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

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:27 pm on 15th June 2021.

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Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health) 3:27 pm, 15th June 2021

It is a pleasure to speak in this debate, Sir Edward, and to follow Lee Rowley.

I am wholeheartedly behind the Prime Minister in his calls for us to level up, and indeed the action behind those calls in the form of funding. I was grateful to hear that each region will receive a share of the funding to strengthen and enhance areas of excellence. In Northern Ireland, it not just a matter of what we could spend the money on; we have so many areas that are on the cusp of the next level. As the hon. Member for North East Derbyshire alluded to, it is not just about the money; it is about how the money can help us build on what we have. That is what I will speak about.

We are widely considered to be Europe’s cyber-security capital. We could easily take that to a global level if we invested more fully in our infrastructure and connectivity, and increased the number of tech placements and learning courses. We have the skills and a pool of available people, so we want to build on that. With more levelling up, we could take it to the next stage.

The film industry has taken off with the success of “Game of Thrones” and “Line of Duty”, which featured Strangford lough in my constituency. It was always a challenge for me to find which part of Strangford lough it was on, but it was good to be able to put the two together. Anything from TV series to major film releases, based in any period of history or in the modern day, can be produced in Northern Ireland. Where better to find built-up cities, beautiful countryside and ocean views—we have it all. I say that unashamedly, and investment will certainly bring about dividends as we attract more global companies to our shores.

The agrifood sector is doing well and creating jobs, and the investment has been great. We have the highest standard of products. I look to Lakeland Dairies, Mash Direct and Rich Sauces, to name but a few global entities that are well-grounded and employing local people in large numbers to supply to China and America, as well as Europe. We have the product; we need the marketing and the support to see what level we can get to. Again, it is about levelling up what we have.

We have not even scratched the surface in exploring the tourism potential we have, from spa breaks to second holidays, from walking groups to cruise ship stop-offs, from water sports to mountain hikes, from high-end boutiques to antique treasure troves. We have much to offer. With a bit of levelling up, our borders will not be able to contain the volume of visitors flocking to our shores. With levelling up, we can build on what we have. We need to level up our connectivity and disengage from Tourism Ireland. We need an entity concerned only with promoting what we have to offer in Northern Ireland. I challenge anyone who has come to Northern Ireland to say that it was not more than they expected.

We must also give local councils the ability to get funding to host more global events, such as the golf opens and other sporting events. Northern Ireland is also awash with culture—we have such a tale to tell and we need to attract investment to match that. Again, we must level up.

In the short time allocated me, I have indicated three diverse areas in which we are ripe to level up, and yet the funding allocated cannot carry out all the work. The infrastructure work required is immense and our connectivity requirements are huge, but so too will be the reward. I therefore ask the Minister, whom I greatly respect, and the Government to deliver our share of the funding. If they do so, everyone in Northern Ireland will benefit, operating at the top level at which we are designed to operate. We are already levelling up; we need that extra bit to level up and do even more.