Stronger Towns Fund - Statement

– in the House of Lords at 5:24 pm on 5th March 2019.

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Photo of Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Housing, Communities and Local Government) 5:24 pm, 5th March 2019

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall repeat a Statement made in another place by the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government. The Statement is as follows:

“With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a Statement on the work the Government are doing to support our towns. Last week, my right honourable friend the Prime Minister informed this House that the Government would launch a new fund to help our towns to grow and prosper. Today, I am delighted to confirm further details of our new stronger towns fund, a £1.6 billion fund in England between now and 2026 to help our towns to grasp the opportunities available to them in the years to come.

The British people, supported by the balanced, long-term approach taken by this Government, have worked hard to rebuild the economy after the debts we inherited in 2010. As a result, we have seen strong and consistent growth, but we want to make sure that the benefits of that growth help to support towns across the country. The country voted for Brexit, with communities expressing their desire to see change in their local areas. That must be a change for the better, with more opportunity and greater control.

It is important to remind all Members that as we move to support our nations and regions to take control of their own economic destiny, we do not start with a blank slate. Since 2010, seven city regions in England have elected metro mayors, with an eighth to follow in May. We created the local growth fund and devolved it to local enterprise partnerships across England to invest in their priorities for growth. We have agreed, jointly with the devolved Governments and their local authorities, city and growth deals, including in Cardiff Capital Region and in Glasgow and the Clyde Valley, with billions of pounds of additional funding.

Our modern industrial strategy sets out a clear plan for the future that puts places at the heart of our ambition to create an economy that works for everyone, but we know there is more to do. That is why we are in negotiations with other parts of the United Kingdom on more deals, including in Belfast and Derry/Londonderry. It is why we are agreeing local industrial strategies with all places in England, to get for the first time a real long-term sense of what their local economies could look like in 30 years’ time.

Our new stronger towns fund will build on that approach and extend our principles of devolution further, out to the towns that our success was built on. Through this, we will ensure that we spread opportunity more widely so that every community can benefit from our economic prosperity. It will be used to create new jobs, help to train local people and boost growth, with communities having a say on how the money is spent.

Today, I have published notional allocations of £1 billion of the fund. I have allocated that amount based on need. I have looked at the relative productivity and income and skills levels and targeted more funding to those places with levels that are lower than the average, ensuring that local towns can access the funding needed to support productivity growth. Given that we all know that pockets of deprivation exist even in our most successful local economies, I have made sure that we take into account such very localised economic conditions. We will work with local areas to explore town deals which unlock local potential, investing in places and investing in people.

Today, I can therefore confirm initial allocations of £583 million to towns across the northern powerhouse, £322 million to those in the Midlands engine and £95 million across the south. The remaining £600 million will be invested following a competitive process that I invite all towns to take part in. I will publish a prospectus which will include further details of the process and I am keen to encourage high-quality, ambitious bids.

The message today to all Members who serve our towns is that we want those who know these places best—community leaders, local businessmen and women, civic leaders and others—to begin to think about the investments that could build on their heritage, improve productivity and boost the life chances of all their people and to bring those into a coherent plan that sets out a positive vision that people living there can rally behind and play a role in making happen.

As a Government, we have set out the value of investing in infrastructure, people, business and ideas in our industrial strategy and we want each place to tell us the balance between those priorities for their town. We also want our local institutions to be involved. No one knows towns better than the local councils which serve them, and we want to ensure that local enterprise partnerships and mayoral combined authorities take a leading role. The Business Secretary and I are working with them on the development of local industrial strategies across England. LEPs and mayoral combined authorities should play a guiding role to ensure that the plans of individual towns across a functional economic area are joined up, so that the overall strategy is greater than the sum of its parts. After all, we know that the success of many of our towns is intrinsically linked to the success of those around them.

Today’s announcement is also about our commitment to the whole union. The Government will seek to ensure that towns in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland can benefit from the stronger towns fund. This will build on the success of our city and growth deal initiatives. Today, we extend our approach to devolution and make a new offer to towns and the millions of hard-working people who live in them to set their own futures.

