Mixed feelings about the government’s new £1billion handout in left-behind towns in South Yorkshire

The government’s new round of levelling up investment has sparked some mixed reactions from leaders in Barnsley and Rotherham.
Rotherham Town Hall.Rotherham Town Hall.
Rotherham Town Hall.

Last week, the government announced the “Long-term Plan for Towns” to help 55 “left-behind towns” would benefit from an additional £1.1billion levelling up investment in the next 10 years to “invest in local people’s priorities”.

It was announced that each town – including Barnsley and Rotherham in South Yorkshire – would receive £20million.

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The money could be spent on regeneration projects, such as the high street or town centres.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said: “Towns are the place most of us call home and where most of us go to work. But politicians have always taken towns for granted and focused on cities.

“The result is the half-empty high streets, run-down shopping centres and anti-social behaviour that undermine many towns’ prosperity and hold back people’s opportunity – and without a new approach, these problems will only get worse.

“That changes today. Our Long-Term Plan for Towns puts funding in the hands of local people themselves to invest in line with their priorities, over the long-term. That is how we level up.”

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However, not everybody is entirely happy with the announcement.

Coun Chris Read, the leader of Rotherham Council, told the local democracy reporting service that the £2m a year would not make up the cuts that have been forced on Rotherham Council over the last decade or so.

Coun Read said: “Any funding is welcome but this announcement from the government, amounting to £2m a year for 10 years, would effectively make up for just one per cent of the cuts that have been forced on Rotherham Council by the Conservatives over the last 13 years.

“It won’t touch the sides of the challenges being faced by our residents. It won’t be enough to fund the bus services we’ve lost, or the police this government cut. Because the Conservatives lost control of our economy it could easily be swallowed by the price rises faced by other grant-funded projects.

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“And given the fact that the money won’t arrive until next summer at the earliest you have to wonder whether we’ll ever see a penny of it at all. More surprisingly perhaps, it seems to be ringfenced for the central Rotherham area, suggesting that our local Conservatives even failed to lobby effectively to secure the promise of it for the areas that they represent.

“If it arrives we will of course find ways to get the best value out of it for our hard-pressed communities, but I won’t be holding my breath.”

At the same time, Coun Sir Steve Houghton, the leader of Barnsley Council, added that Barnsley welcomes the additional funding but would need to know more about the scheme before it could decide what to do with it.

He said: “We welcome the additional £20m of funding from the government as part of their Long-Term Plan for Towns; it’s a positive step forward for Barnsley and our residents.

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“This money will allow us to continue to invest and believe in the possibilities of the town, making it a place that fosters and grows ambition, enabling everyone to be the best they can be.

“At the moment, we need more information before we can draw up detailed plans, but we will work with external stakeholders in Barnsley to do this in the coming months.”