Levelling-up? Returning what's been taken would be a start | Burnley Council leader Afrasiab Anwar

The long-awaited White Paper on Levelling up finally made an appearance yesterday and after all it promised it delivered very little.

Once you look beyond the government slogans and buzz words what you are left with is a set of recycled policies and announcements made previously.

When making the announcement, the Secretary of State admitted not everyone shares equally in the UK’s success and that too many communities have been overlooked and left in a cycle of deep decline.

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This White Paper was meant to be about ending this historic injustice and calling time on the postcode lottery.

Burnley Council leader Afrasiab AnwarBurnley Council leader Afrasiab Anwar
Burnley Council leader Afrasiab Anwar

The truth is we have had over a decade of austerity.

Under this government, Burnley alone has seen the axing of the Housing Market Renewal, closure of Sure Start centres, lack of investment in education and cuts to Youth and Community centres.

Households are struggling with the steep rise in the cost of living due to rising fuel prices, increase to VAT and National Insurance, reduced household income and the highest inflation rates for 30 years.

Add to that the scrapping of the Universal Credit uplift for the most vulnerable, the only increase we have seen under this government is the number of foodbanks.

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In reality we in Burnley don’t ask for Levelling up, returning what has been taken away would be a start.

Research has revealed that only £36 per person, allocated through the government's levelling up fund, has gone to the parts of England most in need of it.

Despite the claims of the white paper bringing an end to this inequality, when we look closer to home, we find neighbouring Hyndburn receives just £2.85 per head compared to Sajid Javid's constituency of Bromsgrove benefitting from £148.33 per head. Is this what the government means by levelling up?

The plan to establish more equal education and employment chances was a key tenet of Boris Johnson's offer at the 2019 general election so this week we saw the announcement of the Education Investment Fund.

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Fifty-five areas will benefit from this but despite the challenges faced by pupils in East Lancashire, there was nothing for Burnley, Pendle, Hyndburn and Rossendale.

The announcement promised the biggest shift of power from Whitehall to local leaders and spreading opportunity to every part of the UK.

By 2030, every region that wishes to have a ‘London-style’ devolution deal will have one.

Unfortunately, Lancashire is not one of the areas mentioned in the first round of devolution deals and the preferred model on the table is a Mayoral Combined Authority, something which Lancashire does not have an appetite for.

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The alternative, with reduced powers encourages district council involvement, but will only be agreed with County and Unitary Authorities. So where does this leave

district councils like ours?

Burnley has indeed been awarded £20 million as part of the Levelling Up Fund.

This was a project we had to bid for and was successful thanks to council officers working night and day to meet a very tight deadline.

The projects benefitting from this were already included in our Canalside and Town Centre Master plan.

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The funding is welcome and will have an impact on the borough, but capital projects are not Levelling Up.

If the government wants to truly level up it needs to go much further, or Lancashire will be left further behind.