'Levelling up needs to benefit our district,' says Spalding-area MP Sir John Hayes
In his weekly Hayes in the House column, MP Sir John Hayes discusses levelling up...
It is expected, quite reasonably, that the Government seize the opportunity offered by Brexit to align its strategy with the interests of ordinary Britons.
Michael Gove spoke of the “economic, social and moral mission” at the heart of this chance to set a new course. His promise must be kept. Central to which is ‘levelling up’, at the core of which is national resilience.
Embracing such resilience means fixing the broken globalist systems that have undermined local, regional and national sustainability, resulting in unacceptable geographical imbalances in health, wealth and prosperity. Simultaneously the basic functions of Government have become ever more centralised, with fewer of the services that sustain wellbeing being rooted in communities.
Now that the Prime Minister has won his vote of confidence, focus must be turned to the goal of ensuring that all Britons share in national prosperity. For successive Governments’ London-centric focus has over-indulged urban metropolises.
Counties like Lincolnshire, and districts like South Holland & South Kesteven, have, for too long, been disadvantaged by bureaucratic public finances, with rural areas being underfunded to deliver the essential services that give people the means to make the most of their lives. It is a straightforward matter of fairness that this imbalance be corrected.
The failure to give sufficient weight to rurality and sparsity in funding formuli is at the core of the problem. Policing, public transport, health, education and most other facets of public life are more generously funded in cities than they are here. This raw deal is a result of the labyrinthian budgeting systems largely established during the days of Tony Blair.
Thanks to such institutional failings, rural places have struggled to keep pace with the rest of the country. What’s more, the countryside economy is far more vulnerable to the predations of a failing globalised economic system. ‘Levelling Up’ must be an ‘economic, social and moral’ mission, for the quality of life of countless Britons depends upon it.
Some progress has been made. Twenty million pounds has been committed to improving the A16, reducing congestion and opening up investment which is essential as our arterial roads carry the foodstuffs that keep shelves stocked and pantries filled across the nation.
Fortunately, we have been designated as one of 55 new ‘Education Investment Areas’, receiving targeted funding in schools to support teachers and students, building on the fantastic work done by extraordinary local educators like those at, amongst others, University Academy Holbeach and the Spalding Academy, which I recently visited.
However, individual initiatives, valuable as they are, are far from sufficient alone. The absurd public spending algorithms that still undervalue rural places need to be scrapped and capital investment increased.
Moreover, the most vital asset to any nation is its human infrastructure, and the shortage of doctors and dentists which leaves my constituents unable to access the treatment they need is incompatible with a mission to level up. The fragility of our NHS provision means that, as this newspaper reported, South Holland has just 49 full time GPs looking after 94,000 patients, and only 39 dentists per 100,000 people in the county as a whole. This cannot continue.
The idea of levelling up is a good one, but it must become a coherent approach to resource allocation across the country, with measurable improvements delivered in places like South Holland & The Deepings.
Economic localism and national resilience are the means and end of levelling up - with the second in sight, the Government must focus on the first without delay.