At the beginning of this week, I was up in Manchester attending the Conservative Party Conference. I was pleased to be asked to take part in a number of fringe panel and round table events ranging from restoring our blue planet to what role government can play in levelling up financial resilience in deprived communities. ‘Levelling Up’ was one of the big themes this week with many fringe events discussing it, industry by industry and sector by sector. How can education, for example, contribute to the levelling up agenda, or transport, local authorities, families and so on. Michael Gove’s job, as Secretary of State for levelling up, housing and communities, is to pull this all together into the new Levelling Up White Paper.
I have lobbied the new Levelling Up department and ministers, specifically as regards coastal communities; as many of you will be aware, Professor Chris Whitty, the Chief Medical Officer, published a recent report on Health in Coastal Communities. Whilst Professor Whitty’s findings are most concerning, I really welcome his report, as it gives some real credence to issues affecting Hastings and Rye and other coastal communities all around the U.K. His report has really highlighted - given weight - to the need for levelling up of our coastal communities. The health disparities, including mental health, between coastal communities and their inland cousins are very concerning and there is a clear commonality as to the drivers of poor health which are not restricted to an often, older age group demographic. These common drivers include deprivation, poor housing, alcohol and/or substance misuse, poor educational attainment, poor transport infrastructure and connectivity, and a lack of diversity in jobs and local economies.
I welcome the recommendations of the Chief Medical Officer’s Annual Report, not only as chair of the APPG for Coastal Communities, but as your MP. The Report’s key recommendation of a national strategy for coastal communities to address health and well-being is vital – but must look beyond health. Tackling the underlying drivers of poor health, as well as focusing proportionate NHS and care resources to appropriately provide for health and social care needs, will prevent ill health in the long-term, benefiting not just our coastal communities but also the whole of the UK, socially and economically.
As a leading economic power, I absolutely believe that the UK should be a country where, no matter where people live, no matter their background, everyone has the opportunity to fulfil their potential and have rewarding and secure life. This means that alongside economic growth and productivity, Government investment in health, education and transport infrastructure, for example, we should promote localism more – give local communities the opportunity to focus on what is needed in their communities and give residents a stronger voice in local decision-making by looking at how we can empower local leaders and communities, spread opportunity and improve public services and promote local pride. We have so much to be proud of in Hastings and Rye, especially on what we have achieved as a community which has pulled together during the pandemic; I want us now to have the opportunity to build upon that – to Build Back Better!
This Government is committed to levelling up because for too long, many of the worst-off people and places across the U.K. have been left behind by uneven economic growth and fewer opportunities. Levelling up means that everyone gets equal opportunity to unleash their potential, to make a difference. This will help combat poverty; poverty does not make the most of a person’s potential and deprives our society and economy of the skills and talents of those who have meaningful contributions to make. And, my goodness, do we in Hastings and Rye have a fantastic contribution to make.