Earlier this week, I appeared on Channel 5 News to speak about the government’s proposed ‘Stronger Towns fund’, a scheme aimed at boosting growth in disadvantaged areas after Brexit. In principle, I am very much supportive of additional funding for Sandwell and other areas like it, which have too often been overlooked in the spending priorities of successive governments. But I fear that this policy lacks the ambition required to make any difference to the problems that the government claims to be addressing.
Only £1.6 Billion has been committed to this fund-and even this will be spread out over 6 years, amounting to little more than £250 Million annually. This is small change in the context of a vast government budget which comes to over £800 Billion each year. It also does not come close to giving back the money that has been taken out of our communities over the past decade by cuts, which according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, would require additional spending of £19 Billion a year to reverse.
Things are little better when you look at the local figures. An average spend of only £35 Million a year has been allocated to the entire West Midlands region as part of this fund. To put this in context, it is worth pointing out that David Jamieson, the Police and Crime Commissioner for the West Midlands metropolitan county, has said that our Police Force needs £85 Million is needed to get to grips with rising crime- a threat which has reared its head frequently in the last few weeks, with tragic consequences. Separately, schools had a funding shortfall of £226 Million across the entire West Midlands region, and £18.4 Million in Sandwell alone.
Investing in communities that have been falling behind economically should be one of the first priorities of this government-but instead, what we seem to be getting is a derisory sum than is more aimed at rescuing the Prime Minister from a second humiliating defeat on her Brexit deal next week than ensuring the prosperity of towns such as Wednesbury, Oldbury, and Tipton.