All 1 Baroness Mallalieu contributions to the Levelling-up and Regeneration Act 2023

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Tue 17th Jan 2023

Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill

Baroness Mallalieu Excerpts
Baroness Mallalieu Portrait Baroness Mallalieu (Lab)
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My Lords, I remind the House of my interests as set out in the register.

I have just one ask of the Minister when she comes to reply. Can she give an assurance that this legislation will apply equally to urban areas of deprivation and to what is arguably the area where levelling up is most needed and has historically been neglected: England’s deprived rural communities?

The noble Lord, Lord Foster of Bath, has said some of it; I will add a little. Average earnings from rural jobs are 7% lower than those in urban areas, excluding London. Rural residents pay on average nearly a fifth more in council tax than urban residents. Urban areas receive over 60% more per head in settlement funding assessment grants. Those in rural areas pay more, receive fewer services and on average earn less. Rural poverty, as many of us know, is easily overlooked because the village looks idyllic, but rural homelessness, which is less visible, means a rusty caravan hidden behind the farm buildings while the second homes and holiday lets stand empty. There are fewer services, limited jobs that are often seasonal, limited transport and training opportunities and limited social and affordable housing to rent or buy, if there is any at all, and there are food banks, just as in urban areas. Because of this, it is not just those who live in rural areas who currently miss out. We all do, because rural areas are 18% less productive than the national average. However, if that gap was closed by levelling up and regeneration, £43 billion would be added to England’s earnings alone and we would all benefit.

The overwhelming case for rural regeneration has so far been missed, historically and politically. I suspect that the party opposite has often taken rural votes for granted, while on our side of the House we have focused on our urban heartlands. However, in the past, when money has been given to a region, too often it has been sucked into the urban part of it and away from the rural, which is my fear for the Bill. Yet much of what needs to be done does not require huge tranches of government money. It requires the will to encourage innovation and enterprise, and to encourage more private money to go into such developments.

The Government have been given a whole range of templates about how to do this. The Rural Economy Select Committee, which the noble Lord, Lord Foster of Bath, chaired although he modestly did not mention that, the report published last year from the all-party group chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington, and Mr Julian Sturdy, Levelling Up the Rural Economy, and the work of the Rural Coalition, headed by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans, also last year, all did the preparation and the research and gave the blueprint for what needs doing.

Ironically, the timing is right because the opportunity for people to live good and productive lives in the countryside is possible and could be made a reality because of the digital revolution. Again, I say that it needs innovation and enterprise to be encouraged and for rural areas not to be allowed to fall behind. That means that 5G, when it comes, must go into the rural areas and not be left behind. If it is, businesses will decide to go elsewhere because they will not be adequately connected. It needs changes to the planning rules to increase homes both to rent and to buy. It needs workplaces close to where people live, and above all it needs a Government to focus on the needs of those left-behind areas. The danger in the Bill as currently drafted is that these areas are very likely to be yet again overlooked. I ask for an assurance from the Minister that this will not happen if she can help it.