Amendment 1

Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill - Report (1st Day) – in the House of Lords at 3:30 pm on 11 July 2023.

Alert me about debates like this

Votes in this debate

Baroness Hayman of Ullock:

Moved by Baroness Hayman of Ullock

1: Clause 1, page 1, line 6, after “Parliament” insert “within 30 days of the passing of this Act”Member's explanatory statementThis amendment would require the statement to be laid within 30 days, meaning the statement could not be laid any later than the deadline for the statement detailing the application process for round three of the Levelling Up Fund which would, under a new Clause after Clause 5 also proposed by Baroness Hayman of Ullock, also have to be laid within 30 days of the Act being passed.

Photo of Baroness Hayman of Ullock Baroness Hayman of Ullock Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Levelling Up, Housing, Communities and Local Government)

My Lords, I have a number of amendments in this group, all regarding the funding for the levelling-up proposals that the Government have been working on for some time. One of the reasons I have brought this back at this stage is that I was not satisfied with the responses we received in Committee. Since we debated this matter in Committee —I think we started Committee back in February/ March; we seem to have been doing this Bill for a long time—the House of Commons Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee produced a report in May, Funding for Levelling Up. It expresses a number of concerns about the inadequacies of the Government’s method of delivering funding for levelling up, the allocation process and the extent to which different funds are compatible with the needs of communities in the short and long term. The committee also believes it creates several obstacles to delivering success in this area.

One concern that the committee raised in its report is about the lack of data available from DLUHC. DLUHC has conceded that it does not have sufficient data in relation to Whitehall departmental expenditure on the full range of levelling-up funds or on combined authority income or expenditure. Our concern is about how DLUHC can make significant policy decisions in relation to priority areas or funding allocations or even on the measurement of success or failure of this policy of levelling up. How can it achieve its objectives or measure those objectives if it is not given adequate data to support those tasks?

The White Paper commits DLUHC to reducing the requirements to access competitive funding and simplifying the funding landscape, so we are pleased that the department has recently announced measures to simplify the funding landscape for local authorities. However, this must be seen in conjunction with the fact that local authority revenue funding has reduced significantly since 2020.

Levelling-up funds generally do not replace grant funding because, first, they are capital not revenue and, secondly, they cover specific projects rather than necessarily covering the priorities of the local authorities.

We talked quite a bit in Committee about our concerns over metrics. There was questionable use of metrics in the first round, with additional metrics in the second round to make it easier. We feel that the management of the fund has ultimately contributed to diminished perceptions of trust and transparency, with this mismanagement leaving the Government open to criticism that they have not based funding decisions on need or, indeed, on merit.

The investment zone policy, for example, was reopened and reframed after it was reported that over 100 applications had been submitted for its first iteration. The problem is that, if there is a change in the approach and a reframing after submissions have been made, it means that the local authorities have wasted a significant amount of resources. We are concerned about that, and it raises further questions about the transparency of the process that DLUHC has been applying to such funding initiatives.

Funding the implementation of the levelling-up policy is clearly complex and challenging; we recognise that. Further parts of the report say that DLUHC does not know which pots of money across government contribute to levelling up, and nor does DLUHC appear to have oversight of how these objectives can be delivered strategically through—importantly—departmental co-ordination.

As a result, the Government’s current approach is characterised by one-off, short-term initiatives, which we think will be insufficient if the geographic, economic, social and health inequalities are to be reduced and, ultimately, overcome. To change this, we believe the policy requires a long-term, substantive strategy and funding approach: things that it currently lacks. Without this, levelling up risks joining a number of other short- term government initiatives.

In light of the committee report’s findings, I would ask the Minister and noble Lords to support my amendments in this group, which ask that the third round of the levelling-up fund takes place in both a timely manner and as part of a reformed process. If the Minister is unable to do so, I am minded to test the opinion of the House on this matter, because we believe that proper use of the levelling-up fund and other funding is one of the key drivers as to whether the ambitions in this Bill will actually be achieved.

