Is Dewsbury's £25m government windfall an election bribe?

Is Dewsbury's £25m government windfall an election bribe?

DEWSBURY could be in line for a £25m Government windfall – but the news has been met with scepticism by opposition politicians.

The Conservatives have announced that 100 towns across England will receive extra funding from a pot of £3.6bn to regenerate areas that have struggled with post-industrial decline, austerity and long-term under-investment.

Dewsbury is the only town in Kirklees to make the Stronger Towns Fund list, with Morley and Wakefield also named.

Councils will work with businesses and community groups to bid for up to £25m for each town.

Although local politicians believe the money could help tackle the decline of places like Dewsbury, some are suspicious that the present government won’t follow through with their promises and claim it could also be seen as an election ‘bribe’.

Research has shown that 94 out of the 100 towns announced are in Leave-voting areas, mostly in the north or midlands, that could be considered Tory target or marginal seats in a looming general election.

Mark Eastwood, the Conservative parliamentary candidate for Dewsbury, is more positive about the scheme. 

He said: “I am thrilled Dewsbury will receive a share in the £3.6bn Stronger Towns Fund and local business and community leaders can come up with the proposals to help regenerate the community here.

“As someone who has lived in the town for a good number of years, I firmly believe Dewsbury still has great potential and possibilities and this vital funding will have a big impact in helping us improve the lives of people here.

“Whilst this investment is great news for Dewsbury, since its formation in 1974 Kirklees Council has put forward several plans and frameworks for our town, all of which have failed due to taxpayers’ money being frittered away on ill thought-out vanity projects.

“Therefore it is important that this extra funding is invested correctly and I am looking forward to working with people to develop the right plans to benefit everybody living and working in our town.”

Kirklees Council says it will be working with communities, businesses and local leaders to draw up plans to transform the town’s economic growth prospects with a focus on improved transport, broadband connectivity, skills and culture.

Labour MP for Dewsbury Paula Sherriff said: “I’m pleased to see this long overdue opportunity for investment in our area, which has suffered the cuts inflicted by successive Conservative governments over the past decade.

“Dewsbury people are fed up of the decline of our town centre – quite rightly, they’re sick of dilapidated buildings, empty shops and anti-social behaviour.

“Unprecedented cuts to council budgets, youth services and policing have left communities without the tools essential to ensuring the future prosperity of our high streets. I have asked the government again and again, what strategy they have for turning around this decline – sadly ministers have failed to give me a proper answer. 

“I’m pleased that finally there’s some recognition of the need to address the bitter frustration that stems from areas like ours having been held back for decades without serious investment, while regions like London and the south-east have become wealthier.

“This is only the first stage of a bidding process and we need greater clarity over the actual funds allocated to the scheme. But whether £3m, or £25m, it will take a great deal more to make up for the damage that has been done – and even then it is questionable whether it will be delivered.

“Local people will remember that days before the 2015 general election, the Conservative Chancellor committed to Dewsbury becoming an Enterprise Zone within 100 days of the election – a pledge that was ditched without apology in the months that followed.

“Dewsbury residents will be understandably suspicious of the timing of this announcement and its authenticity, coming from a Tory government who have failed to come through on past election promises for our town. 

“We need radical action to overhaul our town and not piecemeal election pledges. While I welcome this small investment, we need action not words to transform our town.”

Coun Peter McBride, cabinet member for regeneration, said: “We are working on exciting and ambitious plans to regenerate Dewsbury town centre which will build on the investment we have already made there. 

“Dewsbury is one of 100 towns bidding for this money and I hope we’re successful. We welcome any funding that would help add to our regeneration plans for the town. Improving all of our town centres is a key priority for us.”

Dewsbury East councillor Cathy Scott added: “I welcome the fact that there is a £25m investment in Dewsbury. However what I do question, or would like an answer from the Prime Minister, is this new money for our town or existing funding that has been consolidated under one heading to make it look like new investment? I think there should be more clarity where this money is actually coming from.”

Fellow Labour councillor Paul Kane said: “This is welcome funding and we will be working hard to ensure the bids put in for these funds attempt to meet the needs of the community and increase the retail experience in the town as well as the regeneration plans the council already has.

“I also think that we should enter this award with a little bit of scepticism; things are offered at election time which seem to disappear afterwards.”

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