'Reverse the growing divide between towns and cities' - Northern Labour MPs demand in new manifesto for change

A bold new manifesto designed to reinvigorate and revitalise the North’s neglected towns is being launched by MPs.

Friday, 20th September 2019, 5:06 pm
Labour MP Yvette Cooper is chair of the Labour Towns group. Photo: Getty

Tackling issues of austerity, a lack of opportunities and dire transport links the Labour group will take aim at the Government’s record for putting cities before smaller areas at a party conference event on Monday.

The new proposals put forward by the Labour Towns group, led by Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford MP Yvette Cooper, would see fairer transport investment, and a call for Transport for the North to focus on towns.

It would also include improvements to broadband and mobile communications, more funding for the arts, and more power being handed back to local councils and away from Whitehall.

The lack of true commitment to improving the North’s lot was the driver behind the Power Up the North Campaign, launched 100 days ago by The Yorkshire Post and 30 other publications.

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But Ms Cooper, who will lead a fringe event called a Fair Deal for Our Towns, said it was towns suffering in the North more than cities. She said: “Our towns are the backbone of the country but they’re not getting a fair deal.

“Towns have lost buses, shops, sports centres, libraries, police stations, neighbourhood police, NHS services, magistrates’ courts and Sure Start centres as Tory austerity has hit, budgets have been heavily cut and public services have become more centralised in cities and larger towns.

She added: “Transport investment for towns is a joke. Towns like ours in Yorkshire still have overcrowded old Pacer trains that are often cancelled or delayed.

“Yet the Government pushes all the investment into expensive and delayed city projects.

“That’s why we’re calling for Transport for the North to come up with a proper transport plan for towns and not just concentrating the new investment in the cities. That means more trains, new trains, more carriages, and more buses.”

She said: “We’ve been calling for more investment in our towns for years but the Government’s town announcements don’t go nearly far enough.”

But Ms Cooper will be joined in Monday’s announcements by other northern Labour MPs Melanie Onn (Great Grimsby), Tracy Brabin (Batley and Spen), and Gloria De Piero (Ashfield).

Ms Onn said: “Universalism is a key pillar of our public services in the UK. When we walk into a hospital, go into a school or enter a library we do not expect to be treated differently because of how much we earn or where we are from.

“But far too often this universality breaks down when we go to a different hospital, school or library. Going to a hospital in Grimsby, where all four targets for timely care are missed, will not get you the same standard or experience of care as in Kingston.

“Too often our towns bear the brunt of this inequality. In local authorities like Doncaster and North East Lincolnshire, there are half as many outstanding and twice as many requires improvement and inadequate schools as in Hackney and only 6% of providers in the most deprived areas are rated as outstanding in North East Lincolnshire compared to 33% in Hackney.”

Meanwhile Mrs De Piero said 93% of constituencies which would receive extra education funding are Tory-held, which she said showed the Government’s “mis-placed priorities”.

“It’s indisputably harder to get on in life if you come from my constituency than other parts of the country – particularly London,” she said.

“But the capital’s far better performance on narrowing the education gap isn’t just a coincidence. A major factor according to experts was the London Challenge, a deliberate and holistic programme of positive innovation and investment in schools in the city during the last Labour Government.

“It’s time for a Coalfields Challenge to give young people in former mining areas a fairer chance at social mobility, like the all-too-rare examples of the people who inspire me.”

“People in coalfields areas have the same ambitions as anyone else. But without a major intervention like my Coalfields Challenge, even very straightforward dreams will be very difficult to realise.”

Ms Cooper added: “We need a proper plan for our towns. That’s what the Labour Towns Group want to see in the Labour Manifesto - including a plan for jobs, town centres, and rebuilding public services in our towns.

“It’s time to reverse the growing divide between cities and towns. What we need is a proper long-term plan with a fair deal for our towns – that is what the Labour Towns group is calling for.”

The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government and Transport for the North were approached for comment.