Rarely has a government been criticised for promising billions in funding to some of the most deprived local authorities in the country. Theresa May has once again demonstrated her reverse Midas touch by managing to do just that, cementing her position alongside the burglars from Home Alone as one of the most incompetent villains of our time.
The £1.6 billion of extra funding for local authorities was described in a press release as ‘part of the government’s commitment to building a more prosperous economy that works for everyone’ and focuses on the North and the Midlands, areas that the government say ‘have not shared in the proceeds of growth.’ This is quite the understatement given almost a quarter of children in the North and the Midlands live in poverty.
One thing conspicuously absent from the fanfare around the announcement was the government’s role in allowing these communities to slip into poverty. The leader of St Helen’s council summed up the feelings of many when he described the funding as ‘a drop in the bucket’ compared to the £11bn of real terms cuts from local authority budgets over the last decade. If, as the name suggests, the ‘Stronger Towns Fund’ is designed to strengthen impoverished communities, it is the equivalent of a boxer handing their opponent a Lucozade after beating them from pillar to post for 12 rounds.
Some, however, claim Mrs May’s intentions are even less pure than that. The areas given the lion’s share of funding were also those that voted most strongly to leave the EU. Quite apart from half-heartedly attempting to clean up the mess her own government created, some view the promise of funding as a bribe that May hopes will lead MPs representing Leave voting areas to reluctantly back her Brexit deal in exchange for lessening the suffering of their constituents. This isn’t the first time May has resorted to such skulduggery. Northern Ireland was promised an extra £1bn of funding as part of the confidence and supply deal struck with the DUP after the last general election. Whether this tactic will allow May to cling to power long enough to force her deal through Parliament is yet to be seen.