Levelling Up - Statement

– in the House of Lords at 12:52 pm on 18th March 2021.

Alert me about debates like this

The following Statement was made in the House of Commons on Tuesday 16 March.

“With permission, Mr Deputy Speaker, I will make a Statement on levelling up. Levelling up is central to the Government’s agenda, and we are working with local areas to ensure that every region, every city and every town will recover from Covid-19 and level up. Investing in our local areas has the potential to improve lives, give people pride in their communities, bring more places across the UK closer to opportunity, and ensure that everywhere can build back better.

Economic differences remain between places across the UK, and those economic differences have real implications. They affect people’s lives through their pay, their work opportunities, their health and their life chances. Tackling them, and driving prosperity as part of levelling up the UK, remains a priority for the Government. As set out in the spending review, the Government’s capital spending plans for the coming financial year, 2021-22, will total £100 billion—a £30 billion cash increase compared with 2019-20. That is part of the Government’s plans to deliver more than £600 billion in gross public sector investment over the next five years, delivering the highest sustained level of public sector net investment as a proportion of GDP since the late 1970s. In the Budget, we published the prospectus for the new £4.8 billion levelling-up fund. The fund will operate UK-wide, extending the benefits of funding for priority local infrastructure across all regions and nations. This cross-departmental fund represents a new approach to local investment and will end silos in Whitehall that make it difficult to take a holistic approach to the infrastructure needs in local areas.

The fund will invest in the infrastructure that matters to local areas, creating economic benefits and bringing communities together as we recover from the economic impact of the pandemic. The levelling-up fund will invest in regenerating our town centres and high streets, upgrading local transport and investing in our cultural and heritage assets across the UK. That could be repairing a bridge, investing in new or existing cycling provision, upgrading an eyesore building, regenerating key leisure and retail sites to encourage new businesses, or even maintaining museums, galleries and community spaces that are important to the local area.

The fund will create opportunity across the country, prioritising bids from those places in need of economic recovery and growth, improved transport connectivity and regeneration. In order to target those places in need, an index has put places in categories 1, 2 or 3, with category 1 representing places with the highest levels of identified need. However, it is important to stress that the bandings do not represent eligibility criteria, nor the bid amount or number of bids that a place can submit. Bids from categories 2 and 3 will be considered for funding on the merits of their deliverability, value for money and strategic fit.

We published the index, and the methodology used to develop the index, to help the fund to deliver its core objective of improving local communities by investing in local infrastructure that has a visible impact on people. The Government recognise the important role of Members in championing the interests of their constituents, and we expect them to be consulted as part of wider local stakeholder engagement on bids, although it is not a necessary condition for a successful bid. Members can have a positive role in prioritising bids and helping to broker local consultation. When considering the weighting given to bids, the expectation is that an MP will back one bid that they see as a priority, and any bid may have priority backing from multiple MPs and local stakeholders. Members may also want to support any bid that will benefit their constituencies in the usual way.

Where appropriate, the UK Government will seek advice from the devolved Administrations as part of bid assessments in their geographical areas on shortlisted projects regarding alignment with existing provision. The fund is part of a broad package of complementary UK-wide interventions. Along with the levelling-up fund, the UK shared prosperity fund will create a package of UK Government support which invests in skills, infrastructure and innovation at local, regional and national levels, enabling the Government to provide the same support to communities in all nations as we build back from Covid-19. To help local areas prepare for the introduction of the UK shared prosperity fund, the UK Government are also providing an additional £220 million of funding through the UK community renewal fund. This fund aims to support people and communities most in need across the UK to pilot programmes and new approaches. Through these funds, we will establish new ways of working between the UK Government and places right across the UK.

The UK Government will work more directly with local partners and communities across England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, which are best placed to understand the needs of their local area and more closely aligned to the local economic geographies to deliver quickly on the ground.

In the Budget we also announced the eight successful locations in England, which will move to the next stage of freeport designation. Teesside, Liverpool City region, Humber region, Plymouth, Solent, Thames, Felixstowe and Harwich and East Midlands Airport will benefit from this investment. Freeports will bring together ports, local authorities, businesses and key local stakeholders to achieve a common goal of shared prosperity and opportunity for their regions, and they will allow the UK to take advantage of the benefits of leaving the EU.

