Two weeks ago, at Prime Ministers Questions, I asked the Deputy Prime Minister, Dominic Raab, if he was really committed to levelling up the North of England and our regions. In recent months we have heard a lot from the Government about so-called ‘levelling up’ but so far it seems nothing more than empty words, like the previous half-hearted commitment to a Northern Powerhouse. On both counts, nothing seems to have come to fruition. The people of Huddersfield deserve better than slogans and soundbites. Even the announcement of a Towns Fund and the High Streets Fund became just pork-barrel attempts to sure up Tory support across the country. Our regions and nation, which have endured decades of neglect and a stark lack of investment deserve better. I want to see high quality, well paid jobs and green investment directed into our part of West Yorkshire. Levelling up won’t be achieved by changing the name of a Government department, or by repeating it again and again in every press release. It can only be achieved with substantial, bold action and a long-term commitment to provide the necessary funding.
Just before Conference Recess, I called on the Government to make a real commitment to levelling up by guaranteeing that Channel 4 would stay in the public sector and its headquarters remain in Leeds. Channel 4’s base in Yorkshire is crucial to our tech economy and our regional culture. Yet the Government is intent on selling off this brilliant public owned asset into the hands of the highest bidder, risking both its future as a social-enterprise and its base in Leeds.
Its not just in tech and culture that the Government is falling short of its promises. The Institute for Fiscal Studies found that between 2010-2020 there had been 9% real terms cut in school spending per-pupil; the largest cut in over 40 years. This week Keir Starmer said:
“If you can’t level up our children. You’re not serious about levelling up at all.”
Statistics like this demonstrate the reality of this Conservative Government. Instead of real, meaningful action to level up our country and children, we are left with the result of a decade of austerity that has decimated our public services and consistently undermined the plight of working families – especially in the North. When I was Chair of the Education Select Committee, I worked with colleagues across the House to improve the quality of our children’s education. I understand what the Government must do to truly level-up our children and they are currently failing at every level.
At Labour’s annual conference, Keir Starmer announced that we would launch the most ambitious school improvement plan in a generation. Labour would reinstate two weeks of compulsory work experience and guarantee that every young person would get to see a careers advisor – alongside an ambitious and tangible guarantee to support the mental wellbeing of our young people. We would guarantee that every child emerges from school ready for work and ready for life.
The Government has shown that it cannot be trusted to level up our country. From failing to guarantee the future of Channel 4 in Leeds to one of the worst education settlements in living memory, it’s clear the Government are more interested in slogans than action. Now, a hike in National Insurance which will impact working people disproportionately is being implemented to ‘clear’ backlogs in our NHS which have been brought about by a decade of Tory mismanagement and to ‘fix’ a social care system on the brink of collapse. Rather than making the wealthy pay their way, this Government wants to paper over its own failings by increasing the burden on working people. This is not how you go about levelling up. I believe that we must truly commit to transforming communities across our country for the better. I will continue to work in Parliament to hold the Government to account and work for a Labour Government that will bring the effective change our communities need.
If you would like to watch my question to the Deputy PM last week, please click this link.