Tracy Brabin: We need a Government to look beyond the cities
Published: Tuesday 12 February 2019
What does a modern, thriving and vibrant town look like? A question decision-makers have wrestled with time and again while they plough yet more investment into our cities.
Almost 60% per cent of the population live in towns, yet cities get disproportionately more investment. Our towns are suffering - and we’re sick and tired of playing second fiddle.
I belong to a group of Labour MPs, Councillors and others called Labour Towns and our mission is to find transformative solutions to reinvigorate our ailing and neglected towns.
I’m not saying we need to reinvent the wheel. We already have much to celebrate here in Batley and Spen and a wonderful, diverse population that could rival anywhere in the world for its friendliness and open nature.
We just need the means and backing to enable each and every town to craft its own identity and drive investment.
Our Labour Towns blueprint is working towards this.
We can start with the basics – each town should have a Post Office, a bank, a library, a modern leisure centre and be well-served by public transport as an absolute minimum.
And I believe culture and the arts has a significant role to play in this regenerative journey. We’ve seen the boost events such as the Cleckheaton Folk Festival, Batley Festival and the Great Get Together can give our businesses. This boost needn’t be a once a year special.
We can place the arts, culture, sport and heritage at the centre of what we do. That’s why I’m backing calls for the Government to set up a National Town of Culture award to run alongside the existing City of Culture award.
The collaborative approach to bids and the shortlisting process has done wonders for the cities that compete, and it’s time our towns had a piece of the action.
And there’s more. Over the past year I’ve done a lot of work to help local, independent businesses adapt to an increasingly cash-less society by enlisting a firm to give away free card-reading technology.
Such adaptations to changing consumer habits is vital in enabling businesses to compete in the digital age. But our high streets also need Government support.
Our independent businesses are being hit with massive hikes in rates while the likes of Amazon hand over just a fraction of its multi-billion turnover. Our outdated and manifestly unfair business rates system desