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

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:44 pm on 15th June 2021.

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Photo of Jesse Norman Jesse Norman The Financial Secretary to the Treasury 3:44 pm, 15th June 2021

Of course, my hon. Friend is right to point to this. In many cases, the core is going to be effective local leadership that brings the different elements together. As a Member of Parliament, he knows that the stronger towns fund has shown that energy can be brought in. For example, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government can have a view on the housing aspect of a stronger towns fund bid, and what expertise and expectation will be there. The same is true of other aspects of Government. It may be a bid with a heavy environmental component or a heavy transport component.

Government also need to be joined up. At the Treasury, I lead on the national infrastructure but on levelling up specifically it is the Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury, my hon. Friend Kemi Badenoch, who leads—she would be here under normal circumstances, but she is in Committee at the moment. However, she and I work closely on this issue, as my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight would imagine.

I turn to some of the points that have been made. My hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight rightly highlighted aspects of his own bid, including East Cowes and Newport. I could not hear him talk about the development of the Isle of Wight without thinking about my own uncle Desmond, one of the founders of Britten-Norman, who designed the aircraft whose wings came off in “Spectre,” the James Bond movie, and that went skiing as a result, which was built on the Isle of Wight. Indeed, he was one of the developers of the first hovercraft, the Cushioncraft. I am well aware of the technology and the genius of the Islanders and the espoused Islanders, one of whom Desmond certainly was.

Stephanie Peacock mentioned the importance of local authorities. She is right about that. They have been a very important part of stronger towns fund bids. It is quite interesting when local opinion is surveyed about the public services delivered locally. Whatever one may think about the local authority funding settlement, which was very generous in the past year and before that in many cases, it has not led to a perceived reduction in public services—quite the opposite. In many local areas, public services are regarded as having gone up in quality over the past 10 years.

My hon. Friend Peter Aldous talked about skills. He was absolutely right and I thank him for that. My right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke talked about the importance of women and gender equality. That was absolutely right and I salute what she said, because that is an important part of levelling up. There is some wonderful evidence from India, where they looked at the effect of women mayors and leaders in villages. It turns out that, based on the regressions that economists have done, women leaders in those contexts have been more co-operative, more effective and less prone to forms of corruption than their male alternatives. That is an important lesson that we will reflect on.

Jamie Stone invited Ministers to bed and breakfast —a very fine offer that will receive deep consideration in the Treasury—for which I thank him very much indeed. My hon. Friend David Warburton reminded us that Stonehenge would never have been built if they had to drag the stones down the A303. I fully concur, having been more or less parked outside Stonehenge, as have many others.

My hon. Friend Jack Brereton talked about the bid that he is putting in for the levelling-up fund. I congratulate him on that and encourage all Members to do that, because the levelling-up funding will be a very important national initiative. I have touched on the remarks of the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale. I am glad he mentioned cutting out the loophole on holiday lets, because that was important. I hope he also noticed the speed with which we acted on that, because the tax process is never an instant thing, but we have moved as quickly as we could, given the circumstances, to try to address the issue. Obviously, it has become particularly important in the context of covid.