Charlotte Nichols – 2021 Speech on the Towns Fund

The speech made by Charlotte Nichols, the Labour MP for Warrington North, in the House of Commons on 4 February 2021.

Every one of us in this House wants to see investment in our constituents and our communities, particularly after a decade of Tory-imposed austerity, so I welcome the £22 million that has been allocated to Warrington from the fund. As part of the town deal board, I pay special thanks to all the stakeholders and officers of Warrington Borough Council for drawing together this successful bid. But—you knew that there would be a “but”, Mr Deputy Speaker—this is not a sustainable alternative to proper, long-term funding of our towns and their needs, and cannot and should not be sold as such by the Government.

As has already been mentioned, the past 10 years have seen core funding for local authorities cut by £15 billion, and our councils are struggling even more with the understandable impact of covid on their income streams and spending expectations, which the LGA estimates will be a further £2.6 billion. In comparison, the towns fund programme replaces only a fifth of the shortfall. We cannot expect our towns to thrive, as I would like to see, if our funding is stripped to the bone and sometimes the marrow, and we are left hoping for a special handout from Westminster once a decade. How does that assist long-term planning, or the development of sustainable local economies? We need a more holistic approach.

In Warrington, I want the certainty of a long-overdue new hospital Bill. I want assurances that there will be funding for the restoration and redevelopment of local leisure and library facilities, including Culcheth Community Campus and Padgate library. Above all, I want a guarantee that Warrington Borough Council will be reimbursed for the moneys it has had to spend because of the pandemic, or else all the work that has gone into this bid will be fatally undermined. I want towns such as mine to be self-sustaining and able to offer opportunities for young people and well-paid jobs so that they become hubs of prosperity, rather than being emptied out. We in Warrington benefit greatly from the high-skilled and highly rewarded employment opportunities provided by the nuclear industry. I want the Government to do more to deliver the next generation of new nuclear, which will provide more such quality prospects in Warrington and elsewhere, and to commit to an industrial strategy that makes levelling up the north-west about deeds, not words.

In his response to today’s debate, I hope the Minister will set out how he will judge the success of the towns fund, and how he will ensure that continuous financial support for towns is restored, rather than acting as though we should be grateful for a chance to bid for funding in a once-in-a-decade competition.