn is also important. I welcome the inclusion of Smithdon High School, and King Edward VII Academy, where I am a governor, in the school rebuilding programme to give young people the best facilities. From my weekly visits to schools across the constituency, I know that they continue to face significant issues, despite the additional £4.6 billion to which the Government have committed. As my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney highlighted, the current funding formula does not work effectively for rural schools. That is particularly the case with special educational needs and disabilities, which the head of St Martha’s Catholic Primary School raised with me only a week ago. There is much anticipation for the forthcoming Government response to the consultation on special educational needs and disabilities to ensure that provision can meet growing demand.

This is a timely debate, coming a week after the latest round of the levelling-up fund. I am grateful to the Minister that the £24 million bid submitted by Norfolk County Council to transform the 15th-century South Gate entrance to King’s Lynn has been successful. That will do a lot to promote growth, improve transport links, protect heritage and improve air quality. That comes after the success of the £25 million town deal for King’s Lynn, which will deliver projects to boost skills, jobs and regeneration.

My hon. Friend the Member for Clacton (Giles Watling) will be interested to know about the project to restore St George’s Guildhall, which is the oldest continually working theatre in the country and the only one that can credibly claim Shakespeare performed there. That is £49 million of investment in a priority 1 levelling-up area, underlining the Government’s commitment to North West Norfolk and to working with Conservative council leaders Stuart Dark and Andrew Proctor to spread opportunity in our area.

Many of the issues facing my constituents and local businesses come down to connectivity, and digital connectivity is crucial. Due to the geography of the rural area, Norfolk lags behind other areas in mobile and broadband, which is why I pressed for it to be included in the early phase of Project Gigabit. Contracts worth over £100 million to connect 86,000 premises are due to be awarded in May. That could cover up to 8,000 premises in my constituency, making a real difference to growth and productivity.

Turning to rail, I will highlight the importance of upgrading Ely junction, as others have. The project is backed by MPs across the east of England precisely because it will deliver a major boost in capacity—up to 30%. That will create more passenger services for my constituency and support freight and Freeport East, delivering a major boost to growth for our area and the country. That is the case regardless of the damage that the unions are currently doing with their strike action. The business case by Network Rail demonstrates a benefit-cost ratio of nearly £5 for every £1 invested. That compares favourably with any other rail project. I hope that the project will proceed in the next rail network enhancements pipeline update.

A number of colleagues have commented on roads. My constituents want to see the A47 dualled, and the next investment round should include the Tilney to East Winch scheme that has been prioritised by Transport East. That comes on top of six schemes that are currently under way in the road investment strategy 2 process. The A10 West Winch housing access road is desperately needed to unlock—as the name suggests—housing in a growth area. Work is continuing on the next phase of the business case for that. We need to have the infrastructure alongside the affordable homes that people desperately need.

Finally, the APPG report highlights low confidence regarding the mission on health and life expectancy, which is a vital issue.  North West Norfolk has many of the coastal areas that the chief medical officer has highlighted as having some of the worst health outcomes. People living in those areas are served by the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in King’s Lynn. The hospital has nearly 3,400 steel and timber supports holding up its cracking concrete roof, which desperately needs to be replaced. The new hospital programme offers a once-in-a-generation opportunity to transform the QEH, to deliver modern, fit-for-purpose facilities, and to support people to live healthier lives. The Health and Social Care Secretary has stated that dealing with hospitals made of reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete is his priority, and I welcome the focus that he has brought to solving this problem. I call on the Government to give certainty to my constituents, patients and staff that the QEH will be rebuilt by 2030.

In conclusion, the APPG report and the debate show that progress is good in some areas, but greater focus is needed elsewhere to realise the huge potential of the east of England and to meet the cost-cutting missions and our shared ambition to level up.

It is a pleasure to serve with you in the Chair, Mr Davies, and to speak in this debate on behalf of the Opposition.

As has been mentioned, it is a little over a year since we had a similar iteration of this debate. I was relatively new in my role as shadow Minister and rather expected a blizzard of similar, regional-type levelling-up debates in this Chamber, but that has not been the case. That is testimony to the commitment of the hon. Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous), but also to his ingenuity in the use of the Backbench Business Committee process and to the wisdom of the Committee’s members. I associate myself with comments that he and others have made about the 70th anniversary of the 1953 storms. We will all hold those communities in our thoughts as they mark the anniversary today and tomorrow.