As part of the towns fund, 101 towns were selected to develop proposals for town deals. All towns have now submitted their proposals, and 52 towns have so far been offered town deals, meaning that we now have committed £1.28 billion to the programme. Assessment continues for the remaining towns, with further announcements expected in due course. Through the towns fund, we will invest up to £25 million in each town, or more in exceptional cases, to drive the economic regeneration of towns to deliver long-term economic and productivity growth. We are also creating a new £150 million community ownership fund to ensure that communities across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland can support and continue benefiting from the local facilities, community assets and amenities that are most important to them.

From summer 2021, community groups will be able to bid for up to £250,000 match funding to help them buy or take over local community assets that are at risk of being lost and run them as community-owned businesses. In exceptional cases, up to £1 million match funding will be available to help establish a community-owned sports club or to help buy a sports ground that is at risk of being lost without that valuable community intervention.

Working with mayors and local enterprise partnerships, the £900 million Getting Building fund will also deliver jobs, skills and infrastructure across the country, targeting investment at those areas that are facing the biggest economic challenges as a result of the pandemic.

We want to devolve and decentralise to give more power to local communities, providing an opportunity for all places to level up. Through an ambitious programme of nine devolution deals, £7.49 billion-worth of investment is being unlocked over 30 years. The recently implemented West Yorkshire devolution deal will give the newly elected mayor control over an annual £38 million investment fund, as well as new powers over transport, education, housing and planning.

The department has also recently announced plans for more homes in urban areas and on brownfield land, as well as changes to our funding rules to ensure that we level up all parts of England as we progress towards 300,000 new homes every year. The Prime Minister announced that seven mayoral combined authorities were each receiving a share of the £400 million brownfield housing fund. That will help unlock 26,000 homes by bringing under-utilised brownfield land back into use and contribute to levelling up our country.

I hope that honourable Members will agree that this demonstrates the importance that this Government attach to the levelling-up agenda and the many ways in which we are addressing the causes of inequality. I am confident that the measures that I have set out today will make a real difference to people and places across the whole of the United Kingdom. I commend this Statement to the House.”

Photo of Baroness Wilcox of Newport Baroness Wilcox of Newport Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Equalities and Women's Issues) 1:01 pm, 18th March 2021

My Lords, I draw attention to my entry in the register of interests as a vice-president of the Local Government Association.

The levelling-up fund is a UK-wide £4.8 billion fund announced at the spending review, with a view to investing in local infrastructure that has a visible impact on people and their communities. It should drive regeneration in places in need: those facing particular challenges, and areas that have received less government investment in recent years. Some £600 million will be available this year for projects that have the support of their local community, and up to £4.8 billion will be available by May 2024.

All local authorities across Britain can bid for the fund, but they were placed in three categories of need, with the first more likely to get funding, including help to construct their bids. Areas were selected through a deeply flawed methodology that ignores most measures of deprivation, including the Government’s own index of multiple deprivation, which takes into account income, levels of crime and health, and instead favours areas with low productivity and where people have long commutes to work—typical characteristics of rural areas.

Covid-19 has had a catastrophic effect on the finances of local government. The LGA estimates that because of the pandemic up to a further £2.6 billion of support will be needed to cover the cost pressures and non-tax income losses of 2020-21 in full. The Government’s long-term neglect of the UK’s high streets and local businesses, with footfall down 10% since 2012, had left around one in 10 high street shops standing empty even before the coronavirus hit. Councils in England have seen their core funding from central government reduce by £15 billion in the last decade, and 773 libraries, 750 youth centres, 1,300 children’s centres and 835 public toilets in England have closed.

Not a single one of the 200,000 starter homes that the Conservatives promised in 2015 has been built, despite nearly £200 million being spent. The Government have now been forced to concede that they will not keep their promise to deliver nationwide gigabit broadband rollout by 2025, and now look highly likely to miss even their reduced target of 85% coverage. Unlike the Welsh Government’s highly successful 21st-century schools building programme, the UK Government have refurbished less than half of the schools that they had promised by this year; the programme has been delayed by four years and is running £300 million over budget.

