MP: Ipswich needs to be part of 'levelling up' plans

Ipswich Conservative candidate Tom Hunt and Local Government Secretary Robert Jenrick in Arras Squar

The invitation for Ipswich to apply to the Towns Fund was revealed when housing secretary Robert Jenrick visited Tom Hunt before 2019's general election. - Credit: Paul Geater

We hear a lot about the term “levelling up” these days, particularly from the government.

However, there isn’t always complete certainty about what this really means. Where should it happen and what should we do to achieve it?

In essence, I see it as ensuring that, as far as possible, investment is spread more evenly and fairly across the country and that as a consequence, wealth, opportunity and prosperity is more evenly distributed.

By investment, I think we need to be talking about not just investment in physical infrastructure but also education, skills and health.

When the term “levelling up” first came to prominence shortly after Boris Johnson became prime minister, it was mostly associated with the north of England and the Midlands.

I and a number of colleagues in the region have been clear that the “levelling up” agenda must also extend to East Anglia, where there are also areas of significant deprivation that need support and additional investment. Of course, many of these areas lie within our own town.

The government has made clear that this agenda is a whole country project. So far, Ipswich is already in line to benefit from the government’s Stronger Towns Fund that could provide us with up to £25million of new investment covering 12 separate projects.

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Late last year, the government also announced details of a new £4billion Levelling Up Fund to support the “infrastructure of everyday life” and “community projects”.

It has been made clear to me that Ipswich will be eligible to benefit from this fund, just as it will benefit from the Stronger Towns Fund. A lot more detail still has to be released, but this is a very promising development.

What we do know is that the levelling up agenda needs to be applied to our town and there are specific parts of our town that have great potential but need additional investment.

We could look at Chantry, Gainsborough, the Rushmere estate and the Nacton Road end of town as examples.

These are strong local communities with a lot going for them, but all have had their own issues with crime and anti-social behaviour over the past few years.

Health outcomes are lower than the national average, along with educational outcomes and incomes.

A lot of this will take many years to turn around and giving Suffolk a better, fairer share of schools and police funding would certainly aid this.

Another important aspect of the agenda should be a focus on skills and apprenticeships opportunities, which you can read about in my column from January 29.

The government’s Further Education White Paper stresses the importance of avenues other than university education for young people to enhance local skills and create more jobs.

This is why I have worked closely with the Suffolk Chamber of Commerce and written to the education secretary to push for Suffolk to be included in the government’s skills pilot scheme.

It is also why I am pushing for the port of Felixstowe to become a freeport, to create more jobs requiring local skills in our area.

The government has made it clear that these freeports are key to the levelling up agenda and I want to ensure that Suffolk is involved. Many of the projects proposed in the bid to secure funding from the Town Deal are themselves directly concerned with addressing these skills challenges.

I also think that when it comes to physical infrastructure - roads, key community assets, shopping parades, you name it - there is also an opportunity to give each area a boost.

This is exactly why me and Central Suffolk and North Ipswich MP Dr Dan Poulter were so keen to promote a special £3.5m project as part of the Towns Fund that would direct investment towards shopping parades and key community assets in the most deprived parts of town.

However, there is also a need for more investment to support some of the brilliant community groups and grassroots organisations which are struggling for support.

This is why I’ve worked so hard to support the Ipswich BMX Club at the heart of the Gainsborough community.

The club first approach me shortly after my election and were a long way off meeting their goal of raising over £400,000 to completely refurb their track on Landseer Park.

Fortunately, the situation has now significantly advanced and I was glad to help them secure some additional funding from British Cycling following a meeting with their representatives.

Earlier this week I also wrote to the People’s Health Trust requesting more support. I was pleased to see Ipswich Borough Council chipping in with support as well.

When it comes to backing our communities with vital projects, politics should firmly be put to one side.

I have also been speaking to Ipswich Boxing Club, in Nacton Road, about securing accommodation and have raised a number of local clubs, such as the Ipswich Kick Boxing Academy and Patrick’s Boxing Club, in the House of Commons.

Not only does supporting grassroots sport in our town promote better health outcomes but it also tackles anti-social behaviour and crime.

Communities such as Chantry and Gainsborough represent much of what is best about our town. They are strong, settled communities with a sense of local pride and I for one am proud to represent them in Parliament.

Throughout the pandemic these areas, like other parts of town, have demonstrated massive community spirit and there has been no shortage of people trying to make a positive difference.

A few examples that spring to mind are Penny from the Kingfisher Pub, who has established a mental health support group, Ipswich Against Gangs and Reflections Youth Club, which was established following the tragic death of Tavis Spencer-Aitkens.

These are very special parts of town that have the ingredients to thrive in future. They just need to support from local and national government to get there.

Yes, we need to level up our country, but we also need to level up our town and I am absolutely determined as your MP to make sure Ipswich is not excluded from any of these opportunities associated with levelling up.

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