Very briefly, my noble friend Lord Berkeley has an amendment in this group regarding an issue that has come up in the negotiations between the Department for Transport and the Isles of Scilly Council and the steamship company. I will let my noble friend explain the detail of his amendment and his deeply held concerns. I want to assure him that we very much support his position. I hope that the Minister will listen carefully and work with him to find a solution going forward. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Berkeley Lord Berkeley Labour

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that introduction. It is my job to speak to Amendment 11 in my name. It has a rather odd objective, which might not be clear from the text: I am trying to help the Government to honour their very welcome commitment to a levelling-up grant of about £48 million which they have offered to the Isles of Scilly Council to supply new vessels for the journey to the mainland. Unfortunately—we discussed this in Committee—new information came to light last week which prompted me to put this amendment down.

As I said, the department offered £48 million to the council on the basis that the council would have control of the fares, the timetable and the freight costs, and would put out to tender the operation of building a ship and the service. Noble Lords will probably be interested to know that Transport Focus did some market research earlier this year, which showed almost unanimous support from the 2,500 islanders for the idea of having a competition to get the most efficient and best value for money service, rather than just continuing with the existing operator, which has been there for many years. Many people think that it needs to be subject to competition.

The operator, the Isles of Scilly Steamship Company, asked whether it could have half of the £48 million without competing in a tender because, it said, it was a very good company. Ministers rejected that, thank goodness, in a very robust way. I could quote from the letter of the noble Baroness, Lady Vere, but I do not think I need to. She and her colleagues are being very supportive of the concept of levelling up to get the best possible deal for the fares and the service quality for passengers and freight for the people who live on the Isles of Scilly.

The trouble is that the existing operator has now announced that it wants to go ahead and finance its own ship, without saying what the fares or the timetable will be. Will it run in the winter, for example? If you are going to raise £48 million or so in the private sector, that will of course put the fares up—but the operator will not tell us what the fares are going to be. Over the weekend, we have done a few calculations of what the fares might be and compared them with those for journeys of a similar distance from the mainland of Scotland to Islay, which some noble Lords will probably know. It is actually quite frightening, so perhaps I might offer a few examples.

Since 2012, which is 11 years ago, the fares to Scilly have gone up by 47%—I repeat, 47%—and, when compared with those for Islay, the difference is getting more and more. It was seven times different; it is now going to be 12 times different. I will quote just one figure. In 2027, which is in four years’ time, a return fare for a passenger to and from Scilly, with no car, will probably be about £204—£204 for one person to get to the Isles of Scilly and back. Think of taking a family there. If there was a husband, wife and two kids they would be almost broke before they got there. It is lovely when you get there—I love it—but the equivalent fare if you are going to Islay is £16.

I was very pleased to hear from the Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Vere, who wrote to me and said:

“I am concerned about the potential impact on fares and freight charges” from the steamship company

“and the consequential impact for islanders”.

The department offered £48 million to fund the new vessels, but it cannot really go ahead and give the money, even on a tendering basis, if somebody else is trying to build a ferry at the same time and operate the same route. If it does manage it, the fares will be, as I said, over £100 for a single, and that is all contrary to the Minister’s wish to see levelling up applied to the Isles of Scilly.

In this amendment, I have attempted to come up with an idea that would frustrate any other operator trying to compete with what the Government are so generously offering, in their £48 million for what the islanders need, to ensure that the harbour authorities and the council would not be able to give this company permissions—there are plenty of permissions that we all know.

I am sure that the wording is wrong, as the Minister will probably tell me quite soon. But this is an attempt not to save the Government from themselves but to save their wonderful commitment to the Isles of Scilly from being debunked, irritated or cancelled, for very good reasons—Treasury rules and everything. If the Minister is interested in keeping this going—I hope she is—I would be very pleased to sit down and talk with her at some time before Third Reading. If that were possible, one of us could come up with an amendment, at Third Reading, that would hopefully work.