A list of local authority areas grouped and prioritised according to economic need has been published, but with no real detail as to how that was calculated. In November the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee published its report into the towns fund, announced by MHCLG in the summer of 2019, and which invited 101 English towns—out of 541 assessed—to apply for money from the fund. The committee found that the process by which towns were selected was “not impartial” and that the department

“has a weak and unconvincing justification for not publishing any information on the process it followed.”

The Government’s treatment of the levelling-up fund is symbolic of their divide-and-rule approach: Richmondshire is in the top level, while Sheffield and Barnsley, both of which have notably higher deprivation levels, are in tier 2. The funding metric must be published. The list as it currently appears is proof that this Government’s actions are levelling areas down, pushing regions and nations and some of the poorest places in the UK to the back of the queue for investment. It appears to be about this Government using the money to level up the Conservative Party’s electoral prospects rather than the economic realities of left-behind communities. I call again on the Government to publish the methodology behind the allocation and then revise how Whitehall makes these spending decisions.

Out of 45 areas allocated money from a pre-existing £3.6 billion towns fund by the Chancellor, 40 have Conservative MPs, and five of them are Cabinet Ministers. Can the Minister explain why the Government’s bizarre formula for determining priority areas appears to use car-journey distance over levels of poverty? The Chancellor has said that the metric was based on an index of economic need that is transparently published, but the fund’s official prospectus says that the information is coming “shortly”. Again I ask: when will this metric be published? Last year the National Audit Office said that the choices in 2019 of which towns could access the towns fund were based on “sweeping assumptions” and may have been politically motivated, as a number were marginal constituencies.

The actual amount of money being distributed by the levelling-up fund is just a drop in the ocean compared with what the Conservatives have taken away from the public realm over the last 10 years. I am afraid it looks weighted towards the interests of the Conservative Party rather than the interests of the British people, who have suffered over a decade of austerity. The past year has shown us how woefully unprepared public services in the UK were to deal with the onslaught of the pandemic. If you keep taking and not putting back, eventually the edifice will crumble. This time last year, when Covid hit us with such force, it found a weakened UK in every corner of its public services.

So what would Labour do in order to bring about fairness in distributing public funding? We support funding for every region and nation, but it is crucial that it is done transparently, fairly and with a say for local communities. This fund fails on all those counts. All regions and nations should get their fair share of investment. This fund pits regions and nations against each other for crucial funding, and hands money to wealthy areas held by Cabinet Ministers ahead of those in greater need. We need to be pushing power down to spread prosperity, but the fund puts control in the hands of Ministers in Whitehall instead of local communities.

This piecemeal funding does not make up for failure over the past decade, which has seen services decimated as £15 billion of cuts have been made to local government. Under the fund our regions will be getting less than they did before the crisis and, unlike before, they will have to fight against each other for every penny of investment. We should have transparent funding metrics in place and leave every part of this country a good place to grow up and grow old in.

The Government’s failure to invest for the past decade has meant that the UK has had the worst crisis of any major economy. The Government now need to secure our jobs, support our high streets and strengthen our communities through investment that truly delivers the aspirations of people in every region. If the Government care about levelling up, why have they not come forward with a plan to fix social care, which in some areas of the country is close to collapse?

Does the Chancellor’s approach to prioritising funding for the levelling-up fund not show that, if you vote Conservative, your money will go to wealthy areas? How can this Government claim to fix regional imbalances when the fund pits regions and nations against each other? What assessment have they made of reports that Cornwall Council will take the Government to court over the decision not to prioritise its area? Does the Minister expect further court cases?

What about the positions in the nations? The fund bypasses the devolution settlement by directly allocating funding for regional and local development in Wales, directly counter to the expressed position of the Senedd and directly contrary to what was announced at the 25 November spending review, when the Chancellor said the £4 billion commitment in England

“will attract up to £0.8 billion” in funding

“for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland in the usual way.”

