Stronger Towns Fund slammed as ‘pathetically small’

4 Mar 19

A £1.6bn fund aimed at spreading prosperity fairly across England has been dismissed as a “pathetically small sum” by the New Local Government Network think-tank, which called it a “token substitute for proper devolved funding”.

Prime minister Theresa May claimed the new Stronger Towns Fund, launched today, would give communities “more opportunity and greater control”.

The government said a total of £1bn will be allocated using a needs-based formula and £538m of this will go to towns across the north of England, with a further £322m allocated to communities in the Midlands.

A further £600m will be available through a bidding process to communities in any part of the country. The funding will run over a seven-year period from 2019 to 2026.

However, Adam Lent, director of NLGN, said: “Cuts mean local authorities in England could have as much as £15.7bn less central government funding by 2020 than they did in 2010. The £1.6bn Towns Fund is yet another token substitute for proper devolved funding and empowered local governance.”

Jonathan Werran, chief executive of the Localis think-tank, told PF: “What’s interesting about the fund is that the majority is being given to the northern regions but does not seem to be pleasing political leaders there at either local or national level.

“At the same time, the little that is available for the South and South East, is not pleasing the Conservative shires.”

Gareth Snell, Labour and Cooperative MP for Stoke-on-Trent, said on Twitter that the funding was a “huge disappointment”:

 

 

Labour’s shadow chancellor, John McDonnell said: “This smacks of desperation from a government reduced to bribing MPs to vote for their damaging flagship Brexit legislation.”

Werran added that the fund should initiate discussions about how regional funding can be developed in a post-Brexit Britain.

“Beyond the political gunfire about the timing and the distribution of this cash, there is a bigger argument about how in the post-Brexit world we reconfigure our political economy and provide investment to our regions and sub-regions,” he told PF.

The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government said that the £1bn would be allocated on a needs-based formula to Local Enterprise Partnerships – a move that angered many in local government.

Lent said: “Greater power and resources should not be put in the hands of LEPs but in those of our local authorities and, indeed, communities themselves.”

Werran said: “This government made it clear when it launched the Industrial Strategy that LEPs are their preferred vehicle. 18 months on – why the upset? It shouldn’t come as any surprise.”

Campbell Robb, chief executive of the poverty think-tank Joseph Rowntree Foundation, said: “If the government is serious about transforming towns, it needs to set out its plans for the Shared Prosperity Fund and bring serious money to the table – not just a small pot to fix short-term problems.”

The SPF, which will replace EU regional funding, was announced in 2017.

Theresa May said: “For too long in our country prosperity has been unfairly spread. Our economy has worked well for some places but we want it to work for all communities.

“Communities across the country voted for Brexit as an expression of their desire to see change – that must be a change for the better, with more opportunity and greater control.”

Distribution of the £1bn was set out as follows:

North West - £281m

North East - £105m

Yorkshire and the Humber - £197m

West Midlands - £212m

East Midlands - £110m

South West - £33m

South East - £37m

East of England - £25m

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