Where is our Brexit bonus? ‘Thinly’ spread cash puts East Anglia ‘bottom of the table’ for investment

Lowestoft's South Beach.
Picture: James Bass

Lowestoft's South Beach. Picture: James Bass - Credit: Eastern Daily Press � 2016

Deprived areas of East Anglia are “bottom of the table” for investment from a £1.6billion so-called “Brexit bonus” from the government, it has been warned.

Billy Ball, director of Clacton Pier. Picture: CLACTON PIER

Billy Ball, director of Clacton Pier. Picture: CLACTON PIER - Credit: Archant

MP Peter Aldous said towns such as Lowestoft, in his Waveney constituency, have “deep pockets of deprivation”, as well as huge potential.

But in the £1.6bn Stronger Towns Fund announced by the government to help communities cope with the impact of Brexit, just £25million will go to the East of England - compared to £281m for north-west England and £212m for the West Midlands.

That means the £25m will have to be spread across counties such as Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire over the next seven years.

“My concern is that the money from the coastal communities fund is spread thinly around the coast, and the East of England is at the bottom of the table of regional beneficiaries of this fund, so resources will not be available to unlock that potential,” said Mr Aldous.

But replying to Mr Aldous’ concerns during a parliamentary debate on the Stronger Towns Fund, James Brokenshire - secretary of state for housing, communities and local government - said there would be another £600m available, which towns across the country can bid for.

“Lowestoft should be positive, put in its submission and get the concept of its own town deal together, so we can pool resources, through the Coastal Communities Fund, the Future High Streets Fund and this fund, and it can have a bright, positive future,” said Mr Brokenshire.

Clacton Pier director Billy Ball added: “You always want more but the most important thing is that the best use is made of the money that is available.

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He said Clacton is “a town in need of an injection of cash”, adding: “Despite the seafront looking healthy again after private and public investment we could certainly do with a boost to see our town grow.

“We have been dealt a blow with the loss of a number of key stores in the town centre such as Marks and Spencer.

“Tendring District Council (TDC) is working hard to support and encourage businesses both in and into the area, and extra government funding could certainly be used to supplement that work.

“I would say we are a needy town – and I am sure that a number of ideas could be put forward.”

The allocation of he £25m will mainly be administered by local enterprise partnerships (LEPs).

A spokesman for the New Anglia LEP, which covers most of Suffolk and Norfolk, said it had not received any details about how much money would be received – nor how it would be spent.

The fund was dismissed by opposition MPs as an attempt to win Labour support for prime minister Theresa May’s Brexit deal, with shadow chancellor John McDonnell saying: “This Towns’ Fund smacks of desperation from a government reduced to bribing MPs to vote for their damaging flagship Brexit legislation.”

However Mr Brokenshire said the money was not conditional on support for the withdrawal agreement.

“This funding is there regardless of the outcome, but obviously we want to see a deal happening,” he said.

“We believe that is what is in the best interests of our country.”

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