Levelling up funds are not reaching Yorkshire communities in need - Jon Trickett MP
And so it is for the Conservatives who after 12 years in power have brought a Levelling up and Regeneration Bill to the House of Commons.
They say the Bill will ‘‘reduce geographical, economic, social and health inequalities”. People in Yorkshire will be well aware that these inequalities are not new, but they were exacerbated by Tory austerity policies since 2010.
As local budgets were slashed, less prosperous communities suffered the most. Over the last decade Yorkshire and Humber councils have had grant funding from central government cut by £1.6bn.
This created a political backlash that has forced the Tories to acknowledge that regional inequality is out of control. But there is no evidence that the Government understands the causes of inequality and even less evidence that its proscriptions will solve the problem.
The truth is that Yorkshire and the north of England as a whole has suffered decades of economic neglect. We were once at the centre of the Industrial Revolution that powered economic growth in our country. But when the Thatcher government withdrew support for British industry and refocused our economy on global financial services, many of the industries that nurtured our region began to disappear. We have been dealing with the consequences ever since.
Under-investment leads to low productivity and that in turn leads to low wages. For decades investment has been focused on London and the South-East, which has contributed to a growing divide between regional earnings. The median weekly pay for full-time employees in Yorkshire and the Humber is £159 less than it is in London. The median weekly pay for full-time employees in my constituency of Hemsworth is £233 less than in the Prime Minister’s constituency of Uxbridge.
This inequality has consequences. Life expectancy in London is two years longer than in Yorkshire and the Humber.
Since 2020 the Government has awarded £1.7bn in “levelling up” funding to different bidders who are made to compete with one another. The pot of money will eventually total £4.8bn. But this figure does not even come close to reversing the funding cuts the Tories have made to local budgets since 2010.
Research by my office has found that the money that has been awarded in Yorkshire through the Levelling Up Fund, Brownfield Fund and Future High Streets Fund, isn’t even reaching the places that need it most:
- Of the 54 Yorkshire and Humber constituencies, 63 per cent did not receive funding.
- Of the 20 constituencies with the highest levels of deprivation, 65 per cent did not receive funding.
- Of the 20 constituencies with the lowest number of “top jobs”, 55 per cent did not receive funding.
- Of the 20 constituencies with the lowest number of people with NVQ4 qualifications, 45 per cent did not receive funding.
- Of the 20 constituencies with the lowest average wages, 55 per cent did not receive funding.
And of the 20 constituencies with the lowest social mobility according to the SM Index, 60 per cent did not receive funding.
By contrast, 41 out of the 48 seats the Tories won from Labour in 2019 will be awarded finance from the Levelling Up Fund or Towns Fund.
This demonstrates how “levelling up” is nothing more than cynical pork barrel politics for the short-term electoral advantage of the Tories that leaves some of the poorest communities in our country behind. The Levelling Up Bill will do nothing to reverse decades of deindustrialisation.
The only way to build lasting change is a radical economic transformation. We need, as a first step, a massive investment programme on the scale of the Marshall Plan after the Second World War that targets the areas that have been held back and invests in decent jobs, public services and local economies.
We need a wealth tax that could bring in £98bn a year and fund the economic transformation that is required.
And we need to transform the world of work by enhancing trade union rights and raising the minimum wage so that everyone is entitled to a well-paid secure job. But the Tories will never deliver on these policies. The held back communities of our country are expecting the Tories to deliver results, but they refuse to take the action required to reduce inequality.