The following appeared as my column in the Barnsley Chronicle on 30th October:
Before the election the Government talked a good game about ‘levelling-up’.
They even announced a new fund that they said would invest in left-behind towns like ours, which are long overdue investment.
But instead of matching the promises they made, the Tories have interfered with the funds to give tens of millions to their favoured areas and they have left Barnsley with nothing.
Robert Jenrick, the Secretary of State for Communities, is hoping that people will forget that his constituency (Newark) was chosen by his own Minister to receive between £25-50million in regeneration funding.
Average pay in his constituency is more than £40 a week higher than it is here in Barnsley. It has half the level of unemployment. And Barnsley has had over 5 times more cut from its council budget than Newark’s local council in the last decade.
Yet his department has decided that they should receive millions in support and Barnsley should receive nothing at all.
It is a scandal that 60 out the 61 areas picked by government ministers for the new funds were in Conservative-held seats or Tory election targets, with public money being used politically rather than invested in the areas they know it is most needed.
Far from what was promised, the Tories have continued to ignore our towns and villages and have played politics with public money at a time when we need their support most.
Labour councils like Barnsley have shouldered the pain of cuts to local government over the last decade, losing 40% from its day-to-day spending.
This has had a huge knock-on effect on the local services we rely on, from adult social care to road maintenance and local bus services – and now, emergency support in tackling the Covid emergency.
In Parliament, I asked the Leader of the House, Jacob Rees-Mogg, if the Government would issue a statement on their shameful decisions over the Towns Fund. I was shocked, but sadly unsurprised by his answer which dismissed and disregarded areas like ours.
We already needed investment and faced difficult challenges. The pandemic has not only laid bare the challenges and the inequalities we face, it has made them worse and more difficult to overcome.
Unemployment has doubled to almost 6.5%, local businesses face a more difficult climate than ever before, with many on the brink, and we are at the forefront of fighting the pandemic, to save lives and protect the NHS.
We cannot fight the pandemic, regenerate our towns and fund local services on broken promises. We need support.
My office remains open to all constituents who need help during this crisis. My email is [email protected].