East of England to get smallest share of £1.6bn ‘Brexit bribe’ pot for deprived towns

Lee McPhee says the Leave vote must be carried through. Photo: Yui Mok/PA Wire

Lee McPhee says the Leave vote must be carried through. Photo: Yui Mok/PA Wire - Credit: PA

The east of England will get the smallest share of a £1.6bn government fund to boost run-down towns after Brexit.

The move has been dubbed a 'Brexit bribe' by political opponents who say it is aimed at trying to influence Labour MPs in Leave-supporting areas to back prime minister Theresa May's withdrawal agreement in crunch Commons votes.

The area set to benefit most was the north west, which will get £281m, the equivalent of £39.95 per person. While the east of England will get just £25m, equal to £4.11 per person. The money, which will see the investment over several years, will be aimed at creating new jobs, helping train local people and boosting economic activity.

Some £1bn has already been allocated while £600m will be available for communities anywhere in the country to bid on.

Conservative MP for Broadland Keith Simpson said although he recognised his constituency was not among the most deprived, there were areas such as Great Yarmouth or King's Lynn which could do with the cash. He said: 'I'm disappointed that more money is not coming to parts of East Anglia.'

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Norwich South MP, Labour's Clive Lewis, said: 'This is a desperate Tory bribe to try and get MPs to back this government's terrible Brexit.

'And it's a bribe that doesn't even come close to making up for the damage that's been done since the Tories got in since 2010. They are offering £25m for the whole region when Norfolk County Council alone has been forced to make almost £400m of savings since the Tories got in.'

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But Conservative Chloe Smith, for Norwich North, said: 'This fund is a good idea, and is a positive opportunity for Norwich. Norwich, Norfolk, and East Anglia should make the most of it as it is about helping create more good jobs in some of our communities that need support.'

And Sir Henry Bellingham, Conservative MP for North West Norfolk, added that although there were pockets of deprivation the area has 'historically low unemployment'.

He said: 'Bearing this in mind the £25m is most welcome and I will be meeting ministers to lobby hard for some of it to be allocated to regeneration schemes in Lynn and Hunstanton.'

North Norfolk MP for the Liberal Democrats Norman Lamb said both the east of England's share, and the overall fund, was 'puny'. He said: 'It's an insult to Norfolk in particular as it has real pockets of deprivation.'

Tory Mid-Norfolk MP George Freeman said many areas, particularly small towns and rural communities, felt left behind by a London economy in which they do not reap the rewards.

While he said he is pleased that the government has announced £1.6bn for 'left behind towns' it must be 'the first step of a bigger programme of national renewal following Brexit.

Mr Freeman said: 'For over three years I've been urging the government to recognise that many people voted Brexit in disillusionment at a lack of economic fairness.'

But communities secretary James Brokenshire said the money would be 'transformative' and was not conditional on support for the prime minister's withdrawal agreement. Meanwhile, the attorney general is set to return to Brussels this week for more talks on the backstop following reports the had abandoned key Brexiteer demands.

Conservative MP Peter Aldous raised concerns over the cash in the House of Commons yesterday.

He said: 'Lowestoft is a town with a proud history that faces significant challenges, including deep pockets of deprivation. However, there is an exciting future in which government can play a pivotal role in unlocking potential.

'My concern is that the money from the coastal communities fund is spread thinly around the coast, and the east of England is at the bottom of the table of regional beneficiaries of this fund, so resources will not be available to unlock that potential.'

Mr Brokenshire said: 'Today's announcement has two elements: the £1 billion—he references the £25m notional allocation to the east of England—and the £600m for competitive bids. Lowestoft should be positive, put in its submission and get the concept of its own town deal together, so we can pool resources, through the coastal communities fund, the future high streets fund and this fund, and it can have a bright, positive future.'

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