Rich Sunak Defended the distribution of upgrade funds, saying per capita income was higher in the north of England than in the south.
On a visit to Accrington, Lancashire, he said:
The region with the best per capita subsidy amount is the north. That’s why we’re talking to you in the Accrington market, these are the places to benefit from your money.
Sunak also defended the government’s decision to allocate £19m to the town of Catterick Garrison, in his own relatively wealthy constituency of Richmond, Yorkshire. Asked about the payment, he told the broadcaster:
If you look at the overall funding of the upscaling funds that we’ve done, about two-thirds of all the funding goes to the poorest areas of our country.
All you need to know about Catterick Garrison is that it’s home to our largest military base and is actually home to thousands of active duty personnel who regularly leave their families to serve our country.
Importantly, they have access to a downtown that provides the amenities they need – which is what this funding will provide.
altar Take money from the media now. Anushka Astana First look from ITV. She mentioned a castle in Canterbury that had received funding and asked why such a place would benefit. She said Sunak had more cabinet ministers from Surrey than from the north of England. That’s why leveling money is going south now?
altar Say the Northwest comes out on top for money, followed by the Northeast. Per capita income in the North West was twice that of London and the South East, he said.
And, as for the cabinet, he said what he wanted were ministers who could keep working.
He said as prime minister he represented one of the northernmost constituencies represented by the prime minister.
“It’s hard for me to get home” if he doesn’t deliver for his area.
Philippa Williamson, leader of the Tory-led Lancashire County Council, is now asking questions. She said the council’s increased bid was for greener and safer travel. What do you think about this?
altar Said the government supported an aggressive travel programme. He said he personally doesn’t like cycling much, but it’s important to others.
A woman asked about the pressure on the local RNLI when tourism increased. She said his son was a lifeboat volunteer.
altar Saying this is a good question. They should think about it, he said.
altar Said he wanted to see “a really vibrant downtown”.
Downtown businesses hate business rates. The government is cutting those, he said.
He said people were increasingly shopping online. So the government is changing planning laws. It used to be difficult to obtain permission to change the use of premises. He said the government had changed the rules to make it easier.
He also promoted the government’s business development assistance scheme.
He said he hoped the Eden project would bring more tourists to the town.
altar Tell the audience they don’t have to just ask about Project Eden.
Q: People cannot visit the North without an efficient transportation system. What are you doing?
altar Say the government is doing HS2. He said the government needed to connect the north. Getting to London from his Yorkshire constituency is easy. But getting to Manchester is much more difficult. These services are less reliable.
The government announced a £96bn plan last year to tackle the problem, he said. It will take time, but the journey times will get faster, he said.
The government is also investing in roads, fixing potholes and things like that. It wants to ensure metropolitan areas are like London in that the mayor will have transport powers.
He said the UK has not been good at this in the past. London is so productive because it has the subway. You need to be in other urban areas, he said.
altar Says the government has changed the way student funding is organized.
He said people would be able to get loans to study at the age of 25, 35 or 45.
As the economy changes, people change more frequently, so they need to retrain, he said.
One woman asked how such a program would address health inequalities.
altar Saying that access to open spaces is good for people’s health. Project Eden would be a perfect fit for that, he said.
The NHS is under pressure. The government is recognizing this, he said. In the fall statement, they had to make some tough decisions. The government prioritizes the NHS. Billions of additional funds are being poured in. But he acknowledged that judging by the news, things don’t appear to be working.
He said it was because of many things. Flu season is tough. The NHS is still recovering from Covid.
He said millions of people are on the waiting list. But the government has plans to lower that figure. It makes sure that things like hip surgery are done in different places so that when big hospitals are under pressure, operations can go ahead.
The government has also taken steps to speed up hospital discharges.
Sunak said they won’t get there overnight. But he spent a lot of time on it. The other day, he said, he had been meeting all Saturday to discuss the issue. They focus on identifying best practice and extending it.
