Levelling-up Agenda

Published date : 15 September, 2021
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Robertson. I too congratulate the hon. Member for Barnsley Central (Dan Jarvis) on securing this important and timely debate.

The last time I spoke in Westminster Hall was on the similar topic of transport funding in the north of England. I thought, “I can’t resist getting involved in this and sticking my oar in.” I made a couple of points that I hoped were helpful to Members, based on our experience in Scotland over many decades when it comes to getting money out of the UK Government. I said that they could play with the formulas in the Treasury Green Book all they liked but if the Prime Minister, when he was Mayor of London, claimed that £1 spent in Croydon was worth more than £1 spent in Strathclyde, it could be taken that he also meant that £1 spent in Croydon was worth more than one spent in Merseyside, Teesside, Tyneside or Humberside. Clearly, levelling up is not in this Prime Minister’s DNA.

We should scrutinise closely how his Administration carry that agenda forward. We should not be the least bit surprised that when we looked specifically at the £1 billion allocated from the towns deal, we saw that 39 of 45 places that benefit happened to be represented by Conservative MPs. Imagine that.

In Scotland, we do not have metro Mayors, but for a time I was co-leader of Aberdeenshire council, and on behalf of that local authority, I put pen to paper on what amounted to, in total, a £750 million city region deal between Aberdeenshire and Aberdeen city. That brought the Scottish Government and the UK Government together; it brought the public and private sectors together, and it got local government involved. It treated everyone fairly, as equals, and it is bringing significant benefits. We got that to diversify the economy and to bring prosperity to some parts of the north-east of Scotland that needed it, as well as to home in on some of the areas where we felt we had a comparative advantage, but we did it, in stark contrast to the UK Government’s levelling-up agenda, by respecting the spheres and the tiers of Governments at all levels.

Since then, we have seen the power grab of the United Kingdom Internal Market Act 2020 and the way that the UK Government have tried to bypass devolved Government. It is a disgrace, but it is very clear to see why that happened. The UK Government want to direct money not where it will do the most levelling up in a lot of cases, but where they think it can do the most political good for the Conservative party.

We can see exactly why that is in Scotland. The Conservatives know that they cannot win an election. In fact, they came within about 0.2% of seeing the Scottish National party being re-elected as a Government and being sacked as the official Opposition. Knowing that they cannot win an election in Scotland, they instead seek to bypass the established spheres and tiers of Government, undermining the only national Government that is directly elected and accountable to voters in Scotland. I think that is a terrible shame because there was an opportunity to work together, to respect the spheres and tiers of Government, to look in the round at the powers that the Scottish Government have and to give them the borrowing powers they need to invest in the long-term infrastructure and societal change that we need to level up.

In north-east Scotland, the Conservatives have complained long and loud about local funding. I congratulate the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent North (Jonathan Gullis). He lives in a tier 1 area. Aberdeen city has been put in tier 2 and Aberdeenshire has been put into the lowest tier possible. These are the areas that have been punished and penalised most through Brexit and have received the very least through the levelling-up agenda so far. Added to the loss of the EU funding that they could have expected, this simply rubs salt in the wound.

It is now clear beyond doubt, viewed from where I represent, that this Government have absolutely no intention of building a fair recovery. Giving the Scottish Government the powers they need to build back better and to build back recovery through an independence referendum is clearly the only way to enable us to build back better and build back fairer.

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