New Clause 1 - Authorised reclaim funds: duty to assess and report

Part of Dormant Assets Bill [Lords] – in the House of Commons at 8:15 pm on 31st January 2022.

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Photo of Paul Howell Paul Howell Conservative, Sedgefield 8:15 pm, 31st January 2022

I thank my hon. Friends the Members for Devizes (Danny Kruger), and for East Surrey (Claire Coutinho), Jim Shannon and Dame Diana Johnson for the comments they have made already. I cannot state how much I welcome the Bill being brought to the House and how successful and efficient its passage has been. I thank the Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, my hon. Friend Nigel Huddleston, for tabling his amendment to clause 29. It represents an important step towards establishing a community wealth fund that would level up the social fabric of our most left-behind neighbourhoods across England.

I wish to say a few words on behalf of the all-party group. I know that the Government are committed to regenerating communities that suffer from both extreme levels of poverty and high levels of community need—communities such as Ferryhill, Trimdon and Thornley in my Sedgefield constituency, and communities across the country, from the north of England, through the midlands and down to the coastal communities on the south coast where residents often feel forgotten and cut off from support or funding.

I thank the Minister for meeting me and my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North, my fellow co-chair of the all-party group for left-behind neighbourhoods, to hear our representations and to understand the importance of what we are trying to achieve and how we can address this through the community wealth fund. Together, with other members of our all-party group, I look forward to a continued dialogue with Government and with colleagues across the House and in the other place on how such a fund can quickly be rolled out on swift passage of the Bill and the planned national consultation.

Numerous evidence sessions and research conducted by the all-party group since it was established in June 2020 have shone a light on the high levels of need and deprivation that exist in these communities and neighbourhoods and the issues faced by the residents who live there. Most recently, a report found that the people in these communities live shorter lives and spend more years in ill-health than those in the rest of the country. These findings have rightly captured the interests of national media and are another sobering testament to the fact that action is urgently needed to level up social, economic and environmental outcomes in deprived communities across the country. I look forward to what the levelling-up White Paper has to say about that, and I know that our all-party group will be keenly following those developments.

It is clear that transforming left-behind neighbourhoods is a long-term job. To deliver on that agenda, we need to go beyond physical infrastructure investment—welcome though that is in bringing hope to an area, as I know from my campaign work to restore local rail links such as Ferryhill station. Good local transport provision is key to levelling up, because it boosts connectivity in disconnected areas.

To level up successfully, however, and truly make a long-lasting difference to people’s lives, we must address the rebuilding of social infrastructure. Social infrastructure —places to meet, exchange ideas and take part in civic life—glues communities together. It underpins the vibrant local life that everyone seeks to be part of in their communities; it cements our trust and pride in our local heritage and the places where we live; and it provides us with something to rely on in times of crisis.

As the amendment explains, a community wealth fund would give long-term financial support for the provision of local amenities and other social infrastructure in a way that is led from the bottom up. As was said earlier, we must allow it to be done by people, not to people. As the Government have acknowledged on several occasions during the Bill’s passage, local people are best placed to identify what is needed to make their communities a better place to live.

In our evidence sessions, we heard first-hand the amazing work being done by communities up and down the country, and how powerful an impact local people can have when they work together to improve local outcomes with the right resources and support. We heard truly inspiring stories of communities in neighbourhoods from Bristol to Hartlepool taking the lead in levelling up their local area through widening access to opportunities and employment outcomes for young people, tackling fuel poverty and community led climate action.

Climate action is, of course, an increasingly important focus of activity, given the transition to net zero, and one where left-behind neighbourhoods are particularly at risk of falling further behind as a result of the economic restructuring under way. We therefore need to equip them with the confidence, capacity and resources through patient and long-term support to take action on what matters most to them and to transform their communities for the better. The community wealth fund proposal serves exactly that purpose. It builds on research and learning from previous regeneration policies, which all support the notion that community involvement is essential in achieving lasting change.

As already said, the community wealth fund is supported by more than 470 private, public and civic society organisations that have joined forces to form the community wealth fund alliance to call for the creation of such a fund. To reiterate what I said when presenting my ten-minute rule Bill in December, I believe that it would supercharge the levels of community confidence and capacity in left-behind areas.

In the long run, the social capital that is developed will be reflected in residents’ ability to create and lead sustainable strategies on how they can make change happen locally and tap into the wider opportunities offered on a regional level. In short, the investment would pay significant dividends in the longer run through funding from dormant assets at no extra cost to the public. We are presented with the opportunity to create a permanent endowment for communities in need.

For much of the hard work on the community wealth fund, I thank Local Trust and its team, particularly its chief executive Matt Leach. I know that the work is not over—in many respects, the real work starts now—and that I and others will no doubt be working closely with Local Trust to ensure that the fund becomes a reality.

I finish by thanking the Minister again for tabling the amendment to clause 29. It is heartening to hear the Government emphasise the importance of hyperlocal decision making for levelling up. I look forward to working with the Minister, the Government and our APPG to develop social infrastructure and boost civic pride in communities across the country.