This is the UK Government taking funding that would previously have been allocated to Wales to spend in line with the priorities that the Senedd—elected by the people of Wales—has identified. Decisions are to be made by Whitehall departments with no history of delivering projects in Wales, no record of working with communities in Wales and no understanding of the priorities of those communities. In practice, this means that the UK Government will be taking decisions on devolved matters in Wales without being answerable to the Senedd.

The Governments in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland now face the prospect of a centralised, Whitehall-led approach instead of a regional and nation-focused approach. The UK Government are going out of their way to take money away from the nations and pick a needless constitutional battle to weaken devolved powers in the middle of a global pandemic. Their fixation with undermining democratic devolution is driving a cynical attempt at rebranding existing spending as new and rolling back progress on a model of national and regional development by democratically elected Governments and councils across the United Kingdom. They are indeed levelling down.

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

My Lords, I draw the attention of the House to my relevant interests as a vice-president of the Local Government Association and a member of Kirklees Council. I read the Statement on levelling up with great interest. My own area of West Yorkshire includes towns and cities that, by any fair measure, will qualify for focused help to support their residents. I am therefore particularly keen to understand what it is all about.

Levelling up” is a rather nebulous phrase. I want to understand precisely what it means and, more importantly, what is hoped to be achieved by it. Perhaps the Minister can help, as I have not been able to find anywhere either a definition or an explanation of how improvements will be measured. Can the Minister please provide a definition of levelling up and the metrics that will be used to determine whether the funding allocated has been a success? I appreciate that sharing metrics data orally is not easy, so will the Minister provide that information and make it available to all colleagues through the House of Lords Library?

The tools that the Government are proposing and which are outlined in this Statement are resonant of previous attempts to improve the lives of parts of our country that do not enjoy the same level of well-being as the more affluent one. Previous Governments have used similar funding packages. There was City Challenge, the Single Regeneration Budget and then SRB2. This was followed by investments through the regional development agencies. The common feature was infra-structure investment, although some aspects of SRB had elements of support for jobs and skills. Will the Minister provide the data that demonstrates that the areas that benefited from the funding packages I just listed have prospered as a result—or, better still, data that explains the reasons why some of the same places are still suffering from multiple deprivations? I can name them if the Minister is not sure which places they are. I ask these questions because the Government are in danger of repeating some of the less successful aspects of past attempts at regeneration. They need to explain whether providing shiny new roads and revamped town centres is the way to improve lives and level up.

The Covid pandemic has shone a bright light on the areas of our country that suffer from considerable deprivation. There is a strong link between deaths from Covid and living in deprived parts of our country. Can the Minister explain why some of these areas will not benefit from any of the funding packages outlined in the Statement? Are these places just going to be ignored? What plans do the Government have for providing support for them? Does the Minister agree that reviving local government by enabling local authorities to provide self-help may well be the best way forward? Of course, that depends on adequately funding local government and devolving to councils the right to bring in local knowledge and talent to take responsibility for making the towns that they represent proud places once again. Does the Minister agree?

What we do know is that people who live in areas of multiple deprivation have lives that are literally limited. They die younger; they live in poor-quality housing; their access to healthcare, training and well-paid jobs is limited. Does the Minister, with his wealth of local government experience, agree with this? If he does, can he also explain the reason for these measures not being the main ones used to determine which places will benefit from the funding packages outlined in the Statement?

This brings me to the selection of the places that are due to benefit from those funding packages. Of course, metrics can be carefully selected to ensure that the towns that the Government wish to benefit from additional funding come out top of the pile. That is clearly what has happened in these instances. Using the metric of distance to travel to work will target those places that are of a more rural nature. If that is the aim, the Government should be honest about it and focus on improving public transport in rural areas. If the heart of so-called levelling up is providing focused support to places suffering from multiple deprivations, the Government should use the metrics that enable that to happen. If they do not, they are being hypocritical and make those of us looking on regard what they are doing with some cynicism.

Much of the content of this Statement is of packages that are being announced as new yet again. The miserable levels of funding to mayoral combined authorities of £30 million or so a year in areas that serve, say, 2 million people, is just another example of re-announcing old packages of funding. The support for the well-to-do areas that can raise £250,000 as matched funding to buy and run a community asset has been re-announced. These packages are not new and not aimed at poorer parts of our country.

