Western Morning News on Chancellor’s “Levelling Up” in the South West

TOP STORY: The Chancellor has announced significant investment across the South West as part of the Tory Government’s commitment to “level up opportunity” across the nation, reports our Business Editor, William Telford…

The Government has insisted that Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s Spending Review will benefit the South West and help “level up” the UK.

[Depends on what you mean by the South West and how much of this is re-announcement. Read Shadow Environment Secretary’s comments. – Owl]

Mr Sunak, in his Commons speech yesterday, announced significant investment across the South West as part of the Tory Government’s commitment to “level up opportunity” across the nation.

The Chancellor used the Spending Review to boost housing, transport and infrastructure and also announced a new £4billion Levelling Up Fund which will invest in local infrastructure that has a “visible impact” on people and their communities and will support economic recovery.

But there are concerns the measures will not do enough for a UK economy predicted to shrink by 11.3% in 2020, leaving 2.6million people unemployed by next year, and a pay freeze for non-NHS public sector workers will harm the South West.

Announcements specific to the South West included:

  • More than £600million in housing infrastructure funding across 23 projects, including £250million for key highways improvements. This includes the relocation of Junction 10 of the M5 to unlock nearly 9,000 homes to the west and north-west of Cheltenham.This is part of the £7.1billion National Home Building Fund which will invest in key infrastructure and provide support for SME housebuilders, to unlock up to 860,000 homes across the country.
  • West of England Combined Authority will receive a share of £4.2billion for intra-city transport settlements, enabling them to benefit from long-term, locally-led investment, subject to appropriate governance. The South East will also benefit from major upgrades to the A303 at Stonehenge, dualling the A358 Taunton to Southfields, and improving the A417 missing link.
  • The South West will also benefit from a share of the £5.2billion six-year flood and coastal defence programme, including better protection for over 7,000 properties across Bridgwater, Poole and Gloucester.
  • The Government also announced that the South West will receive almost £3.5billion in per-pupil funding through the schools block – an average per-pupil increase of 3.6% compared to 2020-21.
  • Furthermore, the Spending Review confirmed that 11 new hospitals will be built in the South West, with the continued growth of medical undergraduate degree places, with an additional 196 places in the South West compared to 2017/18.

Mr Sunak said: “We are committed to spreading opportunity to all regions of the UK and this Spending Review delivers on that promise.

“The investment in housing, transport and infrastructure announced today will support the recovery from coronavirus across the South West.

“We will provide billions of pounds in the fight against coronavirus across the UK, deliver the peoples’ priorities and drive the UK’s recovery.”

But Luke Pollard, Labour MP for Plymouth Sutton and Devonport and Shadow Environment Secretary, criticised the pay freeze for non-NHS public sector workers, and said there was not enough announced that would help the environment.

He said: “The Tory pay freeze is a kick in the teeth for Plymouth’s frontline public sector workers. Police officers, teachers and firefighters all face real-terms pay cuts. It’s all well and good clapping for our key workers, but what they really need is to be paid properly for their dedication.

“This spending review was disappointing for the South West and for Plymouth. The Chancellor’s plans do not match the scale of the crises we face. The scale of the jobs crisis is scary and I am very worried about how many Plymouth families will be out of work very soon.

“There are large gaps in the spending plans especially for funding local services like care services from Plymouth City Council. The Tory plan is not ambitious enough to meaningfully help with our city’s recovery from the deep recession we’re heading into. And there’s no sign of Plymouth getting its fair share in funding yet again.

“The South West seems to have been missed in the Tory levelling up agenda. Tory Ministers are taking the South West for granted. I had high hopes for the new national infrastructure plan but this has just re-announced old projects for the South West. The map for planned investment shows nothing for Plymouth.

“The spending review was almost silent about the climate emergency. Recent green funding announcements unravelled almost as soon as they were made with only £3billion in new money which is barely 10% of what Germany is investing in new green jobs. We need a proper plan for jobs not a wall of Government spin.”