Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 4:00 pm on 15th March 2023.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that intervention. It is as if she is clairvoyant—that is the point that I was about to come to. She is right; strong, local leadership is key. Although central Government funding is an important part of the tapestry of levelling up and investing in communities, strong and accountable local leadership, such as what we have seen from our West Midlands Mayor, Andy Street, is vital. He goes out there, bangs the drum and secures funding for our wider region.
I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend’s council leader, the legendary Mike Bird. Many of us active in the west midlands have known Mike for some time—he beats the drum for Walsall incredibly. I pay tribute to the Conservative group leader on Sandwell Council, David Fisher, who does that too.
I turn particularly to the need for the levelling-up fund in Tipton and Wednesbury. We found that, until recently, the Labour administration in Sandwell did not have a plan for how they were going to apply for the funds. It is vital that local authorities have a plan—whether they are red, blue or any colour in between, it is important that we take such opportunities. At a recent Sandwell Council meeting, certain councillors were carping about not getting central Government funding when they couldn’t even be bothered to apply for it, which is unacceptable. That is the hilarity of the situation.
One reason why I applied for this debate is that it is important for us to have a conversation about how to ensure that communities do not miss out on this funding through churlish party politics or sheer ineptitude—because people cannot be bothered or cannot manage multiple priorities. I acknowledge that this has got better recently, but at times my constituents have missed out not through failing any test or any central Government requirement, but because the council literally did not put in the application. That is just astounding. The fact is that our communities miss out.
My right hon. Friend Wendy Morton made the point that Opposition Members were not here. That is unfortunate because what I am talking about must be built across the political divide. Among the 28 Members of Parliament representing the West Midlands Combined Authority area, there is a 50-50 split. It astounds me that there is not one Labour MP in this Chamber.