I want those post-industrial towns that have experienced considerable decline—economically and socially—to benefit from long-term and sustained support that will revive their communities, improve the health and well-being of their residents, enable training and skills that lead to well-paid jobs, and bring hope for the future. Unfortunately, the package of funding announced does none of that. I look forward to answers to my questions when the Minister replies.

Photo of Baroness Garden of Frognal Baroness Garden of Frognal Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

My Lords, the Front-Bench speakers have taken most of the 20 minutes allowable, but I can confirm that the Minister has plenty of time to reply and that the Bank-Benchers will still get their 20 minutes.

Photo of Lord Greenhalgh Lord Greenhalgh Minister of State (Housing, Communities and Local Government), The Minister of State, Home Department

My Lords, I point out that, in order to assess the efficacy of something like the levelling-up fund, we need to recognise the overall policy objective, which is to deal with the long-standing variation in economic performance between different areas and within areas.

The Government have set out their approach to the wider levelling-up agenda through a number of critical documents, such as the National Infrastructure Strategy, which focuses on energy, digital and transport, and the recent spending review, which announced £27 billion for those areas. There is also Build Back Better: Our Plan for Growth, published by Her Majesty’s Treasury, and the capital spending plan, which will be £100 billion— £30 billion more than in 2019-20. So, the overall package of funding around capital and infrastructure projects is at unprecedented levels.

The approach to levelling up needs to be seen as a package of measures. The levelling-up fund is more capital-focused and follows on from the £3.6 billion towns fund, while the community renewal fund—the precursor to the UK shared prosperity fund—is more revenue-focused. Alongside that, we have the increasing devolution of funding, which amounts to around £7.49 billion over 30 years for the nine currently agreed devolution deals.

The approach to the levelling-up fund has focused on making it very clear how we allocate funding. The index and the methodology used to develop it have been published. It focuses on areas that need economic recovery and growth, improved transport connectivity and regeneration. I am absolutely clear that Ministers did not see a list of specific places before agreeing the metrics; no changes to the index’s weightings or metrics were made as a result of Ministers having sight of the list of places.

We are also clear that this needs to be seen as a package of measures and that the levelling-up fund focuses on productivity, unemployment, skills and transport. Richmond scored low on productivity, which is one of the reasons why it is a category 1 area. Newark, which was also mentioned, scored “average to low” on productivity, skills and the unemployment rate. The approach we have taken has yielded those areas that are highest on the index. However, I repeat: all areas, in all categories, can apply to the fund and should be encouraged to do so.

With regard to the devolved Administrations, let me make it absolutely clear that we are seeking advice from them as part of this fund, and they will be consulted at the shortlisting stage. At least £800 million is being set aside for the devolved nations. On regions such as the north and north-west, a significant amount of funding, beyond the levelling-up fund, has been committed to the north to help level up, such as the £319.7 million from the Getting Building Fund. I point out that the UK infrastructure bank will be headquartered in Leeds and will play a key role in the levelling-up agenda.

Photo of Baroness Garden of Frognal Baroness Garden of Frognal Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

We now come to the 20 minutes allocated for Back-Bench questions. I ask that questions and answers be brief so that I can call the maximum number of speakers.

Photo of Lord Young of Cookham Lord Young of Cookham Conservative 1:23 pm, 18th March 2021

My Lords, I welcome the Government’s commitment to levelling up those parts of the country that, by general consent, have been left behind. I also welcome the very substantial sums of money that the Minister has just referred to. Further to the question of the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, when the Minister in another place was asked how we would know whether levelling up was achieving its objectives, he basically said that the next general election would provide the answer. Are the Government working on a measurement, or system of measurements, that would enable us to measure value for money for the levelling-up agenda in the meantime?

Photo of Lord Greenhalgh Lord Greenhalgh Minister of State (Housing, Communities and Local Government), The Minister of State, Home Department

I reassure my noble friend that the Government have established a series of provisional priority outcomes and metrics, which has been published as part of the spending review. Table 2H is a particular example of an outcome that will help to measure the success of the fund.

