In a bid to address regional disparities and breathe new life into forgotten high streets, the UK government has allocated £1.1 billion for the revival of neglected towns. Prime Minister Rishi
Sunak revealed a list of fifty-five "rundown" towns set to benefit from this "Levelling Up" initiative, which plays a pivotal role in the Prime Minister's strategy leading up to the anticipated general election next autumn.
The investment aims to transform these "red wall" communities, plagued by issues like antisocial behavior and a lack of opportunities. Sunak's vision involves rejuvenating high streets, addressing empty shops, and improving transportation links to reignite growth and prosperity in these former industrial centers.
Sunak acknowledges that successive governments have predominantly focused on cities, leaving towns to bear the brunt of economic neglect. To rectify this, each of the fifty-five towns will receive £20 million over the next decade to address their specific priorities, as determined by their communities.
This long-term plan for towns is launched as the Conservative Party gathers in Manchester for what could be their final conference before the upcoming election. Recent polling data indicates that half of Britons believe the North-South divide has worsened in the past five years, with just one in twenty thinking it has improved.
To spearhead the regeneration of these "left behind" communities, town boards will be established, bringing together community leaders, local authorities, employers, and the local Member of Parliament (MP).
Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Michael Gove, emphasized that this initiative aims to empower communities across the UK, giving them control over their futures, creating more job opportunities, and ensuring a brighter future for towns and their residents.
A newly formed "towns taskforce" will report directly to Prime Minister Sunak and Mr. Gove. This initiative comes amidst growing concerns about inequality in the UK, as a significant portion of respondents in a WeThink poll for the Sunday Express felt that the North-South divide has worsened in recent years.
Conservative MPs, seeking improvements for the region, are set to launch a "Manifesto for the North" during the conference. This Northern Research Group initiative includes calls for the construction of half a million homes, the development of a rail link connecting Liverpool and Hull, and the appointment of a dedicated cabinet minister, all without increasing the overall tax burden.
John Stevenson, Chairman of the Northern Research Group, emphasized the importance of listening to northern voices, particularly since the North is expected to play a pivotal role in the upcoming election. The manifesto proposes establishing an equitable funding formula for English regions similar to the Barnett formula used for Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. Additionally, it calls for equal funding in education for the North and the creation of a "Royal Commission on healthcare provision." To prioritize Northern issues within the government, the manifesto advocates for a Secretary of State for the North and a select committee for the North in Parliament.