Granada Debate: Levelling Up funding criticised as 'few crumbs off the table'

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Levelling Up is like "a burglar coming in your house taking everything out and bringing back a coffee table... expecting you to be grateful", an MP has said.

The two words dominated Boris Johnson's 2019 election campaign, before it took shape as a pot of funding, and moved on to the name of a whole Government department.

But, despite the North West receiving more than £213 million from round two of the Levelling Up fund, the decisions around who gets money has been heavily criticised by those in opposition.

Justin Madders, the Labour MP for Ellesmere Port and Neston, said while the region welcomed the money it still left local councils in a "threadbare situation".

He said: "It's £13 million in the context of half a billion pounds taken away from our council since 2010.

“It’s a bit like a burglar coming into your house taking everything out and bringing back a coffee table and saying, 'well we expect you to be grateful because we’re giving you a coffee table'.

"Of course we welcome the money but actually in the overall context we are absolutely at threadbare situation because of the cuts that we’ve had in local government.

"We have to move away from this winners and losers scenario.

"We have to get into a situation where local areas can choose their own priorities, have sustainable funding and move away from this competitive scene where we're putting one area against another."

The Labour MP made the comments as part of ITV Granada Reports monthly political programme, the Granada Debate.

He was joined by Conservative MP for Bury North James Daly who, engaging in a fiery debate, said the funding was "wonderful news", and he welcomed the investment in the North.

"It’s extraordinary we’re having this conversation," he said. "This is a genuine policy to invest money in targeted ways in areas where councils make the application.

"It’s wonderful news, look at the situation in Morecambe, £50million for Eden North, that's going to have a massive impact there.

"These are wonderful, positive projects and the fact that politicians can come on here and say ‘oh no it’s terrible’ and it’s this, that and the other.

"I welcome the opportunity that money is being invested in Oldham, I welcome the money that’s being invested in Knowsley with projects and partnerships with local authorities to deliver millions of pounds which is going to help local people in local areas.

"Let's have some positivity about this, this is a really positive announcement.

Lise McNally was joined by Justin Madders (R) and James Daly (L) on the Granada Debate. Credit: ITV News

In total there were 13 successful bids for funding from the North West, with the majority falling in Labour-held constituencies.

Mr Madders said Labour's solution to the Levelling Up fund was to give the power to the local communities to decide their priorities.

"People are fed up with all the decisions being taken in Whitehall, with Whitehall determining who gets what, what the priorities are, and then we're expected to be grateful for a few crumbs off the table.

"We have to get away from that and give power back to the people and the resources to do what they want in their local communities."

Nurses are among those striking over fair pay as well as safety concerns. Credit: ITV News

The pair also discussed the ongoing strike action, and how to break the deadlock between unions, bosses and ministers as waves of workers continue to walk out.

Teachers have become the latest in a growing list of public sector workers planning to withdraw their labour over the next few weeks - from ambulance staff and civil servants to border force - after voting for what could be the biggest shutdown of schools in over a decade.

Unions are calling for a pay rise which keeps up with the cost of living crisis - but North West members said it is not just about the money.

When asked whether the government was being unreasonable in the face of safety concerns, James Daly said: "I don't think anybody is being unreasonable.

"I'm extremely grateful for the dedication and hard work of those on the front line providing services to some of the most vulnerable in our communities."

But, when pressed on the topic of the NHS, and the Royal College of Nursing's demands for a pay rise he said he did not believe they were being "reasonable", and referred to them as the "Mick Lynch of the health trade union movement."

"I'm urging the government to get round the table and speak to the trade unions in respect of this, and I'm sure there are discussions to have," he said.

"When you say reasonable, the Royal College of Nursing came to the table saying we want a 19% increase in pay, and no matter how much we want that to be the case is simply not affordable.

"One has to ask the question why would they come to the table if they are a reasonable trade union and say we demand 19%, they are turning into the Mick Lynch of the health trade union movement."

Labour said in order to find the money to give the asked-for pay rises it would not be "about cutting services" and instead "the question is you have to sit down and negotiate, and that simply isn't happening."

"If the government won't even get in a room and discuss these things with them then what else are nurses supposed to do than take strike action?

"I think it shameful that for the first time in the NHS's history we are seeing the Royal College of Nursing going out on strike.

"This is replicated across the whole public sector, the common denominator in this a government that won't listen to the work force and deal with the concerns they have."

To combat the fall out of the strikes Government is beginning the process of introducing what could be a landmark new law.

The Minimum Service Bill would mean workers in certain sectors like health, education and transport would have to offer an agreed threshold of service even on strike days.

If they do not, the walkout could be deemed illegal.

Unions have called it "a preposterous attack on the right to strike", while the Government insists it is a reasonable last resort.

When asked if his constituents deserve "some guarantee of their safety", Justin Madders said: "they absolutely do but at the moment they're not getting it on non-strike days.

"If anyone should be sacked for failing to bring in minimum service and safety levels it is the government itself."

Mr Daly said the legislation existed in countries like France and Spain already, adding, "if there were minimum level requirements, specifically those being a risk to life due to industrial action, or sustained damage to the UK economy" then reasonable steps must be taken to

"Is it unreasonable to require, in the circumstances that we are seeing at the moment that people's lives are not put at risk by industrial action.

"During the pandemic, when we saw the risk to life we shut the economy down, all we are saying as a government is, that whatever steps the trade unions want to take in respect to this, they should not induce their members to take action that is going to put people's lives at risk, is going to badly damage the wider economy and badly damage the future and earnings of others within economies.

"We are one country, one society and everyone's interests have to be protected."

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