I was struck by the way in which the hon. Gentleman’s all-party parliamentary group is monitoring levelling up on a thematic basis, which probably provides a good model for the rest of the country. There are likely to be some similarities, particularly the more input-type targets, such as on research and development, which are easier to do. Progress is good, but there are knottier, longer-term questions around skills, transport and housing. As he said, we could debate each of them at great length. They pose common challenges across the regions, and they show how much further we have to go.

The region was well represented in the debate, and I agree with everything that the hon. Gentleman and my hon. Friend the Member for Bedford (Mohammad Yasin) said about long-term funding moving away from the “Hunger Games”-style stuff that we have seen with the levelling-up fund, and all the disappointment that it has clearly generated in Bedford and other parts of the country.

In response to a comment made by the hon. Member for Clacton (Giles Watling), levelling up can be a funny fish. All our communities are different in some way, and we could create many different carve-outs for towns, cities, rural, coastal, north, south or whatever, to the point that the scheme would stop meaning anything. There has to be some degree of commonality so that there is a consistent and effective approach, but coastal might just be different in this case. There are many issues relating to housing and mental health services that mean that we have to have a bit of an enhanced approach to coastal communities if we are going to deal with some of the knotty, long-term challenges. I think the right hon. Member for Witham (Priti Patel) said that the hinterland may mask a lot of those social challenges, which is a very important point.

One of the things I will take away from the debate is the cross-departmental focus. We have many different and well-meant interventions from all over Government, but how do we get true value? For me, the answer is devolution—certainly of the leadership, if not of all the funding and the power—to those communities, because place is the best way to hold all those different streams together.

I knew the hon. Member for North West Norfolk (James Wild) would not miss an opportunity to raise QEH, as he does with admirable consistency. He made an important point about the funding formula for rural schools, which can have a profound impact on resources for children with special educational needs and disabilities.

Members do not see levelling up as either a “north versus south” thing or a “London versus the rest of the UK” thing. We recognise that there is deprivation in every local authority, and all right hon. and hon. Members made that case very well. For the east of England, that is certainly a real challenge.  If we look at the top lines—it is one of the net contributing regions and it has high home ownership—we could kid ourselves about some of the underlying challenges. That point has been well made in the debate.

Of course, the region has huge potential. The hon. Member for Waveney spoke about energy, which made me think of a visit I undertook with the Industry and Parliament Trust last week to the east midlands. We went to see Donaldson Timber in Ilkeston, which has 10 similar sites around the country, including one in Cambridge that serves the east of England. It specialises in off-site timber making and provides hundreds of jobs and tens of thousands of homes each year. If we get the right mix of increased house building and skills, sites like that in Cambridge have the potential to create many more skilled jobs in careers that will last. That is the sort of potential we need to tap into through levelling up-type interventions.

We have to deal with the problem that the brand of levelling up has become highly discredited. YouGov polling this year showed that in only four local authority areas residents feel that their community has improved in recent years, whereas in 215 areas they think it is the same, and in 142 they think it has got worse. Of course, that is understandable and right: people cannot see a GP, they cannot get a train, the available jobs are insecure and on low pay, and there is the sense that nothing in this country works any more.

The levelling-up model has not delivered by tackling that. Devolution deals are great, unless the Government have decided an area is not good enough to have one or that it deserves more limited powers than others. Similarly, the “Hunger Games”-style funding by bidding for pots has not delivered. Those who succeeded in round 1 are now trying to work out how to salvage bids that have been eaten up by the inflation crisis. Round 2 threw up some eccentric and disappointing outcomes for many, including confusion about whether some areas could ever have been successful. If not, why were they encouraged to bid?

Indeed, even the winners are losers. For example, it is great news that Norfolk County Council has secured £24 million to improve transport in King’s Lynn; it is less good news that, even taking that money into account, in the last four years alone, that local authority is £146 million worse off in real terms due to cuts to its budget. With levelling up, even the winners are losers.

It does not have to be this way. There is a better model that would deliver for the nations and regions of this country. We can end the deals and the beauty parades, provided we get the powers and resources to all our nations and regions—to the experts in place—to shape their economies and invest in the things they know their areas will be good at in the future and that their young people will work in. We want every community, as part of a combined authority—or on its own if it is big enough—to access top-level powers. We want to go further than what is on offer on skills, devolution, the Department for Work and Pensions and jobcentres, net zero and much more. We want to move funding away from having hundreds of different pots and instead, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bedford said, have proper funding based on need, with consolidated settlements, so that local communities can plan and spend in a way that reflects their priorities.

