Suffolk and Essex are in danger of not fulfilling their full economic potential, if "warning signs" the counties could be sidestepped in the government's levelling-up drive come to pass, MPs have said.

In a strong message to the government, MPs from across the East of England raised a string of concerns during a Westminster debate about the direction of the government's levelling-up agenda.

Waveney Conservative MP Peter Aldous, who secured Wednesday's debate, warned: "There are some early warning signs that the needs of local communities in East Anglia may be overlooked."

He wanted assurances that would not be the case, and said: "The East of England is a net contributor to the UK Treasury and, if we do not invest in the East, there is a risk you will be destroying the golden goose that lays that golden egg."

Concerns which were raised included:

  • The need to stem the 'brain drain' from the region because of a lack of investment on public services, such as dentists.
  • A requirement for better roads with calls for investment in the A12, the A14 and the A120.
  • A need for better train services, including tackling issues at Ely and Haughley junctions.
  • An urgent need for improved broadband and mobile phone coverage.
  • That the area's potential to capitalise on retrofitting the gas and oil industry and windfarms could be lost.
  • How the region's councils need better funding, particularly to cope with pressures on adult social care services.
  • How the government could stop investing in research and development in the east because it has been 'lumped in' with London and the South East.

Mr Aldous said the danger was that the government's levelling up agenda would not fully take into account the levels of deprivation in the region, particularly in coastal areas.

He said: "In terms of the hidden deprivation, there are significant pockets of deprivation in coastal communities such as the Waveney I represent and in rural areas. These are often concealed, as they lie close to more affluent places."

Mr Aldous said Kirkley in Lowestoft was the 26th most deprived ward in the country and 10 Lowestoft neighbourhoods were among the 10% most deprived.

But, he said, in the first round of the Levelling Up Fund the East of England got just £13.88 per head, compared to the national average of £23.91 and £41.72 in the East Midlands.

MPs from across the East of England, including former health secretary Matt Hancock, who represents West Suffolk, took part in the debate.

Tom Hunt, Conservative MP for Ipswich, said he had never seen levelling-up as a north versus south issue. But he said: "I think we need to look at the way we fund our public services. It is simply not right that, when it comes to education, particularly special needs education, and policing funding, Suffolk gets an incredibly raw deal."

Giles Watling, Conservative MP for Clacton, said it was vital to get funding for the A12, which he said was "probably one of the worst roads in Britain".

He said the Treasury might think that the region could "take care of itself", but there were areas of deprivation, particularly in coastal areas.

He said: "It is clear the East of England is not being levelled up as many other areas of the country are. If the East is not being levelled up fairly, then the coastal areas are suffering even more."

East Anglian Daily Times: Clacton MP Giles Watling said he was delighted to see the surgery openClacton MP Giles Watling said he was delighted to see the surgery open (Image: Archant)

Mr Watling said Jaywick, in his constituency, was consistently named as the most deprived area in the country yet it kept missing out on funding.

He said: "My plea is to treat coastal areas as the data tells us. They are, in fact, in need of funding as are many northern towns. Do not just lump us in with the richer parts of the East. It is important we talk about levelling up sideways, as much as up and down."

Neil O'Brien, the government's levelling up minister, said the government's levelling up agenda was not a matter of north versus south.

And he said: "The East of England is absolutely central to our vision for levelling up in this country. The East of England will not be overlooked by the levelling up agenda."

He said public spending in the region had increased from £49.7bn in 2016/17 to £78.25bn in 2020/21.

He also pointed to investment in projects such as Freeport East, centred around Felixstowe and Harwich and Towns Fund deals for Norwich, King's Lynn, Great Yarmouth and Ipswich.