Cornwall Council Leader Adam Paynter has expressed anger at the £33 million allocated to South West England from the Government’s new £1.6 billion Stronger Towns Fund.
The fund, which according to the Government “will be targeted at places that have not shared in the proceeds of growth in the same way as more prosperous parts of the country”, has allocated only £33 million to the entire South West region.
This compares with £583 million for towns across the North and £322 million for communities in the Midlands (which do, of course, have far larger populations).
The Government said it was allocating the £1 billion Stronger Towns Fund using a needs-based formula, and that another £600m will be available through a bidding process to communities in any part of England.
Responding to the allocation, Cornwall Council Leader Adam Paynter said:
“Once again rural areas like Cornwall are being short-changed by Government as it ploughs investment into the North and the Midlands.
The Government says it is targetting this fund at poorer performing economies where wages and skills are lower. Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly has the lowest GDP per head in the whole of England, and wages that are 80% of the national average.
But because we have a dispersed rural population and smaller towns we are being penalised. I am concerned whether any of the £33m will actually reach Cornwall, and that the bidding process for the unallocated £600m will continue to be skewed to urban areas.
This fund is being billed as creating a more prosperous future beyond Brexit. The truth is that it’s a drop in the ocean compared to the £13 billion in EU funding that UK regions will lose after we exit the European Union. Government needs to wake up to the specific needs of rural areas if it is going to deliver on its promise to rebalance the economy.”
The Government said Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) will be expected to help local communities work up plans for their towns. Government officials said that LEP-level allocations “will come later” and gave no indication exactly how much funding each will receive. There are six LEPs in the South West.
Mark Duddridge, Chair of the Cornwall & Isles of Scilly LEP, said: “We are concerned that a fund touted as helping the poorest performing economies appears to be missing one of the areas most in need. We have the same population as Bristol but our rurality counts against us. It’s a real worry if Government formula for calculating post-Brexit regional support proves incapable of recognising rural areas and the huge contribution they can make to the UK if given the right level of support. Smaller towns that support a wider rural hinterland can be more important than a larger urban centre.”
“The relationship between this Stronger Towns Fund and the promised UK Shared Prosperity Fund, which the government has pledged as the successor to the EU money allocated to areas like Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, is not clear. If the same kind of criteria is used for the allocation of the Shared Prosperity Fund which appears to have been used for the allocation of the Stronger Towns Fund, then Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly could lose out massively.”
With the uncertainty ahead around EU monies, too, Cornwall looks to have even tougher times ahead.