Leader disappointed at broken ‘levelling up’ promises

The Leader of North Devon Council has expressed his disappointment at a recent government announcement, which puts North Devon in the bottom priority category for a new package of funding to help areas recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The new Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, last week revealed details of its spending plans for Britain, against the backdrop of the coronavirus outbreak, and its promises to ‘level up’ the country. The Chancellor announced a £600 billion investment in infrastructure and ‘three-point plan’ in response to the coronavirus, repeatedly stating that his Budget would “get things done”.

Sunak’s budget detailed which areas in England and Wales are considered to be a priority for ‘levelling up’ funds. The Levelling Up fund is a pot of £4.8billion which has been designed to help provide investment for areas where it will make the biggest difference, which the Government’s guidance states includes “deprived towns and coastal communities”.

North Devon Council leader David Worden has raised concerns that the spending plans haven’t gone far enough to tackle regional inequality, with North Devon being placed in the third – and bottom – priority category. 

The council points to a number of statistics that demonstrate how North Devon aligns with the levelling up agenda set by the government for prioritising the districts – a need for economic recovery and growth; a need for improved transport connectivity; and a need for regeneration: 

  • North Devon has the seventh lowest total residence-based earning in the UK, out of 370 districts
  • Universal Credit claimant rates of almost 11% in Ilfracombe town centre compared to a UK average of 6.3%
  • Some neighbourhoods within Ilfracombe and Barnstaple are among the most deprived 10% in England
  • 32nd highest rate of furlough uptake by November 2020 (14.2%) out of 312 districts
  • Ilfracombe and Barnstaple highlighted as being in the highest 5% of economically exposed towns (April 2020) by the Centre for Towns due to the fragility and seasonality of their local coastal economies
  • Recent Institute for Fiscal Studies analysis put North Devon’s economy among the most impacted by Coronavirus nationally

Councillor Worden says: “On behalf of the residents of North Devon, I am extremely disappointed that our district hasn’t done better from this announcement. Many of the statistics that we have seen show North Devon has been significantly affected by the pandemic with some of our towns being the most affected in the county and wider south west; Ilfracombe in particular has been disproportionately affected. 

“The statistics speak for themselves; North Devon is in need of support and this has not been reflected in the so-called ‘levelling up’ process; instead what we’ve seen is a new devolution deal in the north, with promises to move jobs out of London up to the north.

“I’m bitterly disappointed that the Government hasn’t lived up to its promises, but we will continue to call for fairer funding and to fight for the powers and resources we need to deliver good services for our residents.”

Last month, the UK2070 Commission published an independent inquiry into the deep-rooted inequalities which have “blighted” Britain. Commission chairman Lord Kerslake said: “In many parts of the UK people feel they have been left behind by the growth in wealth and opportunity elsewhere. To succeed, we need to think about north and south, towns and cities, and urban and rural. The issues of economic underperformance and wellbeing affect all parts of the UK.”

Britain’s Leading Edge – a coalition of local councils and MPs from across England – also said that the majority of public funding and investment decisions go in favour of a “policy corridor” that neglects rural regions.

Over the last 10 years, North Devon Council’s budget has shrunk significantly. Despite this, the council has continued to deliver for local communities, providing vital services for people across the district daily.

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