There are significant political conversations to have about levelling up in this country, as there are in the east of England, but we must be hopeful as we have those. The hon. Member for Waveney and many other colleagues have shown the clear potential in the east of England. We want the power and resources to be given to those communities to make that potential a reality.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies, I think for the first time.

Huge congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous) on securing this vital debate. I echo the sentiments that have been expressed across the Chamber to mark 70 years since the terrible storm that took far too many lives.

Huge congratulations to the APPG for the east of England, that incredible cross-party body, on producing an incredibly insightful report, which my officials and I have been pleased to read and look into. It shone the brightest possible light on the region’s towering strengths: energy and clean growth, with the east of England producing more than half of the UK’s offshore wind and power; exports and global trade, with Felixstowe alone accounting for more than 40% of national container traffic; and the life sciences sector, which my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney mentioned. AstraZeneca’s R&D facility is rightly cited in the APPG’s report as an exemplar of the region’s booming sector, not least for its leading role in producing the life-saving covid-19 vaccine, for which we are all incredibly grateful.

For all those brilliant strengths, the report also highlights how the east of England faces its own challenges, too. As my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney highlighted, last year the Government published their levelling-up White Paper, where we outlined 12 key levelling-up missions between now and 2030. I fear, as my hon. Friend did, that I might scratch only the surface of the issues, but I will endeavour to cover as much ground as I can.

I will start with devolution—something very close to my heart and within my brief, so hopefully I have an advantage on my first point. As I read the report, I was a little troubled to find only medium confidence in delivering devolution. I clearly want that to be high confidence, so I will address a few of the points raised today.

We are pleased with our progress on devolution, particularly in the east of England with the historic deals we recently signed with both Norfolk and Suffolk. We all know that local areas know best what they need; they know better than Whitehall and we Ministers in Westminster ever will, and that is what devolution is all about. Transferring money and powers on housing, regeneration and skills will empower new directly elected leaders to drive local growth and focus on their priorities to level up their own areas.

That comes on top of substantial devolution and local growth commitments that we have already made through investments such as the £500 million city deal with Greater Cambridge and the £600 million Cambridgeshire and Peterborough devolution deal, and wider investment across the region through the getting building fund and £1.5 billion from the local growth fund. To reassure my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney and others, devolution deals are only one of the areas where my Department works in co-ordination across Government to deliver on levelling up. That is what the White Paper with its 12 missions was all about: recognising that levelling up has to be a whole Government effort.

An inter-ministerial group was recently established to pull together Ministers from across Government to focus on core levelling-up outcomes and missions to make sure there is a co-ordinated effort. Without such effort, we never will achieve the levelling up that this country deserves.

For years the east of England has been a region that punches above its weight, but arguably below its potential. If we want to realise the full potential of the region, we need to level up skills provision—the region currently falls below the national average. I was concerned to read in the report that participation and academic achievements in the east of England were among the lowest of all regions in England. As we would expect, where there is a lack of skills and too few decent jobs to go around, there is inevitably deprivation as well. That remains a real challenge for the region, which has pockets of significant poverty, including in coastal towns, as highlighted by my hon. Friend the Member for Clacton (Giles Watling), such as Jaywick, Lowestoft and Great Yarmouth.

I was pleased to see the recommendation in the report that the Government should promote skills devolution—something on which we are very much focused. In the current academic year, the Government have devolved approximately 60% of the adult education budget to nine mayoral combined authorities and the Greater London Authority, and Cambridgeshire and Peterborough received £11.9 million in the most recent financial year. As set out in the levelling-up White Paper, devolution of adult education funding has been a core part of all MCA devolution deals to date.

The Department for Education has committed to devolving adult education functions and the associated core adult education budget to new areas from 2025-26 as part of new devolution deals. We have worked across the country with new areas on devolution, including Norfolk and Suffolk, as I have already referenced. We will fully devolve the adult education budget in Norfolk from the academic year 2025-26, subject to readiness conditions and parliamentary approval of the required legislation.

We are also ensuring that everyone, irrespective of their age or background, has access to high-quality education or training, while prioritising the needs of employers. We are investing £3.8 billion more in further education and skills—

Before my hon. Friend moves on to further education, let me ask about skills devolution; we in Essex have wanted this for a long time, so we must have it. What work is taking place to bring businesses into skills devolution? Local authorities, like Whitehall, can only do so much. This is all about ensuring that businesses are connected with a potential pool of labour and a talent base, so that this can come together.

