Revealed: The 12 towns more deprived than Norwich that lost out on £25m boosts
- Credit: Archant
Dozens of market towns and deprived communities in need of government support narrowly missed out on £25 million made available to others in the region.
While the three towns in Norfolk and Waveney with the greatest levels of social deprivation were selected for funding (Great Yarmouth, King’s Lynn, and Lowestoft), other towns with high levels of poverty and unemployment lost out to more well off urban areas, a report published by the National Audit Office on Tuesday, July 21 shows.
Despite scoring higher than Norwich on a measure combining income deprivation, skills deprivation and productivity, towns including Swaffham, Cromer, North Walsham, Dereham, Thetford and Diss were not selected to receive funds.
A total of 12 towns in the region which scored higher on this metric than Norwich lost out on their bids, a decision branded by local councillors as “concerning”.
The other towns which missed out are: Fakenham, Caister-on-sea, Downham Market, Hemsby, Hunstanton, and Gorleston-on-sea.
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The ministry for housing communities and local government said this is because “ministers chose towns with a wide range of scores, not just towns [...] with the highest scores”, adding: “A recurring reason ministers gave for selection was a town’s potential for investment or growth.”
On July 27, 2019, the government announced £3.6bn would be made available in a competition for “towns that currently do not have the right conditions to develop and sustain strong local economies”.
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But the report published on Tuesday showed ministers in fact hand-picked at least 60 of the 101 towns selected as eligible to apply for the funding.
Towns considered eligible for investment would not secure any funds until an application stating what it would be spent on was approved, and in Norfolk and Waveney, four towns were finally accepted in September 2019.
Great Yarmouth, Lowestoft and King’s Lynn were all considered ‘high-priority’ targets for the investment, with scores greater than six on the government’s deprivation metric. However Norwich was approved despite scoring just over two on the same metric.
The government said that Great Yarmouth, Lowestoft and King’s Lynn were all selected for “significant deprivation issues” as well as opportunities for “significant growth”, particularly in the energy sector.
However Norwich, which was considered ‘medium priority’, was selected for its “strong track record of local partnerships and working with government on local growth investment”.
To many councillors of the region’s market towns who missed out, the decision is difficult to understand,
Terry Jermy, Labour county and district councillor for Thetford, said: “I would be concerned as to why Norwich benefited given their status as a city. What is the fund trying to address, market towns, or cities? The clue should be in the name: ‘towns fund’.
“I’m very disappointed as Thetford has put in many bids over recent years, and a number have been unsuccessful. We have deprivation figures and social inequality we wish to address.”
The report by the audit office also found that nationally, 11 of the 12 ‘low priority’ towns which received money were Conservative marginal seats in the 2017 general election.
The Labour party has since accused the government of prioritising marginal seats over where money was most needed, with shadow communities secretary Steve Reed calling for a full explanation on how the money was distributed.
“Government ministers shrouded the town deals scheme in mystery but this report shines a light on how funding was allocated, with many deprived communities losing out,” he said.
“There are now serious concerns that ministers may have allocated funding for political gain at the 2019 election, something which breaks strict rules on impartiality.
A government spokesman said: “The report shows that the more affluent half of towns were ruled out, and the 40 most deprived towns were rightly favoured, with the remainder selected from a shortlist considering of a wide range of evidence.
“There were many factors to consider in the selection of towns and we are confident the process we took was comprehensive, robust and fair.”