Photo of Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd Chair, Consolidation, &c., Bills (Joint Committee), Chair, Consolidation, &c., Bills (Joint Committee) 3:45, 11 July 2023

I will add one sentence in support of the amendments of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman. It is critical that we tie the funding of levelling up to the missions, not only for transparency but to work together as a union. I will return to this when we come to government Amendment 9.

Photo of Lord Teverson Lord Teverson Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Energy and Climate Change), Chair, EU Environment Sub-Committee, Chair, EU Environment Sub-Committee

My Lords, I will speak briefly to the amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley. I have worked in various guises on trying to preserve the sea link between Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly for some 25 years now. The Isles of Scilly Steamship Company is trying to undermine what is absolutely essential but has not been able to happen over 25 years: private funding of that ferry service. I believe that this cannot happen at the moment. Never mind the fares for the future: fiscally, it will not work as a scheme. That means that the money will be lost and, after 25 years, the “Scillonian” will not be replaced and those islanders and their economy will be cut off from the mainland. That is why this amendment is important, and I too hugely thank the Government for the generosity and understanding that they have shown to the islands and west Cornwall in terms of the levelling-up funding.

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

My Lords, I remind the House of my relevant interests: I am a councillor on Kirklees Council in West Yorkshire and a vice-president of the Local Government Association. This group of amendments focuses on the areas that have benefited, or not, from the initial round of the levelling-up fund. As we heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, there are many examples of levelling-up funds failing to reach those parts that the Government’s own White Paper assesses as being in need of targeted funding over a sustained period.

Throughout our considerations of the Bill, I have said that this vast tome, the levelling up White Paper, should be at the heart of what we are discussing and what the legislation should be doing. As I said in Committee and at Second Reading, it seems to me that the Government have lost their way. The White Paper is not perfect, but it makes a good start in setting out what levelling up should be about. One of the phrases in it is that levelling up should be “broad, deep and long-term”—I agree. Experience of previous iterations of levelling up, from city challenge to neighbourhood renewal and several other policy interventions in between, has demonstrated that scattering plugs of funding is not sufficient to ensure that communities that have not shared in the nation’s prosperity begin to do so. The cycle is not broken without dedicated and long-term investment; that is what the White Paper says. The fundamental approach currently being pursued is inadequate to meet that challenge.

The Government have so far distributed funding via a bidding culture, which, as many noble Lords will know, the Conservative Mayor of the West Midlands has criticised, calling it a “begging bowl culture”. Such a bidding culture is also costly, in time and money, and leads to many more losers than winners. One example, which I think I have given before, is a major city in Yorkshire investing a six-figure sum in its bid for levelling-up funds only to receive a big fat zero. It seems to me that this process needs a fundamental rethink. The noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, was right to use the example of the House of Commons Select Committee on this very issue, but the National Audit Office has also raised concerns about the use of levelling-up funds and how the bidding culture has worked —or not.

If the Government were serious about levelling up, only those areas that are amply described in the levelling up White Paper would qualify for funding. The Minister may be able to tell us whether only those areas described in the White Paper will qualify for funding. If not, we are moving away from the purpose of levelling up.

The second element of change needs to be for local authorities. Those that qualify via the assessment and the metrics in the White Paper should be asked to produce plans that tackle the inequalities at the heart of their communities in a sustained way—that is what the White Paper says needs to be done. It would mean more emphasis, for example, on skills, access to employment, and barriers, such as lack of childcare and transport. However, given what the Minister said in Committee, I am not sure whether the Government are ready for such big changes.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, is right to pursue making the use of levelling-up funding more transparent and, as Amendment 3 says, ensuring that the funding is linked to the missions. For me, at the heart of levelling-up and regeneration legislation should be linking funding to the missions. If they are not linked, I do not know what the purpose of this Bill is.

At this point, the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, raises a good example of what happens when there is an inequality of immense proportions. My noble friend Lord Teverson supported him in that, and he was right to do so. There are countless examples of such disparities across the country, which the levelling-up fund should be dealing with.

