Rossendale Free Press
Funding merry-go-round is such a disappointment
WHEN it comes to levelling up the North, it turns out that not all parts of the North are of equal importance.
Last week, the plans to spend many millions of pounds regenerating Bacup threatened to go from being an exciting project to yet another long, twisting saga.
The Future High Streets Fund was a government kitty of cash set up during last year to help kick start plans to reinvigorate town centres across the UK, and was to see up to £1bn being shared across the country.
It became mired in political controversy when Labour claimed the Government was, in the mainm, pushing money in the direction of consistituencies which were already Tory, or one it wanted to become Tory.
The Tories denied this. As it happens, many of the constituencies which converted from Red to Blue in the 2019 general election in the North did indeed receive seed funding to start working up their town centre plans - but it seems a bit far-fetched to think this was on people’s minds when they went to the ballot box.
Bacup got £150k of funding to work up exciting plans, but even the start was bumpy for Bacup. Jake Berry, with his old Northern Powerhouse Minister hat on, told the Radio 4 Today programme in July 2019 that Bacup had received funding but hours later it transpired it hadn’t. It’s never been terribly clear where the confusion occurred.
A few weeks later,
Bacup was indeed added to the list of towns getting support, and a lot of time, effort and creativity was put into the plans. The
Bacup 2040 vision emerged, including a new market hall and a square which would become a focal point for the town. Plans for a budget hotel, shops and cycle parking were all included.
Sadly, on Boxing Day, we learnt that Bacup’s plans hadn’t won the support of the Government to receive even a sliver of the £1bn on offer to improve town centres.
In fact, nowhere in Lancashire has been guaranteed funding, although Rochdale and Bolton (not Lancashire I know) have been offered provisional funding.
What’s clear is the government offered support to far more towns (and indeed cities - it turns out Bacup was competing with Sunderland and Sheffield!) than it had money to support. To that end, the claims of electioneering with government cash from critics will ring once again.
Local councillors are putting a brave face on the disappointment, insisting that this isn’t the end of the road for the regeneration of Bacup. Of course it isn’t - but why does it have to be so complicated and drawn out?
The constant merry-goround of beauty parades our council has to participate in to get funding to help improve the area might make for exciting government press releases, but it’s also a sure-fire way to disappoint people on a regular basis.
This isn’t a criticism of the council - it can only work within the rules set down for it.
However, the challenge now lies squarely with
Jake Berry. No longer the Northern Powerhouse Minister, he’s still accountable for getting hopes up in Bacup, and should now set out how he intends to deliver on the plans Bacup needs - and how he’ll get a government which appears to have turned its back on Bacup to pay attention again.
The Scribbler’s views do not necessarily represent those of the Free Press.