Photo of Lord Singh of Wimbledon Lord Singh of Wimbledon Crossbench

My Lords, the Statement rightly recognises the disparities in wealth and earning opportunities across the country, and it contains some imaginative funding initiatives. What is missing is any quantification of existing disparities and any targets to measure the success of the levelling-up programme. One way of doing this is to state what would constitute success or failure. Does the Minister agree that the initiative will have failed if there is no visible diminution in the need for food banks or in the number of homeless on our streets?

Photo of Lord Greenhalgh Lord Greenhalgh Minister of State (Housing, Communities and Local Government), The Minister of State, Home Department

We can be very clear that the objective of levelling up is to deal with all the issues the noble Lord raises. The metrics are clear: for instance, the performance metric that I mentioned in my previous answer concerns the

“Economic performance of all functional economic areas relative to their trend growth rates”.

Photo of Baroness Grender Baroness Grender Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Housing)

My Lords, in answer to Clive Betts on Tuesday, the Minister, Eddie Hughes, clearly stated that the way of measuring the success of this programme will be at a general election. Is it the intention to circulate table 2H, as previously mentioned? What is the open, accessible way that the electorate will be enabled to judge whether this programme is a success—or, indeed, not a success, as some of us suspect may well be the case?

Photo of Lord Greenhalgh Lord Greenhalgh Minister of State (Housing, Communities and Local Government), The Minister of State, Home Department

My Lords, I refer to my previous answer: there is a series of provisional outcomes and metrics. I just pointed to table 2H as an example of one that affects my department. Those metrics are then captured by departments in their outcome delivery plans.

Photo of Baroness Pidding Baroness Pidding Conservative

My Lords, at the last election, people voted Conservative, some for the first time, because they believed in levelling up and our vision of spreading prosperity to areas neglected by Labour. Does my noble friend agree that, by ensuring that every part of the country can bid for, and benefit from, the levelling-up fund, we are accelerating our transformational levelling-up agenda?

Photo of Lord Greenhalgh Lord Greenhalgh Minister of State (Housing, Communities and Local Government), The Minister of State, Home Department

My noble friend is right that the levelling-up fund will operate right across the United Kingdom. It will invest in infrastructure and improve everyday life across the United Kingdom by regenerating town centres and high streets, upgrading local transport and investing in cultural and heritage assets.

Photo of Lord Bird Lord Bird Crossbench

We know that a commonality among people who suffer poverty is, on most occasions, that they did not do very well at school. This leads to a low-wage economy, low-wage health and low social mobility and opportunity. We are talking about poverty —it is the only reason you would talk about levelling up. If are going to level up and to address poverty, then is this not the chance we have to take to excel with our schools and to put an enormous amount of investment into our children and the children of the next generation?

Photo of Lord Greenhalgh Lord Greenhalgh Minister of State (Housing, Communities and Local Government), The Minister of State, Home Department

My Lords, I completely agree that education is very much the engine of social mobility and addresses the points that were raised. We need to judge our levelling-up agenda against a package of measures that could also support skills development through things such as the new community renewal fund and the UK shared prosperity fund.

Photo of Lord Farmer Lord Farmer Conservative

My Lords, can the Minister confirm whether the levelling-up fund will accept bids containing social infrastructure elements such as funding to transform family support into a family hubs model? Transformation typically requires revenue funding to redeploy senior staff and backfill their roles, the development of missing services et cetera, as well as capital funding to refurbish buildings. Is this fund open to both capital and revenue funding bids?

Photo of Lord Greenhalgh Lord Greenhalgh Minister of State (Housing, Communities and Local Government), The Minister of State, Home Department

My Lords, local government does tend to separate capital and revenue, and the UK levelling-up fund will have more of a capital focus. However, this could include community spaces important to local areas that support the family policies that my noble friend has raised.

Photo of Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lord Wallace of Saltaire Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Cabinet Office)

My Lords, the Minister will be aware that England is the most centralised democratic country, and that the greater the centralisation that a country has, the greater the regional inequality. Here we have competitive funding decided by Ministers in London as the answer to devolution. Can the Minister tell us what he understands by the word “devolution”? Can you have devolution without transferring real power and long-term finance to local and regional governments?