These amendments are fundamental to the effective levelling up of the many parts of this country that have suffered inequalities—some of considerable proportion compared with the rest of the country—over many years. If the noble Baroness wishes to move her amendment to a vote and divide the House, we on these Benches will support her.

Photo of Baroness Scott of Bybrook Baroness Scott of Bybrook Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities)

My Lords, Amendments 1, 17, 304 and 305 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, are all linked to a proposed new requirement for government to lay a statement detailing the application process for round 3 of the levelling-up fund. That has already happened in the first two rounds of the fund. We published information on the impartial assessment and decision-making process, alongside a full list of successful applicants. We have also provided feedback to unsuccessful applicants in both rounds. We will continue to improve the process used to award funding, taking on board the feedback we have received, which will be reflected in our approach to the next round of the fund.

We have also published our monitoring and evaluation strategy, which makes clear how the fund will evaluate impact against a range of criteria, including healthy life expectancy, well-being and pride in place. On the timing of the statement of the levelling-up missions, which is mentioned in Amendment 1, we have committed in the Bill to publish this within one month of Part 1 of the Act coming into force. We argue that this is already an appropriate and prompt timescale.

Amendment 3, also in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, looks at how levelling-up funds are supporting the levelling-up missions. This Government are committed to transparency. The Bill will place a duty on the Government to publish a clear statement of their levelling-up missions and to report annually on their progress against them, including, where relevant, the contributions made by particular projects and programmes. We have also already published transparent criteria for assessing projects and initiatives to be funded via key levelling-up funds and have published all funding allocations made to places.

In relation to the levelling-up fund specifically, in round 2 of the fund we asked applicants to set out which of the 12 levelling-up missions their bid supported. Several of the criteria used in the levelling-up fund evaluation strategy align closely with our missions, including pride in place, health and well-being. Alongside that, transport forms one of the three investment themes, and more than £1.1 billion has been awarded to improve transport infrastructure in the first two rounds.

It might be useful to give some examples of what has happened. Torridge District Council made a bid for the Appledore Clean Maritime Innovation Centre. That will create North Devon’s first university research centre, which will help regional skills by providing a regional skills base, as the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, said. It will also establish the area as a leading research and development destination for clean maritime. Another example—I will not go on, because I could give noble Lords a large number—is the Porth transport hub, which will open later this summer. It will improve transport connectivity by providing seamless public transport connectivity for that town. These are the things that are happening.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, also asked about the rest of the money that the Government are spending and whether it will be spent in connection to the missions. I can say that £40 million from the DfE has gone into education investment areas, one of our priorities in the missions, while £2.5 billion has been allocated to the transforming cities fund and many billions more to the city region sustainable transport settlements and the bus service improvement plans. There is also £125 million from the Home Office for the safer streets fund. These are all connected to our very important missions.

The noble Baronesses, Lady Pinnock and Lady Hayman of Ullock, quite rightly asked about simplifying the funding landscape. We have already made significant progress in streamlining funds. Between them, the levelling-up fund and the UK shared prosperity fund consolidate what was previously a complex landscape. We are committed to publish a simplification plan setting out how we will go further, immediately and at the next spending review, to simplify the funding landscape far more.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, also talked about evaluation. We have an overall departmental evaluation strategy, which was published last November. Over the past 18 months, the department has significantly increased the resource dedicated to local growth evaluations, and that will continue—so we are looking particularly at including towns funds, the levelling up fund and the UK shared prosperity fund.

The noble Baroness also asked why it has taken so long to share information about the levelling up fund round 3. It is important that we have taken the time to reflect on the first two rounds, which is why things are changing. We have learned the lessons from those two, and we wanted to do that before committing to round 3. We will talk about it further in the near future. The Secretary of State signalled at the LGA conference last week that he intends to bring a completely new approach to the levelling up fund round 3, reflecting on everything that has happened up until now.

