East needs levelling-up too, says business group

Felixstowe Docks

Don't forget about the east when levelling up, government told. - Credit: Charlotte Bond

Don't forget about the East when it comes to levelling-up.

That was the blunt message to the government from the Powerhouse East group as the debate on this week's Queen's Speech got underway with  "Levelling-up" across the country at the heart of the government's plans.

The new Powerhouse East group was formed earlier this year to lobby for increased investment in the region as other parts of the country seemed to attract the government's attention.

Eastern Powerhouse chairman James Palmer said: “For too long the East of England has been left behind and overlooked. The significant untapped potential of the East of England and what it can contribute to the UK economy has been grossly underestimated. 

"Local leaders must work collaboratively to raise the profile of the whole region and show the ambition to make this region the economic powerhouse we know it can be. Strengthening local accountability via directly elected leaders, such as mayors, is a necessary measure to wrestle power away from central government and achieve the best possible devolution deal for the region.”

The government has said it is looking at devolving more powers to county councils - and Suffolk is among those looking to bid for more control over local services.

The Eastern Powerhouse said the region is losing out to other parts of the UK. It has received 40% less Levelling-Up funding than other regions, which are also benefiting from a much larger share of public investment. 

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In 2020/21, transport spending in the East of England was just £678 per head compared with £1,476 per head in London, and below the UK average of £737, with overall expenditure on buses the lowest of all English regions.

Mr Palmer said new devolution deals should be agreed as soon as possible giving new powers to areas like Suffolk and Norfolk - with directly-elected mayors or governors. He said: "This needs to include greater control over transport funding and the powers to identify key transport networks that are so important to connecting the region’s growth hubs and economic assets."

Central Suffolk and North Ipswich MP Dr Dan Poulter said: “Suffolk has benefitted greatly from significant government investment in dualling the A11, improvements to the A14 and at a more local level, in the A140 near Eye and the third crossing, or Gull Wing Bridge, in Lowestoft.

“We have also done well with a £50million Government investment through the Towns Fund, with £25million coming to both Ipswich and Lowestoft.  

“But if we want to maximise the opportunities for future investment in our area, we need to now seriously look at the opportunity that a mayor or governor could provide for our region.”

And Ipswich MP Tom Hunt said he had been pressing the government to do more in his constituency: "Funding for our core services is a key part of levelling up. In Ipswich, we are currently receiving comparatively low funding for things like police and education. 

"A review of the police funding formula has been promised before the end of this Parliament, and I have been pressing the Minister Kit Malthouse on this.  

"When it comes to education, Ipswich has a lot of potential to unlock. With Government support from the Opportunity Area funding, we have seen local schools benefit and improve. 

"I'm pleased to see that we have also been designated as a Priority Education Investment Area - which means more funding for things like teacher retention as well as SEND."