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

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:23 pm on 15th June 2021.

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Photo of Lee Rowley Lee Rowley Conservative, North East Derbyshire 3:23 pm, 15th June 2021

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Edward. I am incredibly grateful to my hon. Friend Bob Seely for calling this hugely important, timely and useful debate.

I had thought about how to lever North East Derbyshire into a debate about the Isle of Wight, but my hon. Friend drew the boundaries of the debate so generously that many of us can talk about our constituencies. I hope he will not mind my saying that one of his forefathers lived in North East Derbyshire—that was going to be my way into the debate. In the century since his forefather lived in Wingerworth Hall, places such as North East Derbyshire and the Isle of Wight have been at the forefront of great change, tumult and, at times, great difficulty. That is the same in my part of the world as it is in his.

We went through a period of huge changes 40 years ago when the mines closed down. We have long-standing structural issues around skills and jobs, and ensuring that school leavers get the quality skills that allow them to thrive over many years. Pre-recession, we did not necessarily share in the benefits that came in the 1990s and 2000s, but we have made huge progress in the past four years. Some Members in this debate have—perhaps understandably—focused on greater challenges, but there is so much coming down the line. It is important that we understand that. We must recognise that in my constituency alone, there is a £25 million town deal for Clay Cross and a town deal for Staveley worth nearly £26 million. Those are huge opportunities for regeneration.

Broadband is being rolled out not only in places such as Stoke-on-Trent South, but in my constituency, as well to villages such as Spinkhill. We have finally moved on the Staveley bypass, which has been stuck for 80 years in design, and the Government enabled us to move that further along in the Budget before last. We are tackling congestion problems on the A61, we had the opportunity to bid to restore new rail for the Barrow Hill line, and we now have the quickest trains that we have ever had to London. Things are really on the up in many parts of the country, including North East Derbyshire, although there is much more to do.

My hon. Friend’s question about what levelling up is is the most interesting and important part of the debate today. For me it is important to articulate the point that it is not all about money. We can have as much money as we want, but, ultimately, if that does not achieve anything for people and we do not focus on the outputs, it will not get us anywhere. We can put as many trains on as we want—I would like a lot more trains in my constituency—but if we put loads of trains on that nobody knows what to do with or where to go with them, or how to get to the jobs to transport them, it will have little meaningful effect.

We also have to emphasise the important point, which was lost in a few of today’s contributions, that we have the ability to solve some of these problems ourselves. I congratulate places such as Killamarsh Parish Council for sorting out a 20-year problem with our sports centre and the council tax, which it managed to do on its own.

There is also a broader perspective and the important questions about future jobs. We can fix levelling up now for our constituencies, but if the hearts of our constituencies are to be ripped out by AI and automation and all of those challenges over the next 20 or 30 years, we must think about that as well. Where do we get the education and skills from? Process is important. We have to involve people in these debates and discussions. Lots has been done in North East Derbyshire, but there is lots more to do.