I move on to Amendment 11, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley. I must apologise to the noble Lord: when he tabled his amendment, I thought it was about planning and did not realise that it was about the Scilly Isles in particular. I will give the answer that I have, because the amendment mentioned planning, and I think it is important that noble Lords have the answer —but I will then say something about the Scilly Isles.

The noble Lord’s amendment would enable local planning authorities to refuse development when it would adversely affect the benefits of the levelling-up missions and where they are in receipt of levelling-up funding. Section 70 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 requires local planning authorities to consider all material considerations when determining a planning application, which expressly includes local finance considerations, so far as they are material to that application. Where levelling-up funding has been granted to local planning authorities for a scheme, we would also expect that this has the wider support of the council, including in relation to the planning policies of the area. Local planning authorities can already take such matters into consideration when considering planning applications—but I do not think that that was what the noble Lord was getting at.

The Isles of Scilly project is being led by the Department for Transport, and the noble Lord brings up some very pertinent questions. I am really pleased that Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly have £48 million from the Government to make sure that there is good accessibility to the islands, but I am very happy to talk further and to bring colleagues from the DfT to talk about that matter. We will do that as soon as Report is over.

I hope that I have given the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, enough reassurance that her amendment will not be pushed to a vote and that others in this group will not be pressed either.

Photo of Lord Butler of Brockwell Lord Butler of Brockwell Crossbench 4:00, 11 July 2023

My Lords, before the Minister sits down: I have listened carefully to what she has said, and I think that what she has been explaining is that the Government are already committed to achieving the purposes of the amendment moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman. Are there any disadvantages, in that case, of accepting the amendment?

Photo of Baroness Scott of Bybrook Baroness Scott of Bybrook Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities)

The disadvantage is that we are already doing it, so we would not want to duplicate it. We have listened to the earlier rounds and we are looking at the simplification of funding streams to local government to deliver levelling up and to connect that to the missions. There is no point in duplicating that, as it is already in the Bill.

Photo of Lord Lansley Lord Lansley Conservative

Prompted by the noble Lord’s intervention, I do not think that Amendment 1 is consistent with the Bill as it stands, because Part 1 comes into force, according to the commencement provision, two months after enactment, whereas Amendment 1 requires the statement to be laid one month after enactment—so the two are inconsistent, and Amendment 1 is probably not effective.

Photo of Lord Berkeley Lord Berkeley Labour

My Lords, before the Minister sits down, I thank her for what she said about the Isles of Scilly and my Amendment 11. I am grateful that she is happy to arrange a meeting with colleagues in the Department for Transport but, if it seems appropriate to have an amendment to the levelling-up Bill, would that be possible at Third Reading if she and the other Minister agree?

Photo of Baroness Hayman of Ullock Baroness Hayman of Ullock Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Levelling Up, Housing, Communities and Local Government)

My Lords, I thank noble Lords who have spoken in this brief debate, and the Minister for her, as always, very thorough response. However, I do not think that she has been able to demonstrate categorically that any future funding rounds are going to be properly tied to the delivery of the missions. The Government seem to have taken a bit of a scattergun approach to this, if I can put it like that. As I have already said, the Government’s approach is categorised by one-off, short-term initiatives which are insufficient if the geographic, economic, social and health inequalities are to be reduced and ultimately overcome, which is what the Bill aims to do.

To me, as I said before, getting the funding allocations correct, getting the analysis of the results of previous allocations of funding correct, and having that information and data at our fingertips to be able to properly target the funding to ensure that we get the outcomes we want, is critical to the success of the Bill. I take the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, but I have been informed by the clerks that my Amendment 17 is consequential on my Amendment 1. So I thank the Minister, but I am not satisfied with the Government’s future approach, so I would like to test the opinion of the House on my Amendment 1.

Ayes 212, Noes 208.

Division number 1 Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill - Report (1st Day) — Amendment 1

Aye: 210 Members of the House of Lords

No: 206 Members of the House of Lords

Aye: A-Z by last name

Tellers

No: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Amendment 1 agreed.