Finally, I want to impress on the House what the prize at stake is: people coming together, the public and private sectors working with their communities to set out what their towns can be if everyone pulls together and works together, and the steps it will take in the short term to make that vision happen. The stronger towns fund is this Government’s offer to help make that become a reality.

My right honourable friend the Member for Harlow is spearheading plans in his constituency, and other towns, such as Blackpool, are bursting with ideas. So many people who care so much about the towns in which they live are passionate to see that their potential is fulfilled, harnessing the strength of place and identity and unlocking the potential of all parts of our proud United Kingdom. I share that ambition and am intent to see that, as we look to the future, all parts of our country play their part and no one is left behind. This fund is part of helping to achieve that, and I commend this Statement to the House”.

Photo of Lord Kennedy of Southwark Lord Kennedy of Southwark Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Shadow Spokesperson (Housing) 5:30 pm, 5th March 2019

My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement made yesterday in the other place by his right honourable friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup. This supposed funding boost is extremely disappointing and will do little compared with the billions of pounds that his Government have already cut from local communities. After all the hype, I would have expected more from him and the Government. This will do little to reverse the damage that they have inflicted in each region of England.

The reason why many of our towns are struggling is a near-decade of cuts to local authority funding and to public services by the Minister’s Government. The fact is that between 2010 and 2020 councils will have lost 60p in every £1 that the Government provide for services. Can the Minister tell the House why nine of the 10 most deprived councils in England have seen cuts three times the national average? How can that be right?

The Statement says that the Government have taken deprivation into account when considering the allocation of this fund. I am very pleased that they have done that, but I am also conscious that the Minister’s right honourable friend in the other place refused to say that deprivation would be taken into account when considering the local government settlement. Can the Minister tell the House why that is the case? It is quite rightly included in this fund but not in the fair funding formula review.

The Minister mentioned Blackpool. Blackpool is one of the most deprived areas in England and has seen a cut in spending power of more than £45 million. That is more than the £40 million a year that the entire north-west of England will get from this fund. Look at the east Midlands, an area I know very well. Over seven years it will get £110 million, which is £15.71 million a year. If the Government allocate that funding evenly per local authority—I know they will not do that, but if they did—it works out at around £393,000 per year per authority.

This funding announcement is a drop in the ocean. We have seen spending cuts of £7.3 billion over the past decade because of nine years of austerity. Even if we are being favourable to the Government and to Ministers, this enticement is £5.7 billion short of the cuts that they have already inflicted.

The funding promised by the Secretary of State over the next seven years does not even get close to matching the amount of funding that regions have received from the European Union over the last seven years from the European Regional Development Fund. This package is £642 million a year short of the money that England would have received.

Also, why is £600 million unallocated? I know the Minister said that there will be some sort of bidding process, but we have had no more clarity about that. How will the money be allocated? He also mentioned other parts of the United Kingdom. Will the money be distributed through Barnett-type formulas? Will there be additional money for the other parts of the United Kingdom? What will the allocations to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland be?

This is a most disappointing announcement indeed from the Government, but unfortunately not surprising. We have such serious problems in our towns, seaside resorts, communities and high streets that we need an ambitious programme to deliver their success so that they can thrive, with proper support for jobs, transport, housing and communities. As I said, the Government have failed in this announcement.

Photo of Baroness Pinnock Baroness Pinnock Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government)

My Lords, I remind Members of my registered interests, in particular that I am a councillor in Kirklees Council in West Yorkshire. I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement, but it raises far more questions than answers, so I will ask those questions in the hope and expectation of finding the answers.

The funding is described as being for towns. Could the Minister define what towns will be eligible? Are cities excluded? For example, my part of the country—West Yorkshire—contains Dewsbury, a town, eligible, and Bradford, a city, not eligible, despite the fact that their deprivation assessments will be very similar?

