Tory 'Red Wall' MPs urge Rishi Sunak to deliver on levelling up promises for their areas in Budget

Conservative MPs who won victory in traditional Labour strongholds in Yorkshire have urged the Government to finally deliver on its levelling up promises as a series of major policy and funding announcements loom.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak is to deliver an Autumn Budget and Comprehensive Spending Review setting out public spending plans for the next three years on Wednesday, while a Levelling Up White Paper and the long-delayed Integrated Rail Plan are also expected to be published soon.

He has made £26bn of spending commitment announcements over this weekend, including £7bn for transport improvements, £5bn for health research and development and £3bn on skills.

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Speaking before this weekend's announcements, Tory MPs in so-called former Red Wall seats have called on Mr Sunak and other Ministers to deliver for their constituencies which Boris Johnson said had “lent” the Conservatives their votes in 2019.

Don Valley MP Nick Fletcher.Don Valley MP Nick Fletcher.
Don Valley MP Nick Fletcher.

Don Valley MP Nick Fletcher said while Covid-19 has affected the Government’s ability to enact the levelling up agenda, it was now important to see action.

“I think over the next 12 months we definitely need to see some real progress,” he said. “I think people understand we have had a pandemic and the Government have an awful to deal with.”

He said that in addition to an eventual commitment to a new hospital to replace the ageing Doncaster Royal Infirmary, he hopes to see research and development funding directed towards the South Yorkshire town help train young people in the jobs of the future involving technology such as artificial intelligence.

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He added: “I would hope the Government follows the skills agenda. The only way we are going to come through this pandemic is by upskilling everybody and we are training young people in the right jobs.

Rother Valley MP Alexander StaffordRother Valley MP Alexander Stafford
Rother Valley MP Alexander Stafford

“We are world leaders in research and development and innovation and we don’t want to drop the baton. We want to make sure we are at the forefront of it.

“Last year we spent £14.9bn on research and development - I hope we are going to see similar figures this year and I would like to see some of that money heading towards Doncaster and Don Valley. I would hope some of that money will come North.

“Doncaster has got an awful lot going for it but I think it could do so much better. We want to be able to train our young people up and keep them in Doncaster - why should they have to move South to get a decent job? We want them to be able to stay in Doncaster and have a fantastic career and a fantastic future.

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“With the research and development money that has been spent and what we can do with the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre in South Yorkshire and the development land around Doncaster Sheffield Airport, the opportunities are huge.”

Rother Valley MP Alexander Stafford said he hoped his area would be successful in winning money from the Government’s £4.8bn Levelling Up Fund.

Rotherham is seeking about £60m from the Government, with hopes of improving Dinnington High Street and turning the former Maltby Grammar School into a training college.

He said he was pleased the Levelling Up Fund has been ringfenced at a time of increasing economic challenges for the country.

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“We have already started a tougher period when it comes to the economy and it is going to get tougher. We need to get the economy back on an even keel.”

Mr Stafford said he did not accept Labour criticisms of the Levelling Up Fund and other similar schemes which claim they are effectively pitting areas against each other in a fight for support.

“You can’t just check money at areas without having a plan and the bidding process is about having that plan,” he said.

“The Government has to deliver in so many ways - whether it is levelling up or listening to people or creating those high-skilled jobs we need.”

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Mr Stafford said he sees the Levelling Up Fund as important “emergency aid” to start the process of tackling short-term issues like high street improvements but also being tackling longer-term challenges - such as through the Maltby proposals.

“It is about creating an environment for highly-paid, highly-skilled jobs, not just a short-term cash injection.”

“South Yorkshire has an underdeveloped commuter rail network compared to equivalent city regions in the UK and overseas," she said.

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"Instead of building a new line to London, we could better spend that money by investing in local rail lines to give communities in constituencies like mine a regular and reliable train service. We should also expand our programme of rail re-openings, such as the Stocksbridge to Sheffield line, to bring rail connectivity back to towns and villages that have been without it for decades.

“There is a serious lack of station capacity in central Sheffield, and the addition of HS2 services to a station with no room to expand is only going to reduce the already low number of regional and commuter trains that can serve the city. That’s why I’m calling for the reopening of Victoria station as part of my bid to bring back passenger services between Sheffield and Stocksbridge. An additional city centre station will increase capacity for local and commuter services and help to connect more communities with Sheffield and beyond.”

Levelling up central to Budget priorities

Rishi Sunak’s spending review has set “levelling up across the UK” and delivering on the Government’s “ambitious plans for an infrastructure and innovation revolution” among its core priorities.

The three-year review will set the Government’s department budgets up to 2025.

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A Treasury spokesperson said: “We are totally committed to levelling up across the UK.

“That is why we’re investing £100 billion in infrastructure this year, as well as creating a new £4.8bn Levelling Up Fund, establishing freeports across the UK as well as a new UK infrastructure bank in Leeds to fund new projects.”

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