So the Conservative Government have deployed, yet again, one of their favourite tricks… rolling up a decade’s worth of theoretical spending and publishing a big number.
Devon towns ignored in Government funding scheme
I’m in favour of properly funded local councils with local people taking decisions on local priorities. So I am sceptical of the recent £1 billion pound (over 10 years so actually more like £100 million a year) promised by Prime Minister Sunak for 50+ towns. The scheme will add another layer of bureaucracy to local decision making and looks suspiciously like an effort to buy local votes in the run up to the General Election.
Setting to one-side my concerns about the bureaucracy and the cynicism of the Conservatives in promoting ‘pork-barrel’ politics it is none-the-less instructive.
Not a single town in central Devon gets any support for their high street. Indeed only one town in Devon, Torquay, gets anything. So, nothing for Ashburton, Bovey Tracey, Buckfastleigh, Crediton, Moretonhampstead or Okehampton. With a ‘blue-wall’ of Conservative MPs throughout the South West all sitting on good majorities the Government have obviously decided they can take the support of local residents for granted.
Devon is a rural county and depends heavily on its towns. Indeed, if we want to reduce the use of cars and their impact on the environment, we need thriving high streets in our towns where people shop rather than heading for the county’s cities and out-of-town shopping centres.
The squeeze on local council budgets by the Conservatives has also been a squeeze on high streets. To supplement diminishing council tax revenues and block grants inevitably councils have looked to other income sources. It is of little surprise that parking charges have been an easy thing to increase year on year, despite the impact this has on footfall in our high streets.
The real solution to sustaining our high streets comes with empowering local councils. Liberal Democrat run Mid Devon Council has tabled plans to support high street retailers in the run up to Christmas, with some free parking in Crediton, Tiverton and Cullompton on the five Saturdays before Christmas. Of course, there will be a cost to the Council, but it will not necessitate more bureaucracy, and would be a direct and immediate help to retailers, and to people struggling through the cost-of-living crisis.
Liberal Democrat Prospective Parliamentary Candidate Central Devon