It seems from the Statement that the funding will be allocated to the local enterprise partnerships and the mayoral combined authorities, yet these are the very institutions that have clearly not used growth deal funding to invest in those towns; otherwise, there would be no need for this additional funding. The city region-centric approach may well be successful in bringing new jobs into cities, but my experience is that these institutions have not succeeded in reviving our towns. Yet these are the self-same institutions that will be the keepers of this small fund. Could the Minister explain the rationale for this approach? Given that the LEPs serve large populations, how can the needs of small towns feature and be understood? Local councils are much better placed to understand their communities and which ones will benefit from the relatively meagre investment, so why the LEPs?

Then there is this total failure of government thinking that devolution equals handing out funding that in some way local people can influence. The Statement refers to the Government being in charge. It says:

“We will work with local areas to explore town deals that unlock local potential”.—[Official Report, Commons, 4/3/19; col. 714.]

This is no way to engage communities. Will the Minister confirm that plans for investment have to be agreed with the Government? How will residents and councillors of the towns involved be able to determine what funding programme best meets the needs of their town?

The Statement lists the aims of the funding: to create new jobs and training opportunities, and economic development. The list sounds familiar. The Single Regeneration Budget programme 25 years ago had the same aims. However, that had a budget of £5.7 billion over six years—many times larger than what is now on offer. The criticism of the SRB was that gains made in local economies were not sustainable. Have lessons been learned?

That leads me to the size of the funding pot. To take an area I know, Yorkshire and the Humber is allocated £197 million over seven years—£28 million per year for the whole region. These are some of the towns in the region that I think will meet the criteria loosely set by the Government: Dewsbury, Batley, Huddersfield, Halifax, Rotherham, Doncaster, Castleford, Pontefract, Scarborough, Grimsby, Scunthorpe, Barnsley, Selby, Goole, Bridlington, and no doubt others. They may have around £2 million a year to invest. It will do something, of course, but—to use a catchphrase—not a lot.

In the context of the massive cuts to local government funding, this is a drop in the ocean. My own council has had cuts of £183 million up to 2018, and has to make a further £40 million of cuts in the next two years, despite government claims of funding rises, which ignore rising demands—and of course, these cuts do not include the squeeze on school spending.

Another way to consider the funding is to compare it with the £1 billion granted to Northern Ireland. The exchange rate per DUP MP is £100 million. There are 54 MPs in Yorkshire and the Humber. Their exchange rate is £3.5 million. So this fund is a lollipop, a sweetener, and, as they say in Yorkshire, “summat for nowt”. I look forward to the Minister’s answers.

Photo of Lord Kennedy of Southwark Lord Kennedy of Southwark Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Shadow Spokesperson (Housing)

Before the Minister responds, when I spoke earlier, I should have drawn the House’s attention to my registered interest as a vice-president of the Local Government Association.

Photo of Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, and the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, for their contributions from the Front Benches of their respective parties. I will try to cover the points they raised. First, I will try to put into perspective what is regarded as “something for nowt”.

Photo of Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

“Summat for nowt”. It is £1.6 billion. I do not think that is to be sniffed at; I am sure communities up and down the country will not be sniffing at it. Indeed, some of the communities in the south of England which, because of the way the programme is designed, are not getting as much, are very envious of assistance that is going elsewhere. Yes, it could be more—it always could—but £1.6 billion over seven years is not to be sniffed at.

The other important point is that comparisons were made. I understand that when a Statement offers quite a lot, people want to talk about things where the record might not be quite so rosy, and so there was a concentration on talking about local government settlements over the years but no mention that this year there was a real-terms increase in it, which was welcomed by the noble Lord, Lord Porter, the chairman of the Local Government Association. We need to put this into perspective. It is also worth saying that the Labour Party was putting in place cuts to local authorities before the 2010 election, so whichever party—or combination of parties—had formed the Government, there would have been cuts.

