The leader of St Helens Council has warned a potential £25 million windfall to help boost economic growth will not reverse the impacts of a decade of funding cuts.
Last week St Helens was named by the government as one of 100 places invited to develop proposals that could see them secure up to £25 million.
The towns eligible for support from the £3.6 billion Towns Fund include places with proud industrial and economic heritage that have not benefitted from economic growth in the same way as more prosperous areas.
Communities, businesses and local leaders will now draw up plans to transform economic growth with a focus on improved transport, broadband connectivity, skills and culture.
St Helens Council leader David Baines said it will now work with partners and stakeholders to access “as much of this funding as possible”.
Coun Baines said: “It’s great news that St Helens borough will hopefully be able to benefit from up to £25 million of funding from the Towns Fund.
“This money is intended to be used to help with economic growth with a focus on transport, broadband connectivity, skills and culture.
“These are areas which absolutely would benefit from investment, and the council will be working with partners and stakeholders to access as much of this funding as possible.”
While welcoming the news, Coun Baines warned the potential cash will not offset the reduction in local government funding over the last decade.
Coun Baines said: “Due to government cuts since 2010 St Helens is now £90 million a year worse off, so it’s important we don’t think this one-off pot of funding will solve all our issues.
“But it’s a start, and we’ll be doing all we can to get every penny and to spend it well.”
Coun Allan Jones, leader of the St Helens Conservative group, is not convinced St Helens Council will submit a successful bid.
He pointed to the council’s recent failed bid for a slice of the government’s £675 million Future High Streets Fund to revitalise the nation’s high streets.
“The last bid failed, and this will undoubtedly fail again because of the calibre of people putting the bid together,” Coun Jones said.
The Towns Fund came days after Chancellor Sajid Javid outlined £13.8 billion of investment in areas including health, education and the police, in the 2019 Spending Review.
Mr Javid said local councils will get £1.5 billion for social care next year, with a 2 per cent council tax precept to be used to raise £500 million.
The Chancellor announced an extra £750 million for policing to begin the recruitment of 20,000 additional officers by 2023.
He also announced an extra £45 million so recruitment can start immediately, with the aim to have 2,000 officers in place by the end of March.
A range of spending boosts were announced in education, which will see school spending increase over three years by £7.1 billion.
Mr Javid also reaffirmed the five-year settlement for the NHS with an additional £33.9 billion more per year by 2023-24 compared to 2018-19 budgets.
Following the announcements, Labour shadow chancellor John McDonnell described the spending review as an “electioneering stunt”.
The review has also been met with scepticism from the leader of St Helens Council.
He said the additional funds are a “drop in the ocean” compared to what the council has lost through the government’s austerity agenda.
Coun Baines said: “The headline announcements in the Comprehensive Spending Review of increases in funding for local government and public services give the impression that austerity is over. However, nothing could be further from the truth.
“As always, the devil is in the detail and, while we wait for a lot of that detail to come forward, much of the supposed new funding comes from government assumed rises in council tax and business rates.
“Also, the announcement of £1.5 billion for adult and children’s social care combined is an insult when we consider that currently adult social care alone has a national spending gap of up to £8 billion, and children’s services around £1.4 billion.
“The Spending Review announcements are barely a drop in the ocean compared to what local government and public services have had taken away.”
The council leader’s comments have been dismissed by Coun Jones, who said he was “sick, tired and fed up” about hearing about effects of austerity on the Labour-run council.
Coun Jones said: “We have a Labour council in Wigan who have been subjected to the same financial restraints and they are doing a very good job for their people.
“St Helens Council is a complete failure to the people.”