Matt Western – 2021 Speech on the Towns Fund

The speech made by Matt Western, the Labour MP for Warwick and Leamington, in the House of Commons on 4 February 2021.

I welcome the Government’s interest and their recognition of the importance of Royal Leamington Spa to be a recipient of potentially £10 million. As an important sub-regional shopping centre, it is a vital part of the region’s economy and quality of life, so let me praise the council officers at Warwick District Council for the quality of their original submission and the work they have done since in refining the proposals against a reduced contribution proposed by the Government. That said, £10 million is a sound amount for them to work with, and I hope it can do much to address the air quality in the town, highlighted by the World Health Organisation as an issue, while revitalising the commercial centre more widely.

However, let me cut to the chase. Over the past decade the Government have cut £15 billion from local authorities across the UK, yet handed back just £3.6 billion to some towns which they invited to bid for moneys. Members will know that back in October I questioned the Prime Minister—did I have the guts, he asked me—about how it could be that the Secretary of State could approve tens of millions of pounds for his Minister and his constituency town of Darwen, while that Minister could return the favour and approve tens of millions of pounds for the Secretary of State’s constituency town of Newark—beyond belief. But how were the 101 towns selected in the first instance? Surely, if the Government were honest in their claim to level up, they would have allocated the moneys to the most deprived communities across England, but they have not. In the past year, we have heard many cases of the Government using algorithms, or more often malgorithms, but this is back-of-a-fag-packetithm. While Housing, Communities and Local Government officials may have recommended that the Government did one thing—namely, allocate funds to the most deserving communities—instead the Secretary of State and Ministers allocated moneys to towns in the lowest priority category.

It is also worth noting that the Government chose to allocate by region, not need, so the north and the midlands were disadvantaged by their political ploys. How else could Bournemouth benefit but, shockingly, South Shields be left off? Both are seaside towns, but I think I know which is in greater need of the funding. It is something Harry Redknapp would have appreciated more than most. I will not even go into Cheadle. While Big Ben no longer bongs, this Government bung, and they are doing it on an industrial scale. A simple analysis of the towns that have received moneys underlines the political tactics laid bare. Certainly the timing of the announcement, in the last few weeks before the last general election, might give us a clue. It was carefully targeted at marginal seats. Interestingly, the impartial cross-party Public Accounts Committee concluded in its investigation that the selection process was not impartial. It took evidence from Christopher Hanretty, a professor of politics at Royal Holloway, who said that

“the process by which towns were invited to bid for money from the Towns Fund was driven by party-political electoral advantage”,

riding roughshod over any pretence to be levelling up this country. Any section 151 officer in a council would be sacked if they acted like this.

Any impartial observer will see this for what it is, and certainly the public do. It is grubby government of the worst order.