Photo of Baroness Pinnock Baroness Pinnock Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government)

If there has been a rise in core spending power—which is different from core funding—how is it that councils up and down the country have had to continue making cuts?

Photo of Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

The noble Baroness raises a fair point in a sense, but she cannot expect me to give a running commentary on all the local authorities up and down the country. It is established that there is that increase—I accept that over time there have been cuts—but let me proceed, because it is only fair that I try to cover the points raised. It is worth putting into perspective that there are other funds local communities can draw upon; for example, the Coastal Communities Fund and the Future High Streets Fund. It is also worth reiterating that with regard to the billion pounds, the essence of this programme has been finding the communities that have suffered deprivation and have lower incomes. As we all know, they tend to be in the north of England, and to some extent the Midlands, rather than the south. People asked how the £600 million was arrived at. It was because there are poor communities throughout the country—one thinks of Cornwall, which is in the relatively prosperous south-west, but Cornwall itself is not—which will be able to make bids against that fund.

The noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, made a point about losses from the European programme. I stress that this is not part of the UK shared prosperity fund substitute, but is quite independent of that. It is an additional programme. We still need to address the issue of the shared prosperity fund, which we are talking to the devolved Administrations and others about. Questions were raised about the devolved nations—Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland—which, as noble Lords can imagine, are dear to my heart. The Secretary of State in the other place undertook clearly that he would be coming forward with the proposals in relation to the devolved nations shortly and would keep the House informed; no doubt I will be doing the same here.

The noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, talked about the size of the funding for Yorkshire and Humberside. As she rightly said, that is £197 million over the length of the programme and will be geared to towns rather than cities. This is the essence of this. We are looking to towns because cities have had their day in the sun, as it were. This is essentially a towns programme, and we will be looking at the proposals from the towns concerned. As mentioned in the Statement, the Secretary of State is going to publish a detailed prospectus about how it will operate and how the process will move forward.

If there are points I have missed, I will ensure that noble Lords have answers, and will undertake to write to them and place a copy in the Library.

Photo of Baroness Quin Baroness Quin Labour 5:46 pm, 5th March 2019

My Lords, the money announced for the north-east of England amounts to £5 per person in the north-east for each of the seven years. Is it not the case that this in no way mitigates the cuts in local government spending across the region, nor the effects of Brexit, particularly under a disastrous no-deal scenario? Does this £5 per head of population not contrast dramatically with the £245 per head of population in Northern Ireland as a result of the deal concluded between the Government and the DUP?

Photo of Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

I thank the noble Baroness, who will be aware that the north-east actually has the most favourable treatment of all the regions that have had their monies announced—£105 million, £40 per head over the length of the programme—because of deprivation. We have been here before on the point about the agreement with the DUP; obviously, that is quite independent of this and is money that goes to Northern Ireland for programmes rather than to the party, as the noble Baroness will know. We need to nail that; it is not part of this initiative. Northern Ireland will get a sum of money for towns in Northern Ireland, which will be announced by the Secretary of State shortly.

Photo of Lord Wigley Lord Wigley Plaid Cymru

My Lords, although the Minister stated that towns in Wales can benefit, will it be the Welsh Government who administer that fund? In the context of the size of any such fund, will he bear in mind that west Wales and the valleys have been benefiting from £375 million per annum from European funds? Can he guarantee that there will be no drop-back from such a level of funding?

Photo of Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

I thank the noble Lord for the question. In relation to the first point, he will have heard me say that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State will be making an announcement about the position for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and clearly there will be a role for the devolved Administrations. In relation to his specific point about west Wales and the valleys, I represented a large part of that area in the National Assembly and know, as the noble Lord does, the importance of European funding to them, but as I have indicated, this is quite separate from the UK shared prosperity fund, which would encompass the spending that was directed to those areas in relation to that. That discussion is ongoing. I am sure that in due course an announcement will be made.

