When we talk about levelling up, there is one fundamental point that the Government would rather we all forgot: we cannot level up the country without properly resourcing local government. Councils up and down the country should be at the forefront of investment and regeneration. Councils, combined authorities and Mayors will be delivering the infrastructure and regeneration projects that will level up our cities, towns and villages, but more than a decade of devastating austerity has undermined them, and damaged our communities. It has hit the poorest areas hardest. The areas that need regeneration the most have been left with the least to deliver it. High streets that need investment to change for the economy of tomorrow have been left behind in yesterday, while local budgets have been decimated.
Barnsley Council has faced some of the worst Government cuts in the country, and has lost 40% of its income since 2010. For the services that have been decimated and the opportunities for investment that have been lost to austerity, the concept of levelling up could be a very welcome one, but one-off pots of money will not change a broken system that leaves behind so many people and so many parts of the country.
There is something wrong with the system when the Chancellor’s constituency of Richmond (Yorks) is prioritised over Barnsley in the Budget, even though, on almost every indicator, Barnsley is more deserving of funding. That leaves “levelling up” as no more than a slogan. We need to look more fundamentally at the kind of country we are and how and who our economy has been working for. The people of this country have been promised better, and deserve better. Our councils and communities deserve the resources that they need to thrive, not just get by.
If the Government want to level up for Barnsley, they should implement the recommendations of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee report on the mineworkers’ pension scheme, which had unanimous cross-party backing—not just because it is morally the right thing to do and because the Government should not be in the business of profiting from miners’ pensions, but because the policy would change the lives of thousands of ex-miners, giving them an immediate financial uplift that would boost local businesses and economies when they spend.
If the Government want to level up for Barnsley, they should invest in our young people and their futures by delivering a children’s recovery plan that meets the scale of the challenge. Whereas the Labour party would meet that challenge with an ambitious £15 billion programme, this Government could not even muster 10% of what their own education recovery commissioner said was needed before he resigned in opposition to their failure.
If the Government want to level up Barnsley, they should make sure we receive the investment that towns such as ours deserve for regeneration and new, decent jobs, making sure that hard work gets a fair wage. Under this Government, in-work poverty has increased, long-term unemployment is rising at its fastest rate for more than a decade, and the Kickstart scheme has provided opportunities for just one in 25 young people. One-off pots of money for selected areas will not fundamentally rebalance our country or reverse a decade of austerity. We need good jobs, opportunities and properly funded services for every town. If levelling up truly means anything, it must mean delivering for towns such as Barnsley and investing in communities like mine.