Levelling-up Agenda — [Mrs Maria Miller in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 2:46 pm on 15th June 2021.

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Photo of Peter Aldous Peter Aldous Conservative, Waveney 2:46 pm, 15th June 2021

It is a pleasure to serve with you in the Chair, Sir Edward. I congratulate my hon. Friend Bob Seely on securing this debate. Levelling up, as it has become known, is the biggest challenge that this country currently faces. It is about giving hope to communities that have been ignored for too long, tackling deep pockets of deprivation, giving people the opportunity to realise their full potential and bridging the stubbornly wide productivity gap that has held back the UK economy for far too long.

Levelling up must not be piecemeal, fragmented and short-term interventions. Instead, it must be a set of coherent, sustained and properly funded policy initiatives fully co-ordinated across Government.

One of the pockets of deprivation is in Lowestoft, but I welcome the investment that the Government and councils are making in the Gull Wing bridge, the flood defence scheme and the towns deal, which equates to almost £220 million of public sector funding in the heart of Lowestoft over the next five years. Our tasks locally are to ensure that those schemes are built on time and unleash a tide of private sector job-creating investment.

I also welcome the proposed freeport at Felixstowe, 50 miles down off the Suffolk coast. However, I emphasise the importance of not jumping from one intervention to the next, but instead continuing to see through proven strategies that are already up and running. The Lowestoft and Great Yarmouth enterprise zone, set up in 2012, like other enterprise zones around the country, has been very successful. It has an energy focus that is aligned with the Government’s clean growth strategy. By reallocating the existing footprint of the enterprise zone around Lowestoft port, more than 300 jobs can be created, 40 new businesses can be supported, and between £1 million and £3 million of retained rates can be generated.

Sir Edward, it is great to be here with you and other colleagues, but when it comes to levelling up, today we are a sideshow. The important business is taking place in the other place with the Second Reading of the Skills and Post-16 Education Bill. Putting skills and lifelong learning at the heart of the Government’s policy agenda is absolutely critical, and we must ensure that the ambitions of the reforms are fully realised. Linked to the Bill are local skills improvement plan trailblazers, and the chambers of commerce and colleges across Suffolk and Norfolk have come together and submitted a compelling application. The bid has a focus on the net zero agenda and rebuilding coastal communities. It highlights the workforce requirements across the region in offshore wind, in Sizewell C, in the emerging hydrogen economy and in the freeport.

I urge the Government to give this compelling proposal favourable consideration. We need to step up to the plate, so that local people have the skills needed to take up these exciting opportunities.