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‘Sunderland deserves better’ – MPs brand ministers’ flagship levelling up plans an ‘empty slogan’

The government’s flagship ‘levelling up’ plan has been branded an ‘empty slogan’ by Sunderland’s MPs.

By James Harrison
Wednesday, 2nd February 2022, 5:21 pm
Updated Wednesday, 2nd February 2022, 5:32 pm

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Ministers have pinned their hopes on a set of ambitious new policies they hope will rebalance the UK economy away from London and take the focus away from claims of lockdown-busting parties in Downing Street.

Plans to install mayors, tackle education "cold spots" and crack down on rogue landlords are among the most eye-catching announcements.

But Wearside’s representatives in Parliament have slammed the initiative for failing to provide the cash needed to back up the big ideas.

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“For over a decade, the places that used to power our country have only got the crumbs from the table, and that includes Sunderland, ” said Bridget Phillipson, Houghton and Sunderland South MP and shadow education secretary.

“The government has made big promises, but they are failing to deliver.”

As well as a raft of new policies formally unveiled in an official ‘white paper’, the government has also set itself ‘12 missions’ to measure its progress, including boosting pay, extending superfast broadband coverage and improving public transport.

Julie Elliott, Bridget Phillipson and Sharon Hodgson.

But Sunderland’s MPs have pointed to a “real-terms loss” in funding for the city worth more than £50 million since 2018

Washington and Sunderland West MP Sharon Hodgson, who is also Labour leader Keir Starmer’s parliamentary private secretary, was also critical of the announcement, accusing ministers of lacking “ambition” for the region.

And Sunderland Central MP Julie Elliott went further, claiming “the Government does not care about Sunderland”.

She added: “The majority of this money is just rehashed money that has already been announced, rather than anything substantially new. Sunderland deserves better.

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 02: Levelling-Up Secretary Michael Gove is interviewed during a live broadcast on College Green on February 02, 2022 in London, England. Michael Gove has been unveiling the Government’s ‘levelling up’ agenda, which aims to close the gap between the rich and poor parts of the country, and was a key part of the Conservative party's manifesto in 2019. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

“The Tories’ promises to level up the country is yet another example of this Government’s difficult relationship with the truth.”

Sunderland City Council, however, has been more positive about the announcement, claiming promised cash would help it “unleash Sunderland’s capacity”.

Council leader Graeme Miller said: “We know that this is a place that has the ability to make an increasingly important contribution to UK Plc, aiding its economic recovery following the pandemic.

“With support from the government, we can supercharge our plans and ensure that this city realises its vast potential, creating jobs and opportunities for local people and ensuring our businesses flourish too.”

Wearside has already been earmarked funding packages, including £7.968m from the Future High Streets Fund to redevelop the former Crowtree Leisure Centre site and is hoping for further payouts from the UK Shared Prosperity Fund and City Region Sustainable Transport Fund.

The prospect of a mayor for the whole of the North East is also back on the table, after Sunderland and other authorities walked away from a previous deal, leaving the North of Tyne Combined Authority to go it alone.

Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove said: “Levelling Up and this White Paper is about ending this historic injustice and calling time on the postcode lottery.

“This will not be an easy task, and it won’t happen overnight, but our 12 new national levelling up missions will drive real change in towns and cities across the UK, so that where you live will no longer determine how far you can go.”

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