Photo of Lord Greenhalgh Lord Greenhalgh Minister of State (Housing, Communities and Local Government), The Minister of State, Home Department

My Lords, I fear that this is a mixing up of issues. We need to see that the levelling-up agenda is around the duty of a national Government helping to level up all areas of the United Kingdom, while devolution of funding is also occurring, as I have already mentioned.

Photo of Lord Haselhurst Lord Haselhurst Conservative

My Lords, while I warmly support the Government’s levelling-up plans, would my noble friend acknowledge that, regardless of their geographical location, perceived prosperity or supposed political affinity, too many parts of the country are still unreached by digital connectivity and superfast broadband? They would appreciate their own bit of levelling up in this increasingly important respect.

Photo of Lord Greenhalgh Lord Greenhalgh Minister of State (Housing, Communities and Local Government), The Minister of State, Home Department

My Lords, the Government recognise the need to deal with the wider issues around the levelling-up agenda. I have pointed to the national infrastructure strategy, which is putting some £27 billion towards issues such as the zero-carbon agenda, transport infrastructure and, importantly, digital connectivity and infrastructure.

Photo of Lord Taylor of Goss Moor Lord Taylor of Goss Moor Liberal Democrat

My Lords, Cornwall is in complete shock. Until last year, we were regarded as one of the poorest places in the whole country, with incomes 25% below the national average and 17 areas in the bottom 10% of the index of multiple deprivation. Miraculously, in the new index, we appear to be as rich as Bath, which is in the top 25% in the UK. Can the Minister explain how this algorithm can possibly be correct, or is this not actually, quite clearly, an error as poor as the algorithms used for last year’s exams?

Photo of Lord Greenhalgh Lord Greenhalgh Minister of State (Housing, Communities and Local Government), The Minister of State, Home Department

I have attempted to explain several times that, as opposed to the index of multiple deprivation, the metrics of the levelling-up fund focus on productivity, unemployment, skills and transport. Its approach is to improve, in particular, transport infrastructure and other capital projects, as opposed to general deprivation levels.

Photo of Lord Lancaster of Kimbolton Lord Lancaster of Kimbolton Conservative

My Lords, I am sure that the whole House supports the Government’s agenda in what it is seeking to do with levelling up. I confess that I am always slightly nervous of the habit of successive Governments of judging success by financial input. My noble friend has already mentioned that there will be an ongoing assessment of these projects. Can he reassure me that, should that ongoing assessment demonstrate that the projects are not delivering a return for the taxpayer, they will be stopped and the money reallocated?

Photo of Lord Greenhalgh Lord Greenhalgh Minister of State (Housing, Communities and Local Government), The Minister of State, Home Department

My Lords, I can give that assurance that, as we go through the rounds, we will make assessments and judge on outcomes. That is why it is terribly important to have an outcomes framework, as has been published, and that we continue to see progress against those metrics identified in that framework.

Photo of Baroness Stuart of Edgbaston Baroness Stuart of Edgbaston Non-affiliated

My Lords, the levelling-up fund was a bit West Midlands-light, but there is still time for this to be remedied. When the Minister looks at success and repeats that the framework is about productivity, skills, transport and unemployment, I urge him to pay particular attention to the 50% of young people who do not go to university. If we do not deliver for them, whatever other levelling up we are doing, we will have failed.

Photo of Lord Greenhalgh Lord Greenhalgh Minister of State (Housing, Communities and Local Government), The Minister of State, Home Department

My Lords, I point out that this fund is available to all authorities, including those in the West Midlands. Those not in category 1 should apply. All bids will be judged on their deliverability, strategic fit and value for money. I am sure that there will be opportunities for the West Midlands Combined Authority to be one of those who will be a beneficiary of the fund.

Photo of Lord Oates Lord Oates Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Energy and Climate Change)

My Lords, does the Minister agree that, while we are levelling up, we also have an important opportunity to advance the UK’s green objectives? In that context, will the Government ensure that the bid criteria are designed to encourage bids that would help increase biodiversity and tackle climate change?

