Places that once powered the country have been neglected following the decline of traditional industries – be it steel, textiles, coal or fisheries.
But our towns and high streets can thrive again. They can be places to earn a decent wage, enough to buy an affordable home and live close to family so grandparents can see their grandchildren grow up. This is personal for me.
My family and friends live this reality every day and the Levelling Up White Paper has left communities completely short-changed once again.
Beyond the slogans, this government lacks ambition for our places and our people – people who know what rebuilding local economies should look like but need support from their government to achieve it.
This pattern of hollow promises from successive Tory governments has left nearly every place in the country worse-off. Indeed, every area of England has received less in funding on average since 2018 than they received from regional development funds, such as the Towns Fund.
Despite successful bids from Hull City Council through both the Levelling Up Fund and Community Renewal Fund, the city is almost £50m worse off since 2018 in real terms as settlement funding across this period decreased by £67m, while the two allocations combined were short of £20m.
There’s a similar story in Kirklees where the disparity is £56.9m; in Sheffield it’s £69.5m; in Bradford £69.8m. And in Leeds it’s an eye-watering £109.2m. The Conservatives give with one hand, but take with two.
But these issues are far more long-term than that. For levelling up to meet the ambitions we have to go much further. For levelling up to deliver for our communities, it must deliver on five things.
First, jobs. Good opportunities must be spread throughout the country, so young people have choices and chances and don’t find themselves having to get out to get on. With the right investment and community-led regeneration, jobs and opportunities will begin to thrive.
Last week I saw exactly this in Grimsby, where a major local employer was investing in green technology for the future and providing secure, well-paid jobs for local people. Labour in government would take this example and put clean-energy rocket boosters on it. We’d invest £28bn each year in green projects across the country, creating more jobs and apprenticeships in industrial and coastal towns.
Second, thriving high streets. We need to see local economies growing, with good local businesses. That means no more papering over the cracks. It’s why Labour has set out plans to help 100,000 new small businesses get off the ground.
Third, our towns and villages must be better connected through better transport links, digital infrastructure and affordable housing. For too long, we have missed out or seen promises rowed back on.
Fourth, power. For years, people have felt that politics simply isn’t interested in them. Labour would hand communities the power and money to decide for themselves, ending the system where they had to go cap-in-hand to Westminster to do things they knew would work.
And finally, safety. Labour will bring back neighbourhood policing to ensure our town centres are safe and welcoming rather than plagued by anti-social behaviour. The Tory record on crime is appalling, with criminals being let off and victims let down.
Rebuilding a new Britain is going to take much more than just small pots of money to fight over, or slogans that sound nice in a broadcast studio in Westminster. It has to match the ambition of the people and the places crying out for real change.
That’s why Labour will work as partners with these communities to build a new Britain that delivers security, prosperity and respect across the country. After all, these are the places that built and powered modern Britain: they deserve far better than more hollow rhetoric and crumbs off the Westminster table. They deserve the opportunity to thrive once again.
Lisa Nandy is Shadow Levelling Up Secretary and Labour MP for Wigan.
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