Fierce criticism over 'smoke and mirrors' levelling up promises

Communities Secretary Michael Gove giving his keynote address during the Conservative Party Conferen

Levelling up secretary Michael Gove - Credit: PA

Much-anticipated government promises to level up deprived areas of the country have been blasted as "smoke and mirrors" and "a load of rubbish" from city folk.

While delivering the long-awaited report this week, levelling up minister Michael Gove said the investment would "shift both money and power into the hands of working people".

But in a 332-page plan Norwich is mentioned only nine times - and there is no new money.

Communities Secretary Michael Gove giving his keynote address during the Conservative Party Conferen

MP Michael Gove who delivered his levelling up report to parliament this week - Credit: PA

The white paper revealed the government would provide additional support for "robust local co-ordination around drug users in their locality to stop them committing crime" which built on its previously-announced investment from the 10-year drugs strategy.

More than £287m will be shared across 12 towns in the East of England including in Norwich as well as new and improved green spaces and sustainable transport links for the city through the towns fund. This has been previously announced.

There are also potential plans for a mayor of Norfolk who would have devolved powers.

Chrissie Rumsby, Labour county councillor for Mile Cross in Norwich, in the Phoenix Centre kitchen.

Chrissie Rumsby who is involved in the Phoenix Hub foodbank in Mile Cross Road, Norwich - Credit: Simon Floyd

But those at the sharp end of rising costs and rocketing bills think the government plan is sloganeering. 

Chrissie Rumsby, who is involved in the Phoenix Hub foodbank in Mile Cross Road which has seen demand double in recent months, said: "This levelling up is a load of rubbish. It is smoke and mirrors. It is promises that in reality don't exist. It is just words and no money.

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"I don't know where it will end but people are on their last legs and the 50pc rise in utility bills will finish people off.

"People who are not badly off now are not going to be able to afford the rise in fuel bills. Norfolk doesn't get what it deserves financially and is always overlooked.

"Deprived areas like Mile Cross have been badly affected by years of austerity."

She added that increased poverty led to crime and drugs and these problems needed to be sorted at the "root" of the issues.

"I want to tell the government to take things more seriously and take the time to think what impact their actions have on the everyday person. All they seem to be doing is messing around with systems and not putting proper money in.

"We are going to have so much poverty with people not being able to heat their homes or eat food. We are not a third world country. It is a disgrace."

The former mental health nurse and carer said it was important for the government to invest in people's mental health, wellbeing, education and social care adding: "We need to look differently at the way society is run."

Norwich South MP Clive Lewis. Photo: Antony Kelly

Norwich South MP Clive Lewis. Photo: Antony Kelly - Credit: Archant

Labour MP for Norwich South, Clive Lewis, said Norwich and Norfolk had historically missed out on government funds compared to London and other areas of the South East.

He believed the levelling up report was targeting northern areas in order to protect traditional Labour voting areas now held by Conservative MPs.

"Norwich is a hub for the county," he said. "Local authorities like Norwich City Council should be able to invest in issues like public transport. Levelling up should be about powering up every aspect of our democracy and economy."

He added local authorities had to "scrabble" for pots of money from the government and the idea of devolution should give power to communities to decide how money was spent, which he was not convinced would happen.

Natasha and David Cox, owners of Butterfly clothing shop on White Lion Street in Norwich, preparing

Natasha and David Cox, owners of Butterfly clothing shop on White Lion Street in Norwich, preparing to re-open on April 12 when further COVID restrictions lift. - Credit: Danielle Booden

 

David Cox, 57, owner of Butterfly Boutique clothes shop in White Lion Street, said: "I think business rates need to be abolished or lowered. It is hard on the high street."

The fashion store owner said initiatives including making buses cheaper and more frequent would help businesses.

Norwich North MP Chloe Smith. Picture: Neil Didsbury

Norwich North MP Chloe Smith. Picture: Neil Didsbury - Credit: Neil Didsbury.

Norwich North Conservative MP Chloe Smith added: "Norwich will benefit from more investment for education, with a major part of the levelling up package being Norfolk becoming an education investment area.

"This is crucial because it will help kids get the best start in life. It follows on from the Norwich opportunity area and I welcome further investment like this. I’ll continue to support this to improve schools and skills and help families.”