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Levelling-up Fund

Volume 742: debated on Monday 4 December 2023

3. What recent assessment he has made of the effectiveness of the levelling-up fund at distributing funding across all parts of the UK. (900433)

8. What recent assessment he has made of the effectiveness of the levelling-up fund at distributing funding across all parts of the UK. (900439)

9. What recent assessment he has made of the effectiveness of the levelling-up fund at distributing funding across all parts of the UK. (900441)

On Monday 20 November we announced that a further £1 billion will be invested in 55 projects across Great Britain, from Bolton to Elgin, and from Newcastle to Rhyl. In the third round we have targeted funding at places across Great Britain that are most in need, as assessed through our levelling-up needs metrics. We have also ensured the best possible regional spread of projects, so that every part of Great Britain benefits from the fund over its lifetime. Further details are set out in a published methodology note.

With new money helping Pembrokeshire County Council to regenerate Haverfordwest town centre, with community ownership funding enabling the villagers of Hayscastle Cross to save their local pub, and with new investment in Visit Pembrokeshire to improve accessibility for tourists visiting the county, does the Minister agree that, compared with the clunky, difficult-to-access EU funding schemes, these new pots of levelling-up money are being distributed far more effectively to all parts of the United Kingdom?

My right hon. Friend is right that the efforts we are making in Pembrokeshire, in part thanks to him and other Members of Parliament for the county, demonstrate levelling up in action in his part of Wales. I am delighted to continue working with him on that.

Does the Minister agree that Clwyd South’s £13.3 million of levelling-up projects in the Trevor basin, Llangollen and Corwen, which I recently visited, and the newly announced £160 million investment zone for Wrexham, Clwyd South and Flintshire are shining examples of the effectiveness of levelling up galvanising investment and activity in north-east Wales?

My hon. Friend is a fantastic champion for his constituents in Clwyd South, and for constituents in Shropshire as well. I completely agree that the £13.3 million investment from the levelling-up fund will protect a valuable heritage site for north Wales, an area enjoyed by locals, while encouraging visitors to stay longer and spend more in local shops, cafés and campsites. The recently announced investment zone in Wrexham and Flintshire also demonstrates our commitment to levelling up investment in research, innovation and support for economic development in the region.

My local council has sadly been unable to attract any levelling-up funding or community renewal funding into North Norfolk. As I have repeatedly requested in this place, I need just £3 million for a roundabout at the top of Holway Road in Sheringham, but £3 million is too small for a levelling-up bid and too much for Norfolk County Council. In the spirit of Christmas, how can the Minister give me a present of £3 million for a roundabout in North Norfolk?

I wish I could give my hon. Friend a Christmas present. I recognise his work, campaigning on behalf of the people of Sheringham for the improvement of the A148 Holway Road junction. I know he is already engaging closely with Norfolk County Council on the project. The £600 million investment fund, agreed through the Norfolk county deal, will provide the county council with the local means to fund exactly this sort of project, with the first tranche of funding due to be available next year. If there is anything further I can do, I would be delighted to work with him and with colleagues in the Department for Transport to progress this project.

The Minister will not have too much difficulty assessing the effectiveness of the levelling-up fund in Northern Ireland, because Northern Ireland is the only country in the United Kingdom not to receive one penny in the last round of levelling-up funding. He will not level with the people of Northern Ireland, giving the spurious excuse that, because an Executive has not been formed, he cannot allocate the money. What discussions does he need to have with the Northern Ireland Executive that he did not have with the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Parliament or any local authority in England before allocating money there?

The right hon. Gentleman and I have had numerous conversations to that effect. Northern Ireland has benefited from £120 million in rounds 1 and 2 of the levelling-up fund but, in the context of growing pressure on Northern Ireland budgets, it is right that the UK Government should consider their approach to the funding available for Northern Ireland in this round. In LUF3, £30 million has been reserved for Northern Ireland and, as part of our commitment to levelling up, we will work with the restored Executive to find the best approach to supporting people in Northern Ireland. I again confirm to the right hon. Gentleman that I will work with him and others, once the Executive are back up and running, to see how we can best level up his community.

Whitchurch in my constituency has not received any levelling-up funding, whether from the levelling-up fund itself, the towns fund or the future high streets fund. Now it has found itself without a civic centre because of dangerous reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete, so it has lost its library, registry office and driving test centre, which was soon to be reopened following a long campaign by myself and others. Will the Minister meet me to work out what we can do to put that important building back into the heart of Whitchurch?

The Resolution Foundation’s report on economic stagnation, published today, shows how levelling up simply is not happening under this Government. One of the speakers at the event this morning was Andy Haldane, the chair of the Levelling Up Advisory Council, who said that greater financial devolution was needed in all areas, not just in the favoured few. It sounds like he has been taking inspiration from our proposed “take back control” Bill. Does the Minister agree with him that more economic devolution is needed in all areas of the UK?

I do agree with him. That is why we are following our devolution framework, expanding devolution to more areas in the UK. Under the last Labour Government, the only area in England that had a devolution deal was London. Through devolution, we have been able to expand that offer to more than 60% of England. We have invested more than £13 billion of local growth funding into communities the length and breadth of the country, restoring pride and ensuring that we tackle regional inequality.

If the hon. Gentleman wants to see levelling up in action, he need only look at places such as Teesside, which was left behind under the last Labour Government. It is now being transformed through the UK’s largest freeport, Teesside airport and the Treasury in Darlington; town deals in Redcar, Middlesbrough, Thornaby, Darlington and Hartlepool; high street funding in Middlesbrough, Loftus and Stockton; and levelling-up funding for Eston and TS6, Hartlepool, Guisborough, Yarm, Eaglescliffe and Billingham. The Opposition are all talk; we are delivering levelling up in action.

Madam Deputy Speaker, please pass on my best wishes to Mr Speaker for a speedy recovery.

Alongside the levelling-up fund, the Department created the community renewal fund in order to alleviate regional disparities. If the Minister is to mark his own homework, how does he think levelling up the country is going?

As I said in response to a previous question, we have committed more than £13.9 billion of local growth funding to communities across the United Kingdom, including in Scotland. We have committed to publishing the details of the levelling-up missions in due course, and I will ensure that the hon. Lady has an update when we do that.

In fact, academics from the University of Manchester have found that the community renewal fund gave £9.9 million to the south of England at the expense of other regions, which seems to be a trend that we see in levelling up. Does the Minister agree with me that his Department’s plans are, simply put, doing little to tackle regional inequalities?

I completely disagree with the hon. Lady; the facts show something quite different. As I said when I outlined round 3 in the House on 20 November, the biggest recipients of the levelling-up fund have been the north-west, the north-east, and Yorkshire and the Humber. That tells a very different story from the picture painted by the hon. Lady.