William Eichler 04 March 2019

Whitehall accused of bribing MPs with £1.6bn Brexit fund

MPs have accused the Prime Minister of trying to buy their support ahead of a key Brexit vote with the announcement of a £1.6bn fund for deprived areas of the country.

Communities secretary James Brokenshire today launched a Stronger Towns Fund that will see £1bn allocated to communities in the North (£583m) and the Midlands (£322m).

He said that local areas will be able to draw up job-boosting plans for their towns, with the support and advice of their Local Enterprise Partnerships.

There will also be another £600m available through a bidding process to communities in any part of the country.

‘This major new fund builds on more than £9bn 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,’ said Mr Brokenshire.

‘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.’

Announcing the Stronger Towns Fund, Theresa May linked the funding to Brexit.

‘For too long in our country prosperity has been unfairly spread. Our economy has worked well for some places but we want it to work for all communities,’ she 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.’

Lisa Nandy, the Labour MP for Wigan, characterised the move as an attempt by Mrs May to buy the support of MPs who represent constituencies that voted to Leave the European Union.

‘After decades of neglect a one-off payment designed to help the Prime Minister ahead of a key Brexit vote will fail, and it will confirm to people in our towns that the government is not serious in its commitment to our communities,’ she wrote on Twitter.

‘Today’s announcement of a £1.6bn fund for our towns must mark the start of a fundamental change in approach, with greater investment, powers and respect for the millions of people who live outside of our cities.

‘I have been clear from day one—my vote is not for sale and any long overdue investment in towns is no substitute for a permanent trading relationship with the EU that protects jobs in towns like mine.’

The Labour MP for Stoke-on-Trent Gareth Snell described the announcement as a ‘huge disappointment’.

‘The entire allocation for the West Midlands over four years is less than the total value of cuts faced by Stoke-on-Trent City Council alone over the same period,’ he wrote on Twitter.

Adam Lent, the director of the New Local Government Network, dismissed the announcement as a 'token substitute for proper devolved funding and empowered local governance.'

'Cuts mean local authorities in England could have as much as £15.7bn less central Government funding by 2020 than they did in 2010,' 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.

'This latest announcement is, simply, poor policymaking; greater power and resources should not be put in the hands of LEPs but in those of our local authorities and, indeed, communities themselves.'

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