CHANCELLOR Rishi Sunak has sought to deliver on the Government’s “levelling up” agenda with a £4 billion fund for local improvement projects and a new national infrastructure bank headquartered in the North of England.

Despite the enormous economic hit from the pandemic, he said the Government was putting in the highest sustained level of public investment in more than 40 years with capital spending next year of £100 billion.

The announcements were welcomed by the Northern Research Group (NRG) of Tory MPs which said they showed that the Prime Minister was committed to delivering on his General Election promise to spread prosperity across the country.

Business leaders however said the “acid test” would be whether ministers’ ambitions were matched by action on the ground.

The Northern Echo:

Alex Cunningham

But Labour MP Alex Cunningham, who represents Stockton North, said it was another example of “Tory cronyism hamstringing the development of the regions”.

He said 12,565 extra jobs have been lost since March across the Tees Valley and unemployment across the North-East is at 6.6 per cent, the highest in the UK.

Mr Cunningham said: “The Tories are trying to dazzle us with twinkling pots of funding.

“But we don’t need more wasteful bidding processes that pit deprived communities against each other for scraps from central Government.

"We need serious and sustained investment that is controlled at a local level.

After the Chancellor’s announcement, Mr Cunningham led a debate in Westminster Hall on the failure of the Tory Government to invest in the Tees Valley.

He said: “I want this country to be the best to grow up in and the best to grow old in. For the Tees Valley that means we need to make sure that ‘levelling up’ is more than an empty cliché - it must be a demonstration of action.

“The Tories had a chance today to put their money where their mouth is for the levelling up agenda.

“But instead we got some lukewarm words for a Tory press release that will fade into bureaucracy as our communities continue to suffer.”

Grahame Morris, Labour MP for Easington, said the Government was very good at coming up with schemes that fail to deliver.

He said: “They appear to have shelved their rhetoric on the Northern Powerhouse. “The Government has now announced a Levelling Up Fund, and we will put that scheme to the test, as we seek to secure much-needed investment for the North-East and East Durham.”

The North-East England Chamber of Commerce said the Spending Review was a missed opportunity for the region.

The Northern Echo:

Jonathan Walker

Policy director Jonathan Walker said the fund was too small in scale and ambition to be effective.

He said: “While we acknowledge the pressure on public finances, the statement was a missed opportunity to restore confidence and many announcements were poorly targeted and too short-term in their scope.

“On the face of it, a Levelling Up Fund sounds good, but is far the Government’s own documents recognise the particular impact Covid has had on northern regions but we fear £4bn won’t go very far if spread across the country.

“The lack of targeted funding is disappointing at a time when the Chancellor is at pains to stress how little money there is to go around

“Our region needs a long-term commitment to address decades of under-investment, rather than short term fixes which must be delivered during this Parliament.”

The region’s Conservative MPs who were elected at the General Election in December said the fund demonstrated the Government was keeping to it word to repay the trust of first time Tory voters.

The Northern Echo:

Peter Gibson MP

Darlington MP Peter Gibson said: “These spending plans are welcome and will absolutely continue to deliver on our levelling up agenda, particularly here in the North East. The plans will support our fight against Covid-19 and will help to support people back into employment.

“I’m pleased that the Government have created a levelling up fund, which is great news for Darlington, especially considering our successful town’s fund bid recently.

“I’m looking forward to submitting proposals for the new levelling up fund which I’m confident will further help to transform Darlington for decades to come.

“The Chancellor’s Spending Review tackles this unprecedented situation head on – ensuring lives and livelihoods in Darlington are protected and supported in the weeks and months ahead.

“At the same time, I was elected at last year’s General Election on a commitment to level up communities like ours, and I am thrilled that this Conservative Government is now making good on that promise – by delivering a once-in-a-generation investment in infrastructure that will create jobs, grow the economy and increase pride in the place we call home.”

Sedgefield MP Paul Howell said he welcomed the review, especially the commitment to fund the feasibility study to re-open Ferryhill station and add the project to the National Infrastructure Plan.

He said: “I also welcome the tearing-up of the Green Book rules that favours investment in London and the South East, a near £3bn three-year Restart Programme helping more than one million people who’ve been unemployed for over a year, the new £4bn Levelling-Up Fund and Infrastructure Bank located in the North of England.

“The levelling up fund is something I have personally lobbied the chancellor for and I look forward to the details.

“The Chancellor has shown that he, the Prime Minister and the Government is committed to levelling up the North and delivering on the mandate that was given in the General Election last year.”

The Northern Echo:

Richard Holden MP

North-West Durham MP Richard Holden said: "It’s clear that the costs of the global covid pandemic have been massive and today’s figures from the independent OBR show we the economy won’t be back to pre-crisis levels until the end of 2022.

"It’s essential that we save as many jobs and businesses as we can and don’t let this global health crisis turn into an economic one.

"I’m particular glad that the Government has shown real commitment to the levelling up agenda and is ensuring that despite difficult decisions needing to be taken the majority of public sector workers including all our NHS staff and all those on under £24,000 will still get pay rises this year.”