Photo of Baroness Bull Baroness Bull Crossbench

My Lords, we read in the Statement that the Secretary of State has looked at relative productivity, income and skills and ensured that localised economic conditions are taken into account. Given the many and complex factors underlying the issues that these towns face, could the Minister tell us how long this scheme has been in development? Could he confirm which local organisations, charities and expert bodies have been consulted in developing the scheme, and could he confirm that the What Works Centre for Local Economic Growth has also been drawn into the development of the scheme, to ensure that it truly meets the long-term needs of these towns?

Photo of Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for that intervention. It is important to note first that the Secretary of State has indicated that there will be a prospectus giving details of not just the process for application, which will clearly be important to areas, towns and communities, but the thinking behind it and the way those aspects were considered and weighed. I think she will recognise from the figures that detailed work has been done. I appreciate that there is a breakdown behind those figures, but one can see that rough justice has been done there for the areas. We will look to communities to help develop the programme, and to set out the spending profile and how the fund operates. I am sure that will become clear once we see that prospectus when it is issued.

Photo of Lord Teverson Lord Teverson Chair, EU Energy and Environment Sub-Committee

My Lords, as someone from one of Britain’s Celtic nations the Minister will probably know that it is St Piran’s Day today—the patron saint of Cornwall. Cornwall is the only lesser developed region within England, yet the funding under this scheme seems absolutely minimal. Can the Minister tell me something specific regarding the town of Newport? I should have said Newquay—my apologies to my Welsh colleagues. Newquay Airport is bidding to be a spaceport under the Government’s programme for a launch. A consortium has, together with Virgin Orbit, put together £14.7 million but after two years, it is still waiting to hear from the Government about their own funding contribution. This would be a fantastic boost to Cornwall’s economy. Can we please have an answer, and a positive one at that?

Photo of Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

My Lords, may I first reciprocate and wish the noble Lord a happy St Piran’s Day? I have been speaking today to the deputy leader of Cornwall Council, Julian German; it was not specifically about the Newquay bid and it would not be wise for me to comment in detail on that bid. But it is obviously the sort of thing that could come forward, given the £600 million part of the programme announced by the Secretary of State. It is certainly right to say that there are areas of poverty in Cornwall, although it finds itself in a relatively wealthy region. That is one reason why the funds have been split as they have: to allow the poorer communities in the wealthier areas to have an opportunity to bid. I very much hope that Newquay will be part of that bidding exercise, as it sounds like a good bid.

Photo of Lord Haselhurst Lord Haselhurst Conservative

My Lords, in view of the rather underwhelming response so far, might it be wise for my noble friend to repeat that this is money going out from the Government to the towns and local communities? The key to its success will be the alacrity with which they formulate their plans and perhaps use that money as a catalyst to get funding from other quarters so that, as suggested by the noble Baroness, Lady Bull, there truly is a lasting effect.

Photo of Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

My Lords, it is certainly new money, as my noble friend rightly says, and it is important to stress that point. It is also important to stress, as he has, that towns and communities should respond. I am sure that they will and that many of them—as we just heard in relation to Newquay, for example—have been developing plans for which they hope to get support. We would certainly not close down the possibility of communities coming forward with help in kind, or help that they have from money that is already there. As I say, the evidence is that communities will be responsive and that this will meet a need out in the communities.

Photo of Lord Hylton Lord Hylton Crossbench

My Lords, I notice that this new money is heavily weighted towards the north. Can the Minister give me any hope for my nearest town, which has four names, namely Radstock, Midsomer Norton, Westfield and Paulton? It is a built-up area with perhaps 30,000 people but it has only four parish councils within its unitary authority, Bath and North East Somerset. The area has taken very hard knocks in the last two generations. It has completely lost coal mining; it lost two railways, which are now cycle tracks; and it has lost a swathe of the printing industry. The result is that many people have to commute into either Bristol or Wiltshire. Is this the kind of area which, although it is in the south, has some hope of extra help?

