St Helens Council leader says Stronger Towns cash 'a drop in the bucket' compared to austerity

St Helens Council leader Derek Long has said northern towns have been hard hit by government policies and economic change
St Helens Council leader Derek Long has said northern towns have been hard hit by government policies and economic change

Money from a £1.6bn fund for deprived towns after Brexit is a “drop in the bucket” compared to the cash lost through austerity, the leader of St Helens Council has said.

The Stronger Towns Fund, which launched on Monday, will see £1 billion divided in England over the next seven years, with £281 million going to the North West.

A further £600 million will be available through a bidding process to communities in any part of the country.

Following the announcement, Labour accused Theresa May of bribing MPs to get them to back her Brexit withdrawal agreement, which is due on or before March 12.

Critics have also said the extra cash will not cover the funding cuts local authorities have received through the government’s austerity agenda.

In St Helens, the council will have seen £90 million cut from its budget by 2020 over the past decade.

St Helens Council leader Derek Long said: “Northern towns have been hard hit by government policies and economic change.

“But in St Helens we are already taking big strides to transform our borough.

“The £1 million or so left a year once this fund is carved up will be a drop in the bucket compared with the £90 million of the government’s annual cuts.

“So, if we can use it to contribute to what the borough needs that’s fine – but we’ll be pressing government to do much more.”

Marie Rimmer, MP for St Helens South and Whiston, compared the Brexit fund to a “sticking plaster”.

The Labour MP called on the Prime Minister to “look seriously” at the financial support needed for towns like St Helens.

Ms Rimmer said: “The Prime Minister’s Stronger Towns Fund is welcome funding for St Helens given the £90 million cuts that St Helens Council has had to make annually, in large part because of the austerity policies of her government.

“Yet this fund is like applying a plaster to a deep cut, simply not good enough.

“It is even more distressing that the Prime Minister appears to believe that the much-needed revitalisation of high streets in the North West is only worth £281 million over seven years, but the purchasing of votes from the DUP to prop up her government is worth £1 billion.

“It is beyond belief that she thinks that this acceptable and I call on the Prime Minister to look seriously at the financial support that is needed not only for St Helens but for many towns across the North West.”

The Stronger Towns Fund will be allocated using a needs-based formula.

Of the £1 billion, the North West will receive £281 million, the West Midlands £212 million, Yorkshire and the Humber £197 million, the East Midlands £110 million, the North East £105 million, the South East £37 million, the South West £35 million and the East of England £25 million.

St Helens Council said details of the funding have yet to be presented to local authorities by government.

Labour’s Conor McGinn, MP for St Helens North, said he will ensure the funds are distributed “fairly and transparently.”

Mr McGinn said: “Recognition of the actual social and cultural importance of our northern towns and the need to invest in them is long overdue from this government.

“I will be making the case for St Helens borough to get its fair share of the limited money available.

“But what communities really need from the government is the restoration of funding for key public services like schools, hospitals and the police, which the Tories have drastically cut over the past ten years.

“Given the cynical way the Prime Minister has announced this and the strong rumours her motives in doing so was to encourage MPs into voting for her deal, I will also ensure these funds will be distributed fairly and transparently.”