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Sunday, July 14, 2024

Reeves vows Labour would continue Tory-backed Levelling Up projects hit by delays

Rachel Reeves has vowed that a Labour government would honour Tory commitments to major Levelling Up projects in the North East that are yet to get off the ground.

There are multiple examples of schemes across the region that have won cash from pots like the Levelling Up Fund over recent years but have been hit by delays.

A major revamp of Newcastle’s Grainger Market, backed by £8.2 million of Levelling Up cash, is one where work is yet to begin – despite the cash being approved in October 2021.

The building of a new leisure centre for the outer west of the city, in West Denton, is also yet to go ahead and has been hit by rising costs.

There were also calls recently for more clarity on the future of £30 million regeneration plans in Ashington, partly backed by the government, with county council bosses saying in March that business cases were still being developed for the investment programme.

Speaking to the Local Democracy Reporting Service during a visit to the target seat of Bishop Auckland on Tuesday, Labour’s shadow chancellor vowed that none of those pipeline projects would be at risk of having their funding pulled if the general election produces a change in government on July 4.

She said: “We are not going to be taking any money out of the Levelling Up pot, we want to deliver the projects that are in the pipeline. It is this government that has stalled, dithered and delayed.

“We want to get on and will work with our MPs  and our mayor, Kim McGuinness, to make sure we can deliver the projects that have been promised.”

After a tour of the Teescraft factory in Bishop Auckland, a constituency that Labour lost to the Tories in 2019 but opinion polls suggest they are on course to regain next month, Ms Reeves talked up plans to create thousands of green energy jobs in the North East and reaffirmed a commitment to help save Newton Aycliffe’s Hitachi plant.

The shadow chancellor accused Rishi Suank of being “not committed to Levelling Up”, after the Prime Minister faced criticism over his plans to wind up the UK Shared Prosperity Fund pot by 2028 and use its resources to pay for a proposed national service scheme for 18-year-old.

Ms Reeves said: “Just last weekend when he announced his teenage Dad’s Army conscription scheme, more than £1 billion of that funding was coming from the Levelling Up budget. That is not a government and not a Prime Minister that is serious about Levelling Up.

“What Boris Johnson offered five years ago has not been delivered and not been taken forward by Rishi Sunak. By contrast, Labour are committed to Levelling Up. The 35,000 jobs through the Green Prosperity Plan and keeping the [Hitachi] factory open at Newton Aycliffe are the clearest examples of that.”

The PM insisted last week that he was “absolutely committed to levelling up”, while the Tories have pledged to give £20 million to 30 towns across the country as part of their election promises.

Mr Sunak said last week: “Labour’s record in government shows they don’t care about towns – neglecting their needs, allowing them to decline and focusing instead on cities.

“Sir Keir Starmer has no plan to unlock opportunities in towns and would take us back to square one.

“Building on our strong track record of levelling up in Teesside and the Midlands, we will go further across the country to build a secure future for our children and grandchildren.”

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