Photo of Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

My Lords, I think I can give the noble Lord some comfort in relation to the community that he talks about—Radstock and so on in Somerset. Like many parts of the country, that community has lost coalfields. First, the south-west will get a £33 million allocation over the length of the programme, so there is that opportunity. But significantly, there is also the £600 million I referred to and it is open to communities throughout England to bid for that. I am sure that well-developed ideas will come forward from the towns and communities he was talking about. They will certainly be eligible within that part of the programme.

Photo of Lord Smith of Leigh Lord Smith of Leigh Labour

My Lords, I declare my interests as a member and former leader of Wigan Council, and as a vice-president of the LGA. I welcome the Statement, for two reasons. First, it is an admission by the Government that austerity has damaged the north and the Midlands much more than any other part of the country. At least we are hearing that from them and they are going to try to do something about it. Secondly, they are saying that if we are to have an equitable form of funding, deprivation has to be taken into account. We welcome that but cannot understand why it is not done through the new fair funding formula for local authorities, because that new formula will mean the very authorities that the Government are trying to help here will lose about £390 million per year. That loss will hardly be compensated by this additional money. The north-west of England will get £40 million in total and my own authority has lost £160 million since 2010. That is some bribe.

Photo of Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that contribution and his at least qualified welcome. I think the honourable Member for Wigan, Lisa Nandy, gave a similar welcome in the other place. It is important to take deprivation into account, as he says. This enables me to pick up a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, about the fair funding formula, which I missed when answering his question. First, the clue is in the name: it is a fair funding formula and that is what we propose to do. Secondly, we have been clear that fair funding is essential to the social care elements, for example, of the formula. I am not quite sure where the scare stories come from that fairness will not be part of it and that we will not look at deprivation. In essence, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Smith: it is important that we move forward and seek to tackle deprivation. That is the aim here and I think it will be exemplified once the detailed prospectus is issued. But as one can see from the rough-hewn figures we already have, it permeates them with the concentration in the parts of the country where there are more deprived communities.

Photo of Lord Pickles Lord Pickles Conservative

My Lords, this is not the only money available to local government and to communities. Given that cities have generated quite a bit of economic growth through economic partnerships, surely it is not unnatural that there should be extra money for those towns, which might be on the periphery of cities, to make a difference. It does not seem to me to be “Summat for nowt” but something very welcome indeed. As the late President Reagan said, with a billion here and a billion there, you are soon talking about serious money.

Photo of Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

I am grateful to my noble friend for reminding us of the importance of recognising that a significant amount of public money is coming forward here. One thinks of looking gift horses in the mouth. I am sure communities up and down the country will be keen to take advantage of the money available. It is also true to say that there are many other programmes. I have mentioned some; the mayoral combined authorities are obviously getting funding. I take this opportunity to recommend that Sheffield gets its act together as well, to help it ensure that it gets a share of the action as a mayoral combined authority. There is also the Coastal Communities Fund and the Future High Streets Fund, and so on.

Photo of Lord Shipley Lord Shipley Liberal Democrat

My Lords, my noble friend Lady Pinnock asked the Minister about defining the word “town”, which I do not quite think he did. However, it is an important question. It may be defined in the prospectus but if the prospectus is not consulted upon beforehand, that needs to be clear. Is the Minister in a position to define a town and whether there is a minimum population threshold? Is it simply anywhere that is not a city or a village? In which case, if a city is a cathedral city outside a combined authority—I am thinking of cities such as Carlisle, Gloucester and Hereford—can it bid into a fund which is for towns when they themselves are cathedral cities?

Will the Minister confirm that towns inside city regions with metro mayors and the resources of combined authorities’ additional funding can nevertheless be part of the scheme? Or will those areas—I am thinking in particular of the county of Northumberland—find their funding cut because the combined authority has been receiving more money?

Photo of Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

My Lords, I find that last question much easier than the others. Certainly, towns such as Berwick—one that is having elections this year would be eligible—although they are in a metro area.

