Economic Growth

Levelling Up, Housing and Communities – in the House of Commons on 16th May 2022.

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Photo of Peter Aldous Peter Aldous Conservative, Waveney

What steps his Department is taking to support economic growth across the UK.

Photo of Neil O'Brien Neil O'Brien Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities)

Our levelling-up White Paper sets out our plans to support economic growth across the whole of the UK. Since September 2020, we have allocated more than £7 billion through our levelling-up funds, including the recently announced allocation for the shared prosperity fund.

Photo of Peter Aldous Peter Aldous Conservative, Waveney

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that answer. Coastal communities such as Lowestoft and Waveney are the forgotten powerhouse of the UK economy. Can my hon. Friend confirm that the opportunities and challenges they face will be given the highest priority as the Government set about delivering their levelling-up agenda, and will the money from the Crown Estate that was originally used for the coastal communities fund be targeted at realising the full potential of coastal areas and meeting their needs?

Photo of Neil O'Brien Neil O'Brien Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities)

I have met my hon. Friend about this issue several times and I agree that coastal communities have the potential to be real powerhouses for our economy. That is why the future high streets fund has allocated £149 million to coastal local authorities, and why coastal local authorities got £287 million of funding in the first round of the levelling-up fund. That comes on top of the £229 million, which he mentioned, that we have invested in coastal towns and communities since 2012 through the coastal communities fund.

Photo of Lisa Nandy Lisa Nandy Shadow Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing, Communities & Local Government

Look, can the Minister not see the crisis unfolding across the country? There has been the biggest fall in living standards since the 1950s. Pensioners are boarding buses just to keep warm. On every measure, the gap is widening; there is less for the regions, in terms of public spending; salaries are falling; homes are less affordable; and local economies are on the verge of collapse. Surely he recognises how absurd it is that all we have had from the Secretary of State in the past week is the promise of an al fresco dining revolution, and three full pages of legislation giving us the power to rename our Mayors. What exactly is stopping the Government scrapping business rates, bringing in a windfall tax to cut money off energy bills, uprating benefits now, rather than waiting till later, or doing any of the things that will get money back into people’s pockets and get our economy growing?

Photo of Neil O'Brien Neil O'Brien Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities)

The hon. Lady could also have mentioned the fact that our national living wage, which this Government introduced, is putting £1,000 extra in the pockets of working people. She could have mentioned the changes to universal credit, which will make full-time workers £1,000 better off. She could have mentioned the record increase in the national insurance threshold, which will make nearly 30 million households better off, or any of the other measures that we are taking through the levelling-up agenda: the £4.8 billion being spent through the levelling-up fund; the £3.6 billion being spent through the towns fund; and the £2.6 billion that is helping to transform town centres across the country. I notice none of those things got a mention in her question.

Photo of Lisa Nandy Lisa Nandy Shadow Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing, Communities & Local Government

It is increasingly as though the Government are living on a completely different planet. The other day, the Secretary of State was in Stoke, which has had £35 million taken off it by him—that money used to flow freely back to us via Brussels—and £20 million stripped out of the local economy because the Government scrapped the £20 million universal credit uplift.

The bigger problem is that a pattern is emerging. The Secretary of State could not get money from the Chancellor. He could not get visas from the Home Secretary. He could not convince his former junior Ministers to stop closures of Department for Work and Pensions offices in the north. He could not even persuade his civil servants working on levelling up to move out of London. For all the nonsense that there has been, two thirds of his civil servants working on levelling up are trying to level us up from the capital. At least now he knows what it is like for the rest of us—in the north, Scotland, the midlands, Wales and the south-west—to be treated with total contempt by a bunch of Ministers in Whitehall. Seriously, what hope has he got of convincing us in this country that he can level us up when he cannot even convince a single one of his colleagues around the Cabinet table?

Photo of Neil O'Brien Neil O'Brien Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities)

I thank the hon. Lady for drawing attention to the Cabinet’s visit to Stoke the other day; if she had been a Government Back Bencher, people would accuse her of toadying for teeing up this answer so brilliantly. She mentioned several things that allow me to mention the three successful levelling-up bids that we have had in Stoke, and she mentioned the shared prosperity fund, about which I will make a point. Under the last Labour Government, money was decided on in Brussels and then given to remote regional development agencies. That money is now going directly, with no strings attached, to the fantastic Conservative-run council in Stoke, which is transforming the fortunes of that city after years of Labour neglect.

Photo of Patricia Gibson Patricia Gibson Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

Despite the bullish posturing, the Minister knows that households across the UK are suffering terrible hardship because of the cost of living crisis, which has the Tories’ name written all over it. Despite the rhetoric, the reality is that Scotland’s resource budget allocation has been cut by Westminster by 5.2%, and the capital budget allocation has been cut by Westminster by 9.7% in real terms. How can he claim to support economic growth across the UK when the Scottish Government’s ability to support business, investment and people through the cost of living crisis can only be severely constrained by these cuts?

Photo of Neil O'Brien Neil O'Brien Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities)

The hon. Lady talks about Scottish public spending. The truth is that the record block grant that Scotland has just received is the biggest settlement since devolution—it is huge. For every £100 of spending elsewhere, there is £126 of public spending in Scotland. The implication in the hon. Lady’s question is just not correct.

Photo of Andrew Percy Andrew Percy Conservative, Brigg and Goole

The problem for the shadow Secretary of State is that some of us remember what 13 years of a Labour Government meant for the north of England: we received very little. Since the Government came to power, not only have they cut the Humber bridge tolls in half and supported the development of the Siemens wind turbine factory in Hull and the new Siemens train factory in Goole, but we have received huge sums of cash, including through the town deals that are coming our way. However, we want even more. Although we missed out on the levelling-up fund bid the first time round, will the Minister assure me that he will look very closely at the bids that are about to be submitted for my area for the next round of funding?

Photo of Neil O'Brien Neil O'Brien Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities)

I will look very closely at them. I hope that through the very exciting talks that are going on, and through the Hull and East Riding devolution deal, we can pick up many more of the exciting opportunities in the area. Of course, the reviews of Labour’s performance in Hull are so good that it has just been kicked out of the council.