Budget confirms £100 million boost for Wolverhampton, Rowley Regis, West Bromwich and Smethwick

Wolverhampton, Rowley Regis, West Bromwich and Smethwick are to receive around £25 million each from the Government's Towns Fund in measures announced in the Budget.

Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak. Photo: PA
Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak. Photo: PA

Conservative MPs and council leaders across the West Midlands have welcomed a string of measures announced in the Chancellor's Budget after Rishi Sunak confirmed furlough would be extended until September along with schemes to help businesses amid Covid-19.

It was also confirmed that £59 million will be set aside for five new railways stations in the region – Darlaston, Willenhall, Kings Heath, Moseley, and Hazelwell/Stirchley.

And a further £50m will be spent on transport improvements around the HS2 Birmingham Interchange Station – which will "support regeneration" at Arden Cross in Solihull.

West Midlands Mayor Andy Street said: "I am particularly pleased to see our asks for the West Midlands responded to so well, with significant cash for reopening old railway stations and lines, reviving town and city centres, and making the most of HS2 with the cash to get the incredibly ambitious plans for UK Central in Solihull off the ground.

"The pandemic has really hurt the West Midlands economy, but with the measures announced today, alongside our local plans, I am confident we will be able to bounce back quickly and start getting people back into work."

Conservative politicians across the Black Country were quick to praise their Cabinet colleagues for sending money their way, although not all areas were given all of the cash they had applied for from the Towns Fund.

The fund has had £3.6 billion planned for towns across the UK since last summer but the announcement of where the money is going was saved for Budget day.

Wolverhampton Council, which is Labour-led, applied for around £49 million in funding after the upper limit per town was increased from £25m to £50m.

However it has only been allocated half the amount it asked for.

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Jane Stevenson, Tory MP for Wolverhampton North East, said she was "delighted" that Wednesfield and Bilston would benefit.

She said: "All of this money is direct Government investment into Wolverhampton, and apart from thanking my fellow [Towns Fund] board members we owe a huge debt of thanks to West Midlands Mayor Andy Street for his tireless lobbying on this and to Secretary of State Robert Jenrick for very regular meetings about Wolverhampton.

"Since my election in December 2019, I have been determined to make sure our two towns of Wednesfield and Bilston should also benefit from this fund. There was a lot of disagreement on this, but I'm delighted both towns are included in the bid.

"I have also pushed for local people to have more say in the plans for Wednesfield, and I want to thank the local traders and wider community, who have already been involved in the first pot of investment into the High Street. I know how much time they've already given up to work with council officers on the plans, and I'm so grateful. I know they'll be looking forward to working on the bigger plans.

"I got involved in politics at a local then national level because I wanted to make my home city better. Wolverhampton is always my first priority – and I am absolutely delighted by the Government's announcement."

Meanwhile veteran Stuart Anderson, the MP for Wolverhampton South West, welcomed £10m funding to support the mental health needs of service leavers alongside the boost for Wolverhampton.

He said: "This funding backs the Prime Minister’s roadmap by delivering the resources needed as our communities and local businesses prepare for reopening and beyond. I will be working to ensure that the assistance can be accessed by those who need the support."

Nicola Richards, MP for West Bromwich East, welcomed the news West Bromwich would receive £25m from the Towns Fund, with the money set to be spent on new walking and cycling schemes.

It will also see Sandwell College's vacant engineering centre, based in Phoenix Street in the town, partially rebuilt and refurbished to create a Civil and Mechanical Engineering Centre.

Ms Richards said: "This kind of investment under the Towns Fund is so important for us in West Bromwich because it finally gives communities like mine significant capital to invest in the things that matter most to local people. It’s recognition that areas like West Bromwich simply aren’t used to receiving, because we haven’t previously had anyone fighting our corner.

"These projects – and the Government’s backing – allow us to show that levelling-up isn’t just a sound-bite. It proves to those people who placed their faith in this party and this Government for the first time at the last General Election that we will deliver what was promised."

Supporting

Suzanne Webb, MP for Stourbridge, said she was "really pleased" with the announcements but warned the Government would have to start to "balance our books" in the years to come.

She said: "I am very pleased that companies will be given substantial incentives to invest over the next two years. Those who do so can reduce their tax bill by 130 per cent of the cost of that investment in a move that could boost investment by 10 per cent. This fits in with my agenda in Stourbridge of jobs and investment and it is great news.

"But I think the best news is the clever ways in which the Chancellor has found sensitive but effective ways to balance our books. Only big highly profitable businesses will pay the top rate of Corporation tax at 25 per cent from 2023. The majority of smaller businesses – the life blood of our economy here in the West Midlands – will pay less. Similarly, the freezing of tax thresholds following a final rise in April will, crucially, not affect take home pay but it will help a great deal to get the country on a firmer financial footing."

