Businesses in the South West have accused the government of “throwing a hand grenade” as part of plans to level the country by prioritizing the creation of new town halls in the north of England.
Tim Jones, chairman of the South West Business Council (SWBC), said ministers were focusing on a “city-centric economy” at the expense of rural areas.
His remarks came after Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick told the Financial Times that Cumbria, North Yorkshire and the East Riding of Yorkshire could have elected mayors as the government pledged to ‘broaden and deepen’ the decentralization program.
But Mr Jones, chairman of the South West Business Council (SWBC), said Mr Jenrick’s comments were “extremely inflammatory” and “polls” of businesses in the Southwest have revealed they believe the areas rural areas, and the South West in particular, were neglected.
“He threw a big hand grenade that will further widen the gap between cities and rural areas,” Mr Jones said. “Big cities are their priority. The government has little interest in our rural economy. But they should develop a strategy for rural and urban areas.
SWBC’s concerns come just a week after Prime Minister Boris Johnson was asked to keep years of pledges to support the Greater South West.
In an open letter to the Prime Minister, Bill Martin, editor of the Western Morning News, who along with Pennon led the #BackTheGreatSouthWest campaign, wrote that the region’s economic leaders are frustrated after five years of “warm words” but a lack of action on wants the region to become a beacon of the green economy.
A new upgrade white paper is now due for release this fall, meant to replace a previously promised decentralization plan.
Mr Jenrick told the FT that there is still “interest” in creating three northern town halls, but that in rural areas, county agreements, which are to be confirmed in this white paper, may be more appropriate .
Business Live’s Southwestern business reporter is William Telford. William has over a decade of experience reporting on the business scene in Plymouth and the South West. It is based in Plymouth but covers the entire region.
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This concept takes decentralization beyond the larger cities, offering the same powers that metro mayors have acquired over transport, skills and economic support. County Deals should be tailored to the needs of individual places, enabling them to drive ideas, create jobs, drive growth and improve public services.
But Mr Jones said those deals could be substandard and added: “The government says if you are not a town hall you will be a lower category. So if you read it as we are, it’s a very volatile situation and we’re always going to catch up with the funding. “