THE CONTEXT is critical to the future success, or otherwise, of the Government’s newly-launched Stronger Towns Fund which was immediately condemned by opponents as a ‘Brexit bribe’.
Northern communities do need assistance to improve their prospects.
And while the bitter backlash can be attributed to the announcement’s proximity to the next series of crucial Commons votes on Brexit, the key will be the policy’s implementation given the sum is small in comparsion to the amount of cuts that affected councils have had to impose.
Leaving aside the irony that some of the strongest support for Brexit in June 2016 referendum came from deprived areas which were recipients of EU regeneration funding, residents do not want ‘talking shops’.
They want to see a clear link between the distribution of this money and improvements to small towns – areas not normally at the top of the list for Government grants and which were highlighted by Caroline Flint, the Don Valley MP, in a persuasive Parliamentary speech last month. They also seek proof that Yorkshire and the North will, in future, receive fairer funding.
And while Chris Grayling, the failing Transport Secretary, has long been written off by this newspaper, as the New York Times joins the mockery, the intervention by Tory MP Sam Gyimah is more significant. A former Universities Minister, he represents East Surrey – the same county as Mr Grayling – and says it is time in the North’s “world-leading capabilities” in the energy, advanced manufacturing, health innovation and digital sectors were backed with “R&D funding to unleash their full potential”.
If Mr Gyimah can make the case to his colleagues, it is possible that the funding for the towns will, in fact, be the catalyst for a new era of investment in the North. That should be the aspiration and ambition.