Photo of Lord Greenhalgh Lord Greenhalgh Minister of State (Housing, Communities and Local Government), The Minister of State, Home Department

My Lords, I have been clear that the focus of this fund is to prioritise those areas where there is a need for economic recovery, transport connectivity and regeneration. I am sure that this will be done in the most environmentally friendly way possible.

Photo of Baroness Warsi Baroness Warsi Conservative

My Lords, I welcome the Statement and the Government’s levelling-up agenda. Levelling up is about ensuring that we strip away the barriers stopping people and places from achieving their full potential. As evidenced in numerous reports—some commissioned by the Government—race has, sadly, been a de-leveller for many in our country. Does racial equality inform the Government’s levelling-up agenda and, if so, how?

Photo of Lord Greenhalgh Lord Greenhalgh Minister of State (Housing, Communities and Local Government), The Minister of State, Home Department

My Lords, in order for there to be a reduction in economic disparity, of course that needs to touch on the issues that my noble friend raises. The proof of the pudding will be that we see those left-behind areas with large minority communities level up with those areas that are economically more successful.

Photo of Lord Inglewood Lord Inglewood Non-affiliated

My Lords, as chairman of the Cumbria Local Enterprise Partnership, I welcome these levelling-up initiatives. As the Minister has pointed out, levelling up is not simply a northern or an urban challenge. As has been pointed out, the headings of expenditure described in the Statement are a mere drop in the ocean of what is needed nationally, but they are a start. Can the Minister tell the House how, and in what specific ways, public expenditure and policy will be recalibrated to take this levelling-up agenda forward, at the same time ensuring that this is not done at the expense of global competitiveness?

Photo of Lord Greenhalgh Lord Greenhalgh Minister of State (Housing, Communities and Local Government), The Minister of State, Home Department

My Lords, I do not see the levelling-up agenda as being anything other than helping us to be more economically competitive at a global level. I am sure that there will be opportunities to refine the outcomes frameworks and the metrics used to ensure that we are successful in our desire to raise all boats.

Photo of Lord Scriven Lord Scriven Liberal Democrat

My Lords, can the Minister explain why the time to travel to work in a car, such as a Bentley or a BMW, is a weighted factor worth nearly 20% of all weighting to steer funding for levelling up economic recovery, growth and regeneration of an area?

Photo of Lord Greenhalgh Lord Greenhalgh Minister of State (Housing, Communities and Local Government), The Minister of State, Home Department

My Lords, I do not think that it is entirely fair to categorise an area with poor transport infrastructure by reference to the speed and distance travelled in a Bentley. The focus of this fund is to deal with the challenges that we have around the need for greater connectivity, and it is those projects that will be funded.

Photo of Lord Lucas Lord Lucas Conservative

My Lords, I congratulate the Government on the superb structuring of this fund: the insistence on collaboration; the way in which councils and MPs are involved; and, in particular, the seeking of support from civil society in all its forms. In the context of Eastbourne, this has produced a ferment of ideas and enthusiasm which will do us a great deal of good going into the future. But as a seaside town whose income has been wiped out by Covid and which is staying solvent only by the grace of my noble friend’s department, how are we allowed to fund our 10% share of the bid that is asked for? If we bid now for phase 1 of our regeneration, can we include 5% or so of our bid to finance the feasibility study for phase 2? For that, we ought to have widespread public consultation and consideration of alternatives to give our larger plans a firm base, but in our current financial state we do not have the revenue out of which to take that funding.

Photo of Lord Greenhalgh Lord Greenhalgh Minister of State (Housing, Communities and Local Government), The Minister of State, Home Department

My Lords, I know that my noble friend will be delighted that Eastbourne is within category 1 in terms of being prioritised within the index of places. That means that Eastbourne and its council can draw on support, where there is an absence of capacity or perhaps not enough funding available, of up to £125,000 for the preparation of the bid. I point out that councils are merely encouraged to put some of their own resources towards the bid funding; it is not necessarily a prerequisite. In the case of Eastbourne, the Government are providing that funding to make sure that there is the best possible opportunity for the council to be successful in its bid for the fund.

Photo of Baroness Garden of Frognal Baroness Garden of Frognal Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

My Lords, all supplementary questions have been asked and answered. Congratulations to the Minister and congratulations to the Back-Benchers.