Levelling Up Fund: Tipton and Wednesbury

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 4:00 pm on 15th March 2023.

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Photo of Shaun Bailey Shaun Bailey Conservative, West Bromwich West 4:00 pm, 15th March 2023

I beg to move,

That this House
has considered Tipton and Wednesbury and the Levelling Up Fund.

People across the Black Country, in Tipton and Wednesbury specifically—whether they live on the Tibby estate, the Lost City, Friar Park or the Woods estate—are proud of their communities and where they come from. I am proud to represent an area with a long tradition and a proud sense of community.

Our great Black Country towns of Tipton and Wednesbury have consistently felt like they have been left behind. When I was elected to this place three years ago, I made one simple pledge to them: I would ensure that they were never forgotten again. That has been at the forefront of the work I have done since I was elected as the Member of Parliament for West Bromwich West in 2019. Of course, we have to remember that in 2019, the current Government were elected on a manifesto to level up and invest in communities like those in Tipton and Wednesbury, and indeed across the Black Country.

We know that talent and genius are uniformly distributed throughout the country, but opportunity, wealth and standards of living are not. Unfortunately, in my area, we have acute issues and problems with standards of living and access to opportunity. It is vital that we close that gap. We know that as it widens, it will only compound the problems in communities such as the ones I represent. I want to talk about the importance of the levelling-up fund to the communities I represent, in particular the towns of Tipton and Wednesbury, and to tell the story of the process they have gone through on this journey, particularly in respect of the levelling-up fund.

First, we need to set the context. Look, for example, at employment opportunities. Sandwell Metropolitan Borough, the local authority area that contains my constituency, has an employment rate below that of the west midlands, and indeed Great Britain. In 2004, Sandwell’s unemployment rate was 8.7%, compared with 5.2% in the west midlands and 4.8% nationally; in 2009, that unemployment rate rose to 14.4%, compared with 8.5% and 6.8% respectively. In 2022, unemployment in Sandwell stood at 6.2%, while the national average was 3.8%. Sandwell’s labour market profile shows that the economically inactive rate in Sandwell is 10% higher than either the west midlands or the wider country.

Let us look at wages. In April 2022, median gross weekly wages in Sandwell were £470 for all employees, compared to £532.50 across the UK as a whole, and £549.80 for full-time employees, compared to £640 across the UK as a whole. On average, therefore, my constituents take home £90 a week less than the average person in the United Kingdom. Equally, we have to address education gaps. At early key stage 2, 55% of pupils attending state-funded schools in my local authority area achieve the expected standard, which is below the national average of 59% and the west midlands average of 57%. The gap continues to grow at GCSE level, where 61% of students attending state-funded schools in my area achieve a standard pass, which is below the national state-funded average of 69% and the west midlands average of 67%. It goes without saying that Sandwell is the eighth most deprived upper-tier local authority area in the country. One of my wards is, I think, the second most deprived in the west midlands region.

In setting the context of the importance of the levelling-up fund to my communities, we can see that the acute challenges and problems that I was sent to Parliament to address on behalf of my constituents and the communities of myself, my neighbours and friends are absolutely self-evident.