The Green Party parliamentary candidate for Stroud, Pete Kennedy, says the government’s decision not to award Stroud a share of the Levelling Up Fund spells bad news for Conservative MP Siobhan Baillie’s re-election hopes.
Pete Kennedy said:
“The whole Levelling Up agenda is politically motivated, focused on sending money to areas where the Conservatives are hoping to win at the next election – instead of sending the money to where it is needed most and will have the greatest impact in the long term.
“This is a politically driven fund – nothing at all to do with so called ‘levelling up’. The money allocated so far disproportionately benefits people in Conservative seats so the fact that Stroud has got nothing – despite having a Tory MP – seems to indicate that Ms Baillie is out of favour with her own party in government.
“The fact that they have decided not to give Stroud any money – despite Ms Baillie’s support of the bid – suggests that they have now given up on retaining Stroud in the general election. Ms Baillie will now not be able to use a successful LUF bid as part of her election campaign.”
He said the news about the bid was “bitterly disappointing” for the District as a whole.
“The Council spent a lot of time and effort putting the funding application together. A successful bid would have upgraded Stroud and made the town more attractive for visitors and residents, through projects such as improvements to the Sub Rooms forecourt and the Wallbridge area.”
He criticised the government for ignoring areas like Stroud where it sees little chance of winning or retaining seats.
“Rishi Sunak, the Prime Minister, claimed that the fund will ‘grow the economy, create good jobs and spread opportunity everywhere’ and will ‘build a future of optimism and pride in people’s lives and the places they call home’. Unfortunately, he obviously does not think that the residents of Stroud deserve any of these opportunities. Instead of Levelling Up, the Conservatives are ignoring Stroud, while the district’s taxpayers are paying to improve other parts of the country instead. Once again, the Conservatives have let Stroud down.”
He added that the Green-led Stroud District Council remains committed to doing the planned work anyway, albeit now over a longer period.
“Thirteen years of Conservative government has left councils underfunded and public services struggling. The council will continue upgrading Stroud, but without support from the government it will take longer.”
Subsequently the Stroud Times received this response from Stroud MP Siobhan Baillie ‘lambasting’ Pete Kennedy. In reply the coordinators of the Green Party wrote this to the Editor of the Stroud Times:
It was surprising to see Siobhan Baillie lashing out at the Green Parliamentary candidate, Pete Kennedy, in your story this week.Lynn Haanen and Adrian Oldman, Co-coordinators, Stroud District Green Party
Pete’s suggestion that her government’s refusal to award Stroud any Levelling Up Fund cash reflected her lack of influence in government clearly touched a nerve.
Ms Baillie accused Pete of not understanding the bid process but, as is widely recognised, political considerations were clearly a factor when Conservative ministers decided who got the money.
Already the allocation of levelling up funds by “parliamentary constituency” rather than local authority area shows that the fund was aimed at trying to ensure that certain MPs get re-elected.
Analysis by the Guardian reveals that the levelling up money allocated so far disproportionately benefits people in Conservative areas – with voters in these seats getting £19.47 more per head than those in similarly deprived non-Conservative constituencies.
If the Government actually wanted to reduce inequality and regional disparities, it would give the funding directly to the areas in need – rather than making local councils spend millions of pounds bidding against each other. As Andy Street, the Conservative Mayor for the West Midlands has said – the Government’s “bidding and begging bowl culture is broken”.
We had a strong local bid for Stroud, which was developed in partnership with the community and included Stroud Valley Artspace, Dransfield Properties, Stroud Town Council, Stroud Subscription Rooms and Lansdown Hall, and input from Ms Baillie herself. The Stroud bid was strongly aimed at meeting each of the three criteria for the Levelling Up Fund: transport investment, regeneration and town centre investment, and cultural investment.
But unfortunately, submitting a good quality bid which met the funding criteria was never going to be enough when Tory ministers got the final say.
Editor’s note: Sue Fenton writes for the Stroud District Green Party. West England Bylines is not party political and welcomes articles from across the political spectrum.