He said he would announce how this would be done through urgent care in the next few weeks.
altar Said he wanted to change the way people think about where to live. He wants to show people that change can happen.
He cites Teesside as an example. When the steel mills closed there, people didn’t know what the future held. Now it’s “full of optimism and excitement”.
He said the government had done its part. People take pride in the fact that the area is a “must see”.
When change starts to happen, “it just builds on itself and then you get a positive virtuous cycle”.
“Yes, yes,” he said in response to the next question.
Students aren’t the only ones “getting excited”. Rishi Sunak may have had a little too much positivity and energy.
altar Saying the Upgrade Fund is about, not small, but smaller initiatives.
“I believe in action,” he said.
When looking at projects, one of the criteria to move forward is “deliverability,” he said. That’s how bids are scored, he said.
Q: Will the upgrade bill ensure people have access to more green space?
altar Green spaces are said to help people’s mental health and fitness. The government is rolling out what used to be known as pocket parks and is now called upgrade parks, “because we’re branding upgrades on everything,” he says (this could be a joke – it’s hard to tell).
In his first ministerial post (as local government minister), Sunak said he was responsible for this. He said small initiatives like this can make a big difference.
altar Reject the next questioner because they are journalists. He will take questions from the media later.
Instead, he took what he called “good questions” (which we couldn’t hear from the TV feed).
Sunak said the government needed to consider how attractions like the Eden Project could benefit the entire region.
The next question is about what effect the upgrade will have on the area.
altar Morecambe’s Eden Project said it had secured £50m from an upgrade fund and would become a world-class attraction.
Rich Sunak In Morecambe, he has just given a short speech on escalation. But he’s here primarily for a question-and-answer session with what journalists call “real people” (i.e., non-journalists).
The first question came from a woman who asked how he would interact with students.
Sunak said he wanted to ensure that young people of the future did not feel they needed to leave their hometowns to find a good job.
He wants to make sure that universities participate in bids to raise funding.
Speaking of the students in the audience, he could see that they were already “excited”.
Escalate urgent issues by alex norris, the Shadow Communities Minister, has described the upgrade plan as a failure. He said:
The upgrade has failed, and the government’s flagship mission is being rolled back. They can’t even name promoted directors, and today we see that maxed out.
Yorkshire and the Humber had the lowest allocations, cities like Birmingham, Nottingham and Stoke had none, and Stonehouse in Plymouth, a community in the bottom 0.2% of economic activity.
But the money is for the prime minister’s constituency, the money is for the top quarter economically. What exactly are the objective criteria for making these decisions?
Norris also said the money allocated through the upgrade fund was a fraction of the cuts in local government funding over the past decade. He said:
Over the past decade or so, the cuts to local governments have been £15bn, in cash rather than real terms. Today’s announcement gave back £2.1 billion. They stole a £10 from our wallet and they wanted us to appreciate us getting £2 back.
In response to Norris, Lucy Fraser, Keir Starmer said the constituencies of the Communities Minister, Shadow Upgrade Secretary Lisa Nandy and Norris himself were MPs were receiving funding. She defended the money going to the Rishi Sunak constituency, saying it would “rebuild a town where an infantry base is located”.
Lucy Fraser, A COMMUNITIES minister was mocked in the Commons this morning as she answered Labour’s urgent question about upgrade incentives.
Opposition lawmakers yelled “no it’s not” and “rubbish” when she told the House the upgrade fund was “to put money where it’s needed most”.
Fraser also drew laughter when she insisted that the prize was awarded fairly, saying:
The Upgrade Fund has a clear and transparent process for determining how bids are selected. Each bid is evaluated by officials against published evaluation criteria, and the highest-scoring bid is shortlisted.
Before Fraser responded to UQ, Sir Lindsay Hoyle, The Speaker of the House of Commons said the way the government had announced the winning bid – first to the media and not to parliament – was “completely unacceptable”.