My right hon. Friend will recognise that that does not fit within my brief, but I can reference the Skills and Post-16 Education Act 2022, local skills improvement plans and work that is being done on our trailblazing devolution deals to further devolve skills powers, which would take into account local skills needs as outlined by local businesses. More on that will be coming soon, when we announce further details on those deals. We are investing in further education skills over this Parliament to ensure that people can get on the ladder of really good, high-quality training and education that leads to good jobs, addresses skills gaps, boosts productivity and, ultimately, supports levelling up.

Having skills really is not the end of it. Without stable and reliable jobs to go along with those skills, areas such as the east of England could lose their newly skilled and experienced workforce, which we of course want to avoid. The region already boasts incredible companies, particularly in life sciences. The Cambridge Biomedical Campus is the largest centre of life sciences and medical research in Europe, employing over 20,000 researchers, industry scientists and clinicians. I have referenced internationally significant companies such as AstraZeneca, with their £1 billion state-of-the-art global research and development facility, and GlaxoSmithKline.

There is always more to do to make sure that people have the necessary skills and adequate jobs. That is why, in the autumn statement last November, the Government reaffirmed their commitment to Sizewell C, which, once operational, will generate 7% of the UK’s energy needs. This investment is vital to the Government’s net zero strategy, which is connected to the east of England’s 13th mission, which we are working across Government to ensure we deliver. The Government’s £700 million investment in the project marks a further step towards energy independence for the UK, while providing a boost to the local economy in Suffolk, with over 10,000 highly skilled jobs set to be created during the plant’s lifetime. The skills investment and devolution is on top of other education investment—for example, the £294.9 million extra being provided for mainstream schools in the east of England this year, as well as the three priority education investment areas in the east of England.

As hon. Members from across the Chamber have highlighted, the issues go beyond skills shortages. Poor connectivity is holding the region back. A lack of decent rail and public transport connections between towns and cities means that a lot of people are forced to drive, not just for their commute but for hospital appointments, to go shopping, and to visit friends and loved ones. Transport East estimates that well over 40% of the region’s carbon emissions are down to private car use. There is a long way to go to bring that figure down over the medium to long term. That throws into sharp relief the need for the Government to redouble our efforts on levelling up when it comes to transport.

I have heard much, loud and clear, about the Ely and Haughley junctions, and will elbow colleagues in the Department for Transport to meet you guys who raised the matter to discuss it further. It is vital that we continue to improve roads across the region, as has been mentioned by a number of hon. Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Clacton and my right hon. Friend the Member for Witham (Priti Patel). We have invested £462 million in local roads maintenance between 2022-3 and 2024-5, and £88 million in transport improvements across the east of England. We are going further to ensure that we improve capacity on the railways and bus services, because that rail capacity is crucial, as we all know.

East West Rail plays a vital role in boosting connectivity and unlocking productivity in the Oxford to Cambridge area, supporting access to jobs, education and other opportunities. It plans to create a direct rail link between Oxford and Cambridge, significantly improving journey times, and delivering benefits for passengers and businesses regionally and nationally. The Government have provided £1.3 billion towards the delivery of connection stage 1 of the project, which will provide services between Oxford, Bletchley and Milton Keynes. In the autumn statement the Government affirmed their commitment to plans for transformative growth for our railways, including East West Rail, and I am told that an update on that project will be provided in due course.

On buses, DFT is providing over £100 million of bus service improvement plan funding in the east of England, with £49.6 million going to Norfolk County Council. That will make a significant contribution to local public transport connectivity in the region. The Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority received £4.3 million funding from the zero emission bus regional areas scheme, for 30 double-deck electric buses to be introduced on park and ride bus routes in Cambridge.

Let me turn to the APPG’s recommendation that simpler, long-term funding mechanisms are required to support the priorities set out in the strategies of the region’s two sub-national transport bodies. DFT seeks to ensure that all local transport authorities have stronger plans and capabilities to deliver enhanced local public transport. DFT is currently developing guidance and options to incentivise the refresh of local transport plans, so that places have an up-to-date plan for improving connectivity.

As previously mentioned—this is a bit of a pet project of mine—devolution of powers and funding is an intrinsic part of that work. The recently signed devolution deals in the east of England mark a new relationship between Government and Norfolk and Suffolk. A directly elected leader for each county will be responsible for a devolved and consolidated integrated local transport budget for their area, consisting initially of the local highways maintenance funding, both the pothole fund and highways maintenance block, and the integrated transport block, helping to provide strong local leadership and better transport outcomes for local people.

