The following appeared as my column in the Barnsley Chronicle on 30th April:
I recently challenged the Government over levelling up money being given to affluent areas such as Richmond, North Yorkshire whilst ignoring us here in Barnsley, despite the fact that we’ve suffered some of the worst cuts in the country.
In a week full of government sleaze allegations, it probably comes as no surprise that Richmond is the constituency of the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, or that many other areas that received money through the levelling up fund were Tory held constituencies, but it is still frustrating that we are governed by a party who favour their mates over fairness and that, once again, they have completely overlooked Barnsley.
Levelling up is a phrase that’s regularly used by this government, but it is no more than a slogan for areas like Barnsley and we’ve yet to see any meaningful impact.
Barnsley has faced ten harsh years of austerity with the council facing some of the worst cuts in the country. BMBC has lost a staggering 40% of its income since 2010 – no small amount.
In spite of this challenge, the Council has continued to innovate and push development through public and private investment in our towns. They’ve led the way with the £5m Principal Towns project which recently awarded money to both Hoyland and Wombwell, helping to encourage regeneration across the borough, not just the town centre.
They’ve ensured that PCSOs are ready to support the most vulnerable, made support payments for Covid widely available, and ensured that our kids are fed by funding free school meals. All of this has been achieved whilst also ensuring that any Council Tax increase is lower than most of their neighbouring councils, proof that even when facing the harshest of cuts in the most trying of circumstances Barnsley Council will always ensure that residents come first.
The sad truth is that, in spite of the successes here in Barnsley, not all councils have been quite so fortunate and whilst the slogan of “levelling up” sounds like a good idea, the Government have chosen to make it political by allocating new funding in a way that favours affluent areas over those of greater need. Without fair funding, there’s a risk of jobs leaving our area as investment dries up, more people will then be in need of further government support, and our local economic growth will begin to halt. Something we must avoid as we begin to recover from the pandemic.
I recently met with the borough’s other MPs and Barnsley council officials to discuss the levelling-up fund. I am committed to supporting the council and our communities and continuing to raise these issues with Ministers until I get clear answers from the Government. I will also continue to raise this important issue with ministers and other colleagues until I get a clear answer from the Government.
We cannot go back to business as usual; the government must finally start to take levelling up seriously in order to secure our jobs, support our high streets, and strengthen our communities through investments that deliver for people in every area of the UK, not just a select few.