£4bn levelling-up fund is a ‘great opportunity’ for Cumbria

We are urging local authorities and Cumbria Local Enterprise Partnership to act quickly to ensure the county benefits from Rishi Sunak’s new levelling-up fund.

The Chancellor announced the £4bn fund as part of his spending review. Areas will be able to bid for funding up to £20m for projects that have a “real impact”. They must be delivered during this Parliament and command local support.

Examples he gave included new bypasses, upgraded railway stations and schemes to reduce traffic or open or enhance libraries, museums, and galleries.

Chamber Chief Executive Rob Johnston: “This represents a great opportunity for Cumbria.

“It’s vital that the powers that be act quickly because, I suspect, it will be a case of first-come first-served.”

The Chancellor also announced:

  • A £3bn three-year Restart Programme to help the long-term unemployed retrain for work;
  • A public-sector pay freeze next year, although NHS workers are exempt and all public sector workers earning less than £24,000 will get a £250 increase;
  • A 2.2% increase in the National Living Wage to £8.91 an hour, which will apply to workers over-23 rather than the over-25s as is the case now;
  • The launch of the National Infrastructure Strategy and the imminent launch of the UK Shared Prosperity Fund to replace EU structural funding.

Mr Sunak warned that the economy was set to shrink by 11.3 per cent this year and would not recover to pre-Covid levels until the end of 2022. Unemployment would continue rising to peak at 2.6m in the second quarter of next year.

Rob said: “The Restart Programme should help to reskill workers that will be needed as the economy recovers.

“That’s especially important in Cumbria because our working-age population is shrinking and some sectors of our economy have become dependent on EU migrant workers who will be frozen out by the new points-based immigration system.

“We’re pleased that the UK Shared Prosperity Fund is coming at last.  This was announced by Theresa May when she was PM and it’s launch is long overdue. Businesses now need to see more detail on how the scheme will operate.

“But we’re uneasy about the increase in the National Living Wage. It will hit retail and hospitality particularly hard and they are the sectors hurt most by Covid.

“The Chancellor said that insolvencies haven’t risen yet but we expect they will. Some businesses won’t be able to repay debts they have taken on to get through the pandemic.”

Although the Chancellor didn’t mention it in his speech, the Treasury has confirmed it is overhauling the ‘Green Book’ rules for housing and infrastructure spending.

Rob said: “As they stand, they favour large cities, particularly London, at the expense of areas like Cumbria. Changing the rules should help secure funding for projects such as the Kendal Northern Access Route, which are vital to securing future growth and prosperity.”

© Cumbria Chamber of Commerce