A few weeks ago it emerged that the government was planning to announce a big regional investment that would benefit in particular constituencies in the north that backed leave and vote Labour. The prospect of this money being available might help to persuade Labour MPs to back Theresa May’s Brexit deal, it was suggested. Downing Street rejected claims that this would amount to a “bribe”, but did not deny that the plan (actually, a variant of the “UK shared prosperity fund, specifically designed to reduce inequalities between communities across our four nations”, promised in the 2017 Conservative party manifesto) was under consideration.
Today the announcement has arrived. And, in a statement Theresa May has partially linked it to Brexit. She says:
For too long in our country prosperity has been unfairly spread. Our economy has worked well for some places but we want it to work for all communities.
Communities across the country voted for Brexit as an expression of their desire to see change – that must be a change for the better, with more opportunity and greater control.
These towns have a glorious heritage, huge potential and, with the right help, a bright future ahead of them.
But, as Jessica Elgot points out in our overnight story, Labour MPs were queuing up last night to say that this announcement would not change their minds over Brexit.
And this morning James Brokenshire, the housing and communities secretary, has been giving interviews about the announcement. What he has said confirms that this investment will probably end up having zero impact on the parliamentary dynamics over Brexit.
- Brokenshire confirmed that the government was committed to this spending whether or not MPs voted for May’s Brexit deal. Asked if the money was coming whether or no the deal was passed, he said: “Yes.” He went on:
This funding is there regardless of the outcome, but obviously we want to see a deal happening, we believe that is what is in the best interests of our country.
But there is no conditionality in that sense. This funding is there to see that towns grow and that we are actually looking at what we need to do, which is seeing those areas really prospering and following through on what the prime minister has really believed in, that sense of leaving no part of our UK behind, and how this will help support that.
- He said the £1.6bn was being spent over the next seven years. Asked over what period the money was being spent, he said:
It is through until 2026. So, in other words, you may have investments that will need to be put in place over a number of years.
This timescale does make £1.6bn look a lot less impressive than it does in the headlines. It is not unusual for governments to aggregate the numbers when announcing spending programmes, by giving a total spend not an annual spend. This can be misleading, but normally the truth is buried somewhere in the small print of the announcement. However the press release sent to journalists yesterday did not say over what period the £1.6bn would be spent. Reporters had to make inquiries to get an answer.
- Brokenshire rejected claims that the investment did not amount to much. When this was put to him, he replied:
I actually fundamentally disagree. If you look at the investment that could to into particular towns, the areas that need it most, this money can be transformative. It can make that difference on creating the jobs, actually putting the skills in place, and changing people’s lives in a modern, positive economy.
- And he also dismissed claims that the new money would not even begin to compensate for the amount towns in the north have lost through other government cuts, such as reductions in grants to councils. He was asked about this tweet from the Labour MP for Stoke-on-Trent Central, Gareth Snell.
In response, Brokenshire said:
I think you are making a fundamental miscomparison between fundamental rates of money that councils will spend on their budgets each year, as contrasted with focused funds, transformative funds, to invest in skills, to invest in jobs, to invest in productivity, that actually then supplement the work of councils, and indeed other funds that we have in place.
I will post more on this as the day goes on.
Here is the agenda for the day.
11am: Downing Street lobby briefing.
12.30pm: Sir Ivan Rogers, the former British ambassador to the EU, speaks at the Institute for Government.
2.30pm: James Brokenshire, the housing secretary, takes questions in the Commons.
4pm: Jon Thompson, the HM Revenue and Customs chief executive, gives evidence to the Commons public accounts committee.
As usual, I will also be covering breaking political news as it happens, as well as bringing you the best reaction, comment and analysis from the web, but I expect to be focusing mostly on Brexit. I plan to post a summary when I finish, at about 5.30pm.
You can read all the latest Guardian politics articles here. Here is the Politico Europe round-up of this morning’s political news. And here is the PoliticsHome list of today’s top 10 must-reads.
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