Levelling-up given £1billion boost as Rishi Sunak pledges to revive towns

Rishi Sunak named fifty-five “rundown” towns chosen to benefit from his Levelling Up windfall.

Reviving these neglected “red wall” communities is key to the PM’s chances of winning the general election expected next autumn.

He sees this investment as vital in transforming towns plagued by yobs and a lack of opportunity. By dealing with eyesore empty shops and improving transport into high streets, he wants to kickstart growth and bring prosperity back to these former industrial centres.

The Prime Minister says successive governments have focused on cities, vowing: “That changes today.” The fifty-five towns will each receive £20million during the next decade to tackle priorities set by their communities.

The launch of the “long-term plan for towns” comes as Conservatives gather in Manchester for what may be the last party conference before the next election.

Worryingly for the Prime Minister, exclusive polling shows half of Britons think the North-South divide has got worse in the past five years – and only one in twenty thinks it has improved.

Town boards will be set up to drive the regeneration of “left behind” communities, bringing together community leaders, employers, local authorities and the local MP.

Mr Sunak said: “Towns are the place most of us call home and where most of us go to work. But politicians have always taken towns for granted and focused on cities.

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“The result is half-empty high streets, run-down shopping centres and anti-social behaviour that under-mine many towns’ prosperity and hold back people’s opportunity – and without a new approach, these problems will only get worse.

“That changes today. Our long-term plan for towns puts funding in the hands of local people to invest in line with their priorities, over the long term. That is how we level up.”

The Government wants to “put an end to people feeling like their town is ignored by Westminster” and instead empower communities to “take back control”.

Under the plans, new regeneration powers will be used to auction-off empty high street shops, change licensing rules and bring more housing into town centres.

Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove said: “We know that in our towns the values of hard work and solidarity, common sense and common purpose, endeavour and quiet patriotism have endured across generations. But for too long, too many of our great British towns have been overlooked and undervalued.

“We are putting this right. This will empower communities in every part of the UK to take back control of their future, taking long-term deci-sions in the interests of local people.

“It will mean more jobs, more opportunities and a brighter future for our towns and the people who live and work in them.”

A new “towns taskforce” will report directly to Mr Sunak and Mr Gove.

The initiative comes amid deep concern about inequality in the UK.

Polling by WeThink for the Sunday Express found twenty-one per cent said the North-South divide has got “much worse” in the past half-decade, with twenty-nine per cent saying it is a “little worse”. Forty-four per cent said it is “about the same”.

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Four per cent said it has got “a little better” and only one per cent said it is “much better”. Conservative MPs determined to secure improvements for the region will tomorrow launch a “Manifesto for the North” at the party conference.

The Northern Research Group wants a government commitment to build half a million homes, deliver a rail link between Liverpool and Hull, and appoint a dedicated cabinet minister, alongside a pledge not to increase the overall tax burden.

Chairman John Stevenson said voters in the North of England would play a pivotal role in deciding the outcome of the next election. He said: “With the North acting as kingmakers for the next election, the Government must listen to northern voices.

Our manifesto addresses this, presenting tangible steps that ensure the North’s vast potential is actively harnessed.”

Just as public funds are allocated to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland under the “Barnett for-mula”, the MPs want a similar one for English regions to ensure “equitable funding”.

They are also calling for “parity in educational funding in the North” and want a “Royal Com-mission on healthcare provision”.

To ensure issues affecting the North are a government priority, they want a Secretary of State for the North and a select committee for the North in Parliament.

Mr Stevenson said: “Our manifesto outlines a vision for a revitalised North, a region that can not only match the prosperity of the South but can lead in many areas.

“For the Conservative Party to win the next election, the Manifesto for the North underlines the importance of investing in the region, ensuring its growth, and making certain its voice is heard in Westminster.”

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