Levelling Up

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:43 pm on 20 November 2023.

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Photo of Justin Madders Justin Madders Shadow Minister (Future of Work), Shadow Minister (Employment Rights and Protections) 3:43, 20 November 2023

I thank the Minister for advance sight of his statement. I start by congratulating all those areas that have been successful in their bids—including Chorley, Mr Speaker. Commiserations to all those areas that have missed out once again, although the truth is that even the areas that have won will find that this money is a drop in the ocean, compared with the £15 billion cut from local government funding since 2010. Only six weeks ago there were reports that councils face a £3.5 billion shortfall in their budgets for this year alone. How does today’s announcement help them face that existential threat?

At least the Government appear to have finally accepted that local authorities were forced to spend disproportionate sums in previous rounds to get bids prepared, although we appear to have lurched from one extreme to the other: this time, councils have not been involved in any dialogue on the bids and were possibly not even aware that their bids were being considered. Will the Minister tell us what discussions have taken place with local authorities before decisions were made? Given that the proposals are approaching being a couple of years old, what assurances will he give us that they still reflect local priorities?

The Government’s methodology notes say the Department capped bids for regeneration projects outside priority areas by local authority and region. Did any projects that met the Department’s threshold not get funded for that reason, and which ones were they?

Please do tell us what on earth is meant by a “funding simplification doctrine”—is it an elaborate way of saying sorry? Does it apply to all Government spending decisions, or just to this Department because it has so patently failed to get a grip on spending that it has to have its own doctrine? Is it being done to address the concerns of the National Audit Office and the Public Accounts Committee that billions of pounds are being wasted because the Department has engaged in a programme without any understanding of its impact? As the IPPR North said, levelling up has been a

“litany of missed deadlines, moving goalposts and dysfunction” although, to be fair, it could have been talking about any Government project when it said that.

Does the Minister accept that the new approach announced today means that the concerns levelled against the Department are, in fact, valid? With this latest iteration, how does the Minister expect anyone to keep up with what this Government want when they flit around so much? The Prime Minister announced five new priorities this morning. Were the projects selected in line with those priorities, or will they all be changed again to reflect this week’s prime ministerial thinkin

Of course, where does this leave the hundreds of projects that still have not been successful? There was no mention of any future rounds in the statement; in fact, I think the Minister said that this was the final round of bidding, so where does that leave all the places that have been unsuccessful so far? What is the plan to address those communities that are crumbling and those high streets that are emptying? Is this the end of any hope of levelling up for them?

Even in those areas that have attracted funding, we know that these crumbs from the table are not enough to reverse 13 years of neglect. Streets that were once bursting with pride are shutting down, rents are rising, mortgages are soaring, and insecurity is still baked into the workplace. Tackling those things would be genuine levelling up, and Labour believes in giving those communities the power, resources and flexibility to tackle such issues in the way they think best. That is a true way of allowing people to take back control.

The statement offers no path ahead to deal with those issues; it just rearranges the deckchairs of what has gone before. We have been left with a failed experiment—an illusion that lasted as long as the press release. It has not gone unnoticed that the number of Conservative MPs standing down at the next election has gone past 50. They know that after 14 years of stagnation, they do not have a record to defend. They are not levelling up; they are giving up.