On the definition of a town and whether it is anywhere that is not a city or a village, I know from visiting the cathedrals of England that not all of them are in cities, which adds to the complexity. Chelmsford is now a city, but it was not until recently; Southwell is certainly not a city, and so on. I do not think that it is as simple as the noble Lord put it in his question. I do not want to give a definition. Within mayoral combined authority areas, towns which are visibly towns and not cities will certainly be eligible.

Photo of Lord Beecham Lord Beecham Shadow Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Shadow Spokesperson (Housing)

My Lords, I refer to my interests as a councillor in Newcastle and vice-president of the Local Government Association. The north-east will receive this wonderful benison of £15 million a year for seven years across the region. It is still a trifling sum given the scale of the problems that the region faces. What role, if any, will county councils have in the process? I understand that the Minister is saying that they will not get no money, but they will surely have a role in promoting any improvements, particularly on the economic side, of the constituent district councils in those areas. What will that role be in practice? How will the Government evaluate the proposals being made? How long will the process take? Can the Minister give any assurance that the north-east in particular will benefit from significant improvements to its infrastructure, which is desperately in need of improvement? How much would he expect such a modest sum to afford when the county council in Durham has a deficit of £245 million a year?

Photo of Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, rightly said that the region will receive £15 million a year for the seven years, or £105 million over the length of programme. For reasons that we know, it is an area that is due to benefit more than any other.

The noble Lord asked about the role of the county council in developing proposals. It will certainly be central, as will all councils. We want civic engagement, although, as he said, county councils will not necessarily be in the dominant position; however, they will certainly be there.

How proposals are evaluated will be outlined in the prospectus. I do not want to get ahead of myself by saying that money will go on infrastructure rather than on other projects, but certainly infrastructure will be eligible. We hope that the spending will be transformative, so infrastructure is important. I do not think that we can expect to sort out the bids yet. We do not know the quality of the bids; we do not know the process of the bids. These things are yet to happen.

Photo of Baroness Byford Baroness Byford Conservative

My Lords, I welcome the Statement. Although other noble Lords have pooh-poohed it, which is regrettable, this is new money coming in to help local authorities around the country.

I have two questions for my noble friend. I understand that £600 million will be invested following a competitive process later this year, but my question relates to the £322 million allocated earlier to the Midlands engine. How will that be organised and who will approve it? My question merely follows on from the previous one about the involvement of county councils. The Statement gave no indication as to how bids will be made and how they might be successful. I realise that the £600 million will come later, but there is nothing at this stage on the earlier bit.

Photo of Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for once again emphasising that this is new, additional money. Perhaps I might again correct a feeling that this is something to do with the shared prosperity fund—that was certainly the feeling in the other place. It is quite separate from that; this is new money.

My noble friend referenced the £600 million, which will apply across the whole country, including London, which receives no money from the first allocation of £1 billion—London would be eligible within the £600 million. She referred to the £322 million for the Midlands engine, comprising £110 million for the east Midlands and £212 million for the West Midlands. As I indicated, there will be civic engagement and leading parts for mayoral combined authorities, where appropriate, and the LEPs in looking at this. It will be covered in the detailed prospectus which will follow shortly and be issued by the Secretary of State.

Photo of Lord Scriven Lord Scriven Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I draw the House’s attention to my interests as declared in the register, particularly as a member of Sheffield City Council. The Conference for Peripheral Maritime Regions in its report of January 2019 showed that through the European Regional Development Fund and Social Fund more than £11 billion would have come in from European funding between 2021 and 2027. This is a tenth of that £11 billion. Where will the other 90% come from so that no region or no country is left behind?

Photo of Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord and, knowing his role in Sheffield, thank him for his support in encouraging Sheffield to get on with its deal, which is important. I come back to the fundamental point that this is not related to substituting European money; it is something that over generations and successive Governments has needed to be done to assist areas of deprivation. It is not about substituting the shared prosperity fund or European funding—that is quite separate. I note what the noble Lord says, but this is additional government funding.