'What does "levelling up" mean for north Norfolk?'

The new affordable housing development in Brandon is open. Picture: Ian Burt

Norfolk Norfolk needs more affordable housing schemes. - Credit: Ian Burt

In his latest monthly column for the North Norfolk News, MP Duncan Baker talks about 'levelling up' and what it means for our area.

In this month’s column I want to talk about the launch of the Government’s flagship levelling up agenda, a policy designed to reduce the economic imbalances around the country.

North Norfolk MP Duncan Baker

North Norfolk MP Duncan Baker. - Credit: Richard Townshend Photography

In the last month, I took part in the Westminster Hall debate on the subject and started off by saying that I had recently heard someone talking about ‘levelling up the North’.

I had to correct them: the government’s intention is to level up the whole country. But what does levelling up mean for us here in the East of England, and in North Norfolk?

Well, it’s about recognising that the East is already an enormous success – we are one of only three UK regions to be ‘net contributors’ to the economy, i.e. we produce more than the state invests in us.

A third of the UK's gas comes through Bacton Gas Terminal.

A third of the UK's gas comes through Bacton Gas Terminal. - Credit: Archant

With more investment, we could sell the many things we’re good at doing, and producing, much more widely, providing more growth, more jobs, and more prosperity.

Look at what we have. We have a world-renowned centre of training and excellence in medicine at the University of East Anglia, plus the Norwich Biomedical Research Centre.

University of East Anglia has urged students to get vaccinated and tested before they travel to camp

We have a world-renowned centre of training and excellence in medicine at the University of East Anglia. - Credit: UEA

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We have opportunities for carers, nurses, doctors, and dentists to work in one of the most beautiful parts of the country.

A third of the UK’s gas comes through Bacton, with countless new opportunities for jobs and research in new carbon net-zero technologies.

The visitor economy of the East of England generates over £10bn a year. We have start-up and established companies producing everything from space rockets to filming locations and studio facilities for Netflix and Amazon – all here in our home.

Hippersons Boatyard is a family-owned microbusiness in Beccles providing unique tourism experiences

Canoeing on the Norfolk Broads. The visitor economy of the East of England generates over £10bn a year. - Credit: Hippersons Boatyard

What links all of this together is a very special quality that people in the East of England have. I believe we have more creative minds; more people willing to take risks; and more innovators in this part of the country than almost anywhere else.

Norfolk was mentioned ten times in the Levelling Up White Paper and the big offer for the region was that of being invited further to talk about a County Devolution Deal or a ‘Deal for Norfolk’.

We were only one of a small number in the country to be offered this and in my view this needs serious further consideration.

If hundreds of millions of pounds are put on the table for Norfolk and we can ensure we are not left behind in the levelling up agenda, then this is something we must not dismiss. But it is early days, and there will a lot of discussions to have before we get a final deal in place.

One thing we do know though is that all the ‘cherries’ are stuffed into Level 3 of the framework, so any significant deal agreed would mean we would move to a system of a directly elected mayor.

Again, I am open minded to this. We have seen Andy Street as the mayor of the West Midlands and Ben Houchen in the Tees Valley use this position to great advantage for their area. Perhaps we can do the same?

Norfolk was also designated as an 'Education Investment Area’. I am pleased about this. I speak about the talented young people we have in our area regularly in Parliament, but there is no doubt about it, we are not given the funding we need to invest further in their education.

Now we will get targeted investment to change that, which will undoubtedly benefit us across the region.

So how do we harness what we have and make it even better? This is where the investment that levelling up will provide is so important. We know that we need better roads and public transport.

We need homes that truly are ‘affordable’, so that our brightest minds can afford to live and work here, rather than leaving the area and going elsewhere. We need more investment in education and training – such as the highly successful apprenticeships and Restart schemes.

Now that the threat of Covid is beginning to recede and we can begin to look once again towards the future, my job – and that of all the East Anglian MPs – will be to remind everyone that levelling up isn’t just a Northern thing.

We will expect - and demand - that the East of England and North Norfolk receive their fair share too. We’ve already seen that begin to happen with the huge government investment in North Walsham, and I will continue to advocate for the whole of North Norfolk to benefit in a similar way.