Retain

Staffordshire County Council leader Alan White welcomed additional investment in the national vaccine roll-out alongside the extension of the furlough scheme to help county businesses.

Councillor Alan White said: “The Chancellor’s commitment to continued support for businesses and employees through the pandemic recovery is vital and will provide much-needed reassurance to communities here in Staffordshire and nationally.

"He has set out critical initiatives in line with the roadmap out of the pandemic restrictions which we welcome – from ensuring businesses can retain employees to supporting those that have had to close to reopen. In Staffordshire we have worked hard since the March lockdown [last year] to put in place targeted business and employee support with our partners where we knew it was needed most, making it easily accessible from day one.

"Just this week we have launched our latest business support programmes, working with our district and borough councils to make our shared resources work as effectively as possible. Together with national and regional initiatives they can make a difference now so that businesses can survive and thrive. The additional funding for the vaccination programme will enhance the superb efforts here in Staffordshire, complemented by our community testing.

"This will be a hugely challenging year for everyone, but with the vaccine success, ongoing business support and a roadmap to recovery set out, there is light at the end of the tunnel."

Balance

Councillor Mike Smith, deputy leader and cabinet member for resources at Stafford Borough Council, said: "This was always going to be the most challenging and anticipated budget that any chancellor has delivered for many years.

"There is a difficult balance to be struck - repaying the huge debt this country is in because of the pandemic debt while stimulating the regrowth of the economy.

"The economic recovery is something that we have already planned for in Stafford Borough – for example we recently set aside nearly £20 million to transform the high street of the county town.

"We need to support our businesses with benefits that will encourage future investment and the creation of new jobs. We have distributed more than £35 million to local businesses since the start of the pandemic and last month launched initiatives to help micro businesses, businesses in the ‘supply chain’ and the taxi trade – to name a few of our sectors.

"I am pleased the furlough scheme has been extended, that there will be more help for the self employed, and of course no increases in income tax, national insurance or VAT.

It was good to hear the commitment to invest in Green growth, the support for businesses by cutting taxes of those wishing to invest, and further help for the reopening of arts venues which I hope will be welcome news for our Gatehouse Theatre.”

Short-changed

Birmingham MP Liam Byrne, Labour's candidate for West Midlands Mayor, said he welcomed measures such as the business rates holiday, VAT cuts and the furlough extension but said the "long-term pain" of tax rises would be "eye watering".

He also said that despite "welcome money" from the Towns Fund, the West Midlands had been "knocked into a cocked hat by our friends in the north".

"Once again we have been treated like a bit of a backwater," he said. "I was expecting a lot more because we've been the region that has been hit hardest by Covid.

"What we got today amounted to £2 per person, per week. I think we've been short-changed."

Shadow City Minister Pat McFadden, the Wolverhampton South East MP, said: “We have had the biggest hit to our economy in over 300 years and the budget documents acknowledge that is because we have had among the highest rates of infections and hospitalisations.

"We are still in the teeth of the fight against the pandemic and that’s why it was essential to extend the economic support through measures like furlough and the self employed support scheme.

"We have been calling for the extensions of those measures since this third lockdown began.

“It’s also right that the tax measures don’t kick in right away as it would be damaging to increase taxes before the recovery has even begun.

"What was really missing from this budget was a plan to rebuild our public services after the pandemic.

"We know we need a stronger NHS and social care system and we know that children have missed a great deal of education over the past year.

"Those basic public services were barely mentioned but improving them is essential for the future.”

Councillor Mike Bird, the Conservative leader of Walsall Council, said: "All the way through this pandemic, one of our two priorities has been to protect the local economy and jobs. I very much welcome the Chancellor’s support to both employers and employees, for example by extending the furlough scheme and the extension of the five per cent reduced rate of VAT for the hospitality industry along with the 100% business rates holiday.

"I’m also really pleased that Walsall has been announced as a priority one area for the government’s ‘Levelling Up Fund’. This has the potential to allow us to build on our successes with the Future High Streets Fund and the recent bid for Towns Fund scheme. The Levelling Up Fund will support town centre and high street regeneration, local transport projects and cultural and heritage assets. Confirmation of funding for new railway stations at Willenhall and Darlaston only adds to the good news for the future of our borough.

"Extending the Universal Credit top-up of £20 per week for a further six months will, I’m sure, be of great reassurance to thousands of residents struggling on low incomes in these uncertain times."

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