Levelling Down

This week I attended Full Council, the formal meeting where council business is conducted and political priorities are debated. As always, I was pleased to speak up for the people of the area on a number of issues.

The most feisty part of the evening was the debate around the issue of ‘Levelling Up’. Just in case you haven’t heard, we had been hoping to receive government funding for a £20 million package of really important regeneration projects in North Shields and Wallsend. Earlier on Thursday, just hours before the meeting, we had learned that our proposal had been rejected, and the money given instead to a range of questionable projects elsewhere. As I said on the night:

“The number one criteria appears to be shiny projects that present photo opportunities for government ministers”.

Here’s the main takeaway that I think all residents of North Tyneside really need to know: the Conservative government has deliberately excluded us from its so-called Levelling Up agenda. We are now fighting with one hand tied behind our back. Right back at the beginning of the Levelling Up story decisions were made in Westminster that put the whole of the UK into priority areas, using a 3 tier system. Realistically, you have to be in Tier 1 to receive any meaningful funding.

It is staggering that whilst every one of our neighbours was placed into tier 1 we were put into tier 2. It’s even more staggering when you consider that the arithmetic the Treasury claims to use combines the following priorities:

  • Need for Economic recovery and growth
  • Need for improved transport connectivity
  • Need for regeneration

How can North Tyneside not be a tier 1 area based on those factors? It beggars belief. And yet video footage exists of Rishi Sunak bragging to his Tory friends about how he is undoing Labour’s earlier work that prioritised funding to deprived areas. All this means that no matter how important and ambitious our plans are the ‘scoring’ of our proposals will be ‘capped’. Therefore, less convincing ideas from Tier 1 areas will always leapfrog us for funding. We are seeing this happening again and again.

The council meeting got a bit feisty because the Conservative councillors freely conceded that this set up is totally unfair. They also claimed to be upset about it on behalf of residents. And yet when it came to really stepping up by challenging their Westminster-based leaders about it, they sat on their hands and abstained from the vote. I trust that the canny folk of Shields will remember that at the next election.

Read more about the Levelling Up debacle on BBC News:

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