Newcastle MP accuses Government of pre-election gimmicks over town centre funding

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28 Aug 2019
His comments came after ministers announced over the bank holiday weekend that the town would, after all, be allowed to participate in the next phase of the £1 billion so-called Future High Streets Fund. The cash grant will go towards helping it draw up a full bid for an award of up to £25 million, if successful, for struggling town centres.

Last month, however, the town was turned down for the scheme and the reversal comes after
the Conservatives’ election of Boris Johnson as the new Prime Minister, raising suspicions about the motives behind the sudden change of mind.

‘Surprise, surprise - with a snap general election in the offing, there’s been a re-think as part of a veritable tsunami of Government press releases following Boris Johnson’s installation at No. 10,’ Mr Farrelly said in reaction to the move.

‘No-one, clearly, should be deceived. Firstly, there’s no guarantee in all this of any meaningful money for town centres, struggling in austerity. There will, however, be yet another bonanza for consultants in the meantime.’

‘To make real difference, they need to reverse the massive cuts to Councils since 2010.’

The Future High Street Fund is a drop in the ocean compared to cuts suffered by Councils, equating to less than 2 per cent of English local authority spending. According to the Local Government Association, by 2020 Councils will have lost 60% of their central funding.  

‘What they also need to do is address exorbitant business rates on retailers and finally level the tax playing field on the likes of Amazon - and that’s only for starters,’ Mr Farrelly added.

‘What towns like Newcastle need, too, is imaginative, medium term planning - but, of course, you also need people to do that, not incessant, austerity-driven cuts to Council jobs. Our towns also need the powers, as well as wherewithal, to take their future into their own hands.’

‘Ironically, Boris’ new Secretary of State for Local Government Robert Jenrick was the Conservative candidate in Newcastle in the 2010 general election. He lost, but after getting a plum by-election since, he’s supported all the cuts that have hit places like Newcastle and whole areas like North Staffordshire so very, very hard.’

‘Newcastle is now run again by the Conservatives, by the same leadership - ironically again, too - which blew all the £50 million of reserves, which had been saved by Labour locally for rainy days, following the transfer of Council Housing to Aspire years ago.’

‘While any new funding is welcome, having those reserves still would have made a real difference for investment in derelict sites, and compulsory purchases of failed developments like the speculative student flats at the old Jubilee baths – now an eyesore overlooking the Queen’s Gardens in our town centre.’