The government’s £1.6bn Stronger Towns Fund has been branded tokenistic and inadequate to the scale of the challenge facing some struggling parts of the country.
The fund, announced this morning as a response to the Brexit vote almost three years ago, will be available to places that “have not shared in the proceeds of growth in the same way as more prosperous parts of the country” between now and 2026.
Of the fund £1bn will be allocated to local enterprise partnerships using “a needs-based formula” while the remaining £600m will be available for towns in any part of the country to bid for. The announcement from the government said it would seek to ensure towns in the devolved nations also benefited from the funding.
Of the £1bn, more than half will go to the north of England while London will not get anything and the south east just £37m (see table). A spokesperson for the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government said the needs based formula included measures of “productivity, income, skills, deprivation metrics and proportion of the population living in towns”.
Announcing the fund, prime minister Theresa May said: “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.
“These towns have a glorious heritage, huge potential and, with the right help, a bright future ahead of them.”
Peter Box (Lab), leader of Wakefield MBC and chair of the Key Cities group, said the amount of money provided does not recognise the scale of the problem.
He said: “This is an attempt to bribe people to vote for Theresa May’s Brexit deal. There is no serious consultation that has gone on with local government that I know of. It’s something that has been scribbled on the back of a cigarette packet in a desperate attempt to get people to vote for them.
He added: ”We need a proper, serious conversation about the resources needed for northern towns and cities like Wakefield that have been left behind for far too long.”
However, Adam Lent, director of the New Local Government Network pointed out the sum paled into insignificance when compared with the £15.7bn that had been cut from central government funding for councils since 2010.
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He said: “The £1.6bn towns fund is yet another token substitute for proper devolved funding and empowered local governance. It is these steps, not pathetically small sums, that will truly allow these areas to flourish – putting them in control of their own future.”
The Joseph Rowntree Foundation described the fund as a “a small pot to fix short-term problems” and warned the government not to take it out of the promised UK Shared Prosperity Fund. This fund was a commitment of the 2017 Conservative manifesto to replace lost EU Structural Fund money for local areas, worth £2.4bn a year. However, no further details about the fund have been announced.
Chief executive Campbell Robb said: “If the government is serious about transforming towns, it needs to set out its plans for the SPF now and bring serious money to the table.”
Responding to the announcement, a spokesman for the Local Government Association said: “Councils must be given the tools and resources to get on with the vital task of leading their communities in creating jobs, building infrastructure and boosting growth.
“Local government in England faces an overall funding gap of £8 billion by 2025. The Spending Review will therefore be make or break for vital local services and securing the financial sustainability of councils must be the top priority.”
Communities secretary James Brokenshire said: “This major new fund builds on more than £9 billion in City and Growth Deals we have delivered since 2010 to help hard working people reach their full potential and to build an economy that works for everyone.
”I look forward to working closely with local leaders to take forward their encouraging proposals and to hear what more they propose to bring benefits to their communities.”