I was pleased to read in the report that the APPG agrees that living standards, especially when it comes to pay, employment, research and development, and wellbeing within the region, are all trending in the right direction. In the same breath, I was disappointed by the report’s assessment of digital connectivity and pride in place, as I know that my Department, and Departments across Government, are working incredibly hard to ensure we make progress on those areas.

My hon. Friend the Member for North West Norfolk (James Wild) raised the issue of gigabit broadband coverage. In the east of England alone, that has increased from 5% in November 2019 to 61% in January 2022, and since then that coverage has been expanding rapidly, with forecasts predicting it should reach 70% to 80% by 2025. Ensuring that areas in the east of England with the poorest fixed and mobile connectivity are improved is a big priority for my Department and for the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. In terms of mobile connectivity alone, the majority of 4G coverage uplifts from a shared rural network will come from the industry-led element of the network, which will target partial notspots in areas where there is coverage from at least one but not all mobile network operators.

As all hon. Members will know, growing people’s pride in the places where they live and work is at the heart of the investment we are making through the levelling-up fund. On that basis, I congratulate my hon. Friends the Members for Clacton and for North West Norfolk on their successful bids, on which I know they and their local authority teams worked incredibly hard. I reassure my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney that full written feedback will be provided to local authorities and the MPs who supported the bids, with the option of follow-up verbal meetings to go through the bids and see how they can be strengthened to secure potential future funding.

Our flagship levelling-up funding investment is helping people in a huge number of overlooked and under-appreciated communities in the east of England. Some £253 million has already been allocated; of that, £87 million was awarded in round 1 and £166 million was awarded in round 2. Almost £48 million was awarded to redevelop the station quarter in Peterborough and nearly £60 million-worth of bids were successful in Tendring, Harlow and Colchester. On top of that, the east of England has been allocated a total of £97 million from the UK shared prosperity fund.

I should highlight that the UK shared prosperity fund is one measure that the Government have taken to simplify funding streams and give more autonomy to local areas to deliver, without having to go through competitive funding processes. I hope that will reassure the hon. Member for Bedford (Mohammad Yasin). That is just one of the measures we are taking, and a funding simplification plan is coming incredibly soon.

We all recognise that significant population growth in any area will have an impact on vital and speedy access to healthcare for all residents, as highlighted by my right hon. Friend the Member for Witham, my hon. Friends the Members for Waveney and for North West Norfolk, and the hon. Member for Bedford. That is why, in the autumn statement, the Government made up to £8 billion available to the NHS and adult social care in England in 2024-25, including an additional £3.3 billion in both 2023-24 and 2024-25.

The Department of Health and Social Care works closely with NHS England and regional teams to distribute that funding settlement as needed, in order to reflect and address the needs of local populations, including through the agreement of annual plans for each NHS trust. Healthcare funding allocations are weighted heavily towards deprivation, which in turn correlates strongly with need. Per capita, funding for the most deprived local authorities is on average about 130% more than for the least deprived.

Finally, to ensure that we are improving capacity and capability in the healthcare system in the east of England, we are continuing to build five new hospitals as part of the Government’s commitment to build 40 new hospitals by 2030. That includes the rebuilding of James Paget University Hospital and the West Suffolk Hospital, a new cancer hospital at Addenbrooke’s, a new high-tech healthcare campus to replace the ageing Princess Alexandra Hospital in Harlow, new hospital buildings at Watford General Hospital and the refurbishment of Hemel Hempstead and St Albans City Hospitals.

I hope that has given a rough flavour of just some of the work that is going on right across Government to ensure that we are focusing on levelling up, obviously with specifics for the east of England. I know how hard the APPG and all Members present have worked on preparing this incredibly insightful report, which my Department and others have valued a great deal. As well as the challenges, some of which we have touched on, it reinforces that the region really is a true economic success story. As has been highlighted, it is a net contributor to the Treasury; few regions can boast of that, and it is something that the region should rightly be proud of. It is an international gateway for global Britain, and it boasts some of the highest levels of employment, pay and productivity anywhere in the UK.

Our shared challenge now is ensuring that the huge benefits of these tremendous assets and opportunities are shared more evenly across the region and that it ultimately achieves its true potential. As my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney and others have rightly highlighted, ensuring that the east of England reaches its potential really is core to the prospects of the UK as a whole. I believe that there is every chance we can ensure the east of England reaches its potential.

The report illuminates the significant progress we have made on our levelling-up mission so far, but it also shows that there is clearly room for improvement. To reassure my hon. Friend the Member for Clacton, we know that the job is not done; we set out those missions to aim towards by 2030 to ensure that we are levelling up in the east of England and right across the UK. The only way we can achieve that is by ensuring that we are working cross-Government, cross-Whitehall and, of course, cross-party to ensure that we are achieving what we need to achieve to truly level up the UK.

