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Theresa May’s £1.6bn Stronger Towns Fund blasted as 'Brexit bribe'

Her detractors have accused the Prime Minister of offering money to local authorities that have already been dwarfed by the impact of austerity to win support for her withdrawal deal

Councils that have been pushed to the brink by austerity always welcome new funding – but that hasn’t stopped Theresa May’s announcement of a £1.6bn to hard-up English towns attracting criticism.

The Stronger Towns Fund was unveiled on Monday morning with the Prime Minister promising to share the country’s wealth more evenly, create jobs and boost local economies.

A total of £1bn will be allocated based on need, with some of the towns in the North West — many of which voted for Brexit — receiving £281m, while £105m will be shared across the North East over the next six years.

This towns fund smacks of desperation from a government reduced to bribing MPs to vote for their damaging flagship Brexit legislation

Yorkshire and The Humber will have access to £197m and there will be £212m for the West Midlands and £110m for the neighbouring East.

An additional £600m has been made available through a bidding process to other communities.

It has been hailed by May, who said: “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.”

Communities Secretary James Brokenshire was similarly effusive with praise. “We have listened to people who are concerned by momentous changes to their communities and I am determined to provide the support they need to create a more prosperous future beyond Brexit,” he added.

However, with the Prime Minister still facing an uphill battle to convince MPs in many Leave-voting constituencies to back her withdrawal deal, Labour has accused her of using the fund to “bribe MPs” into caving before the March 29 Brexit date.

Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell said: “This towns fund smacks of desperation from a government reduced to bribing MPs to vote for their damaging flagship Brexit legislation.

“The reason our towns are struggling is because of a decade of cuts, including to council funding and a failure to invest in businesses and our communities.”

One of the problems behind the fund is that it amounts to around £260m-a-year once broken down, which falls short of filling the blackhole many councils have experienced with funding from central government cut by about 60 per cent since 2010.

The LGA estimates the funding gap experienced by local authority to be £5.8m overall over the next two years.

And they have been forced to turn to every possible funding source to boost their coffers as a collaboration between the Bureau of Investigative Journalism (TBIJ) and HuffPost UK revealed today.

Their investigation revealed that more than 12,000 public spaces have been sold off by councils since 2014/15, raking in £9.1billion at the cost of losing libraries, community centres and other vital frontline services.

That includes £381m of property sales from 64 councils to fund £115m in redundancies

The investigation has been presented in an interactive map, breaking down the sell-offs by location.

“If given the choice – would you consider selling a disused council building to raise funds to deliver a balanced budget – or would you retain that asset for potential future use but instead cut adult social care, or raise charges for care packages?” director of the County Councils Network Simon Edwards told TBIJ, summing up the reasons behind the sell-offs.

“Put bluntly, these are some of difficult the decisions facing councils every day. Local politicians do not go into public service to slash and burn or make valued staff redundant, let alone sell assets to do this. But this is the financial reality of years of funding reductions and rising demand.”

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