Government’s levelling up agenda “could leave Hampshire behind”

The government’s levelling up agenda could leave Hampshire behind, politicians have warned.

Last week, a select committee for Hampshire County Council debated the capital programme and revenue budget for economy, transport and environment.

There, department director Stuart Jarvis told councillors that Hampshire might not be in a position to benefit from the government’s levelling up plans.

It comes as the government released a levelling up white paper this morning.

Stuart Jarvis said: ‘Worryingly I think we have the wrong co-ordinates for the levelling up fund, given that we’re in the south of England.

‘The levelling up fund has the potential to shift funds away from the south coast and into the north east, where the government seems to be focusing.

‘In the medium-term that places tremendous pressure on us and presents quite a challenge. If we lose funding due to the levelling up plan, we will have to either generate more income or reduce our capacity.’

The levelling up white paper promises to be the ‘biggest shift of power from Whitehall’ in recent times.

But while a 40 per cent domestic public investment increase has been laid out for the north, midlands, south west, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, there is no mention of the south east.

In total, the government has pledged to support 20 towns and cities – starting with Wolverhampton and Sheffield – in undergoing ‘Kings Cross-style’ regeneration projects.

Leader of Hampshire County Council, Councillor Keith Mans, said: ‘Naturally, we are disappointed not to be among the pilot areas named by government in the levelling up white paper published today but we remain committed to our direction of travel and ambition to realise this once-in-a-generation opportunity to bring more of this power to the people and places of pan-Hampshire, through the offer of a county deal.

‘The work we have carried out collectively with our partners, from the outset, is a firm foundation from which we can build – and we will be honing our plans in line with the detail of the white paper, before putting considerations to members of the public and stakeholders in due course, for their view.

‘It’s vital that we do all we can to ensure that the south benefits and thrives from the regeneration opportunities presented by the national levelling up agenda.’

At a levelling up fund debate in Westminster last month, Gosport MP Caroline Dinenage also voiced her concerns.

She told the House of Commons that her constituency ‘should qualify’ for levelling up funding, but has been unsuccessful – adding that being in the south coast has disadvantaged the borough council.

Secretary of state for housing, communities and local government, Michael Gove, responded by saying that the levelling up fund ‘must have a proper focus on the midlands and the north’ – but acknowledged that Gosport also needed some support.

Ms Dinenage said: ‘I am pleased with the publication of the levelling up white paper and its recognition that Gosport is an area which needs levelling up.

‘Gosport is one of 68 towns receiving a package of expert advice and support which will help to deliver long-term transformation, and is also eligible for a share of the £2.6bn UK Shared Prosperity Fund which will aim to build pride in place and increase life chances across the UK.’

Labour MP for Portsmouth South, Stephen Morgan, says the government has ‘failed’ both Portsmouth and the education system.

He said: ‘While the government is distracted cleaning up the prime minister’s scandals, they aren’t governing, and they aren’t delivering for Portsmouth.

‘Ministers have failed to provide what is needed to address the chronic issues our city faces through their levelling up fund. A few pots of money to scrap over won’t cut it.

‘We need to change the settlement of our country back in favour of those who built it.

‘That means growing our economy, and ensuring jobs and opportunities are spread fairly across the country so that young people in our city don’t have to get out to get on.’