Kirklees Council Leader Cllr Shabir Pandor says the government’s Spring Budget does not go far enough in supporting the people of Kirklees.
Yesterday (March,15), Chancellor Jeremy Hunt set out the budget which he described as a “Budget for growth.” Mr Hunt outlined a number of measures including the extension of 30 free childcare hours to children from the age of nine months and more stringent criteria for Universal Credit claimants to ‘encourage people into work’.
The Chancellor also revealed a £200m allocation for regeneration projects which will directly impact Kirklees. Cllr Pandor said: “In yesterday’s budget, the Chancellor said that the focus for the government is on growing the economy, a priority we share in Kirklees. As part of the budget, the government announced £5.6million of funding to redevelop Marsden Mills through the Levelling Up Fund (LUF).
“In August last year, Kirklees Council submitted a bid for the LUF aimed at bringing Marsden Mills, a long-vacant historic mill complex in Marsden town centre, back into use. Despite news that the bid had been unsuccessful, the project is now able to go ahead thanks to the unexpected funding boost.
“We knew when we submitted our bids that we had projects that matched our ambitious vision for investment in our local economy – the fact that another of our bids, we were previously successful with a bid for Batley, has been awarded funding shows that we were right.
“Our two other LUF bids, for the Penistone Line and Northumberland Street, Huddersfield, were not awarded any government funding despite both having well thought out, robust proposals that would make a huge difference to our communities. We will continue to pursue potential funding streams for these projects.
“The introduction of Investment Zones, including West Yorkshire, is something we will be looking at with a keen interest. We hope that the £80million in funding will be fairly allocated across the region and can be used to invest in our priority regeneration plans.
“The £200million of extra funding for local authorities for potholes schemes will, if administered swiftly and proportionately, contribute to our already comprehensive highways investment capital plan and help us to maintain an ever demanding road network with an ever reducing budget. However, there is currently a £300 million gap in funding to bring our roads to a decent and acceptable standard. Our share of the £200 million won’t be enough to make a real impact.
“The government has attempted, with this budget, to provide much needed support to struggling families with the provision of free childcare for one- and two-year-olds. This will go some way to removing the barriers of unaffordable childcare. We also welcome the continuation of the Energy Price Guarantee until April and changes to prepayment energy meter charges.
“Whilst there are positives we can take from this government budget, it does not go far enough in supporting the people of Kirklees, especially when it comes to maintaining our leisure centres.
“Local authorities, including Kirklees Council, are the largest public investor in culture, tourism and sport. In England, councils are responsible for over 2,700 leisure centres, 33 percent of all swimming pools and 13 percent of sports halls. Without the dedication from local authorities there would likely be far fewer sports facilities available to local people.
“Whilst we welcome any additional support for leisure centres, the government’s decision to support them by investing in their decarbonisation and long term energy efficiency does not put funding where it is needed most. This will not save our swimming pools and does not address the immediate issue of rising energy and salary costs which unfortunately led to the decision to temporarily close some of Kirklees Active Leisure sites. I would call on the government to provide support that will help keep our leisure centres open in real terms.
“The £63 million of funding announced will be allocated through a competitive process and is focussed around developing schemes that are deemed to be energy efficient, although the criteria is not yet clear. The government needs to understand that our leisure centres need funding to stay open right now, not after lengthy retrofitting or years into a capital delivery scheme.
“I look forward to seeing these funding promises come to fruition and will continue to speak up for the needs of Kirklees, its residents and its businesses.”