On that basis, I look forward to continuing to work cross-party with Members across the House, and with Ministers across Government, to unlock the east of England and the UK’s true potential.

We have had a very full debate. I will go through the contributions made by hon. Members and hon. Friends, and I will try to pull one or two things together out of those.

The hon. Member for Bedford (Mohammad Yasin) highlighted the importance of investment in health infrastructure and services. He is right to do so, because it is something that particularly concerns a great many of our constituents, and we must get that right. We have had a lot of discussion about the importance of rail, which I will come to in a minute. Being at the west of the region, he has highlighted the importance of East West Rail and, generally, in the east of England that can be a challenge.

We look so much north-south and at the roads to London; in fact, very often our road network is focused on the roads down to London. The A12 used to be a toll road from Yarmouth, and it was the main road serving that part of the area, and there was also the A10. Actually, those cross-country routes—whether they are the railways or the roads—are so important. In Suffolk or Norfolk, there is the A143, which links to Lowestoft but actually runs from Yarmouth right down on the county border through to Bury St Edmunds and down to Haverhill. That is a tortuous way to go down, so those cross-country routes are absolutely vital.

My hon. Friend the Member for Clacton (Giles Watling) emphasised the challenges faced by Jaywick and also highlighted the railways. Like me, his constituency is served by two railway lines, and he highlighted the slow, tortuous journey to Liverpool Street. From my perspective, on the East Suffolk line from Lowestoft to Ipswich the journey time has not improved since 1859. That is another particular challenge that we need to address.

A lot of our strategic investment in the coming years will be in the railways, but the road network is there and we must not forget it. There are pinch points and particular challenges. The A12 through Essex is heavily overused. Quite frankly, its activity justifies M status, but I do not think that will ever come, and we have to address that. Because of a lack of maintenance, a lot of our main roads are turning into little more than country tracks in some respects, which reminds me that there were most regrettable accidents on the B1062, which links Beccles to Bungay, over the new year period. I talked that through with the local community and the county council. The county council engineer is doing great work. He said, “We have analysed what happened and think there is a need for improvement, and you are now in the top 20% of our priority schemes.” I thought, “Great.” I said to him, “How many priority schemes do you have?” And he said, “Oh, 10,000”. That illustrates that investment in the existing network—

That is fine. My right hon. Friend the Member for Witham (Priti Patel) gave an impassioned speech, which emphasised the railways. She raised reform of the apprenticeship levy, which is vital, and investment in skills.

My hon. Friend the Member for North West Norfolk (James Wild) raised digital connectivity, which, although a medium risk in the report, is a challenge in the east of England because of our dispersed population, which covers a relatively large geographical area. I also have an interest in the A47, which runs from the A1 and, one might say, begins or finishes in my constituency—in Lowestoft. It is good that work has been done on that. He is an impassioned campaigner for the Queen Elizabeth Hospital. The James Paget University Hospital, which serves my constituency, is going to be rebuilt. Investment in NHS buildings is important, as is addressing demand and the workforce.

The hon. Member for Nottingham North (Alex Norris), speaking for the Opposition, raised some interesting points, including the common challenges across the country and how the approach that we have adopted might be an exemplar elsewhere. He also highlighted the particular challenges of coastal communities.

I thought the Minister gave a tremendous speech. It is unfortunate that, as I understand it, we will be losing her. She gets it; there was no camouflaging, and she came straight to the point, for which I thank her.

To sum up—my right hon. Friend the Member for Witham got this right—we have to break out of departmental silos. Levelling up is not just for my hon. Friend the Minister’s Department but for all Departments. There were so many issues that were not necessarily for her to address in her remit; they cover the whole of Government. It is about thinking in a joined-up way down here in Whitehall and Westminster, and devolution to local authorities, which will be very important. My right hon. Friend also raised the fact that we have to bring business with us. I think the LEPs have been a success, because they have put business at the forefront. I am not sure about the future of LEPs, but whatever happens, business has to be there, working in partnership and in collaboration with local and national Government. [Interruption.] I see that you are getting impatient, Mr Davies, so on that point I will sum up. I thank all colleagues for their contributions to the debate and thank you for chairing it.

Thank you so much. We have certainly been levelling up the wind-ups.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House has considered progress on the Government’s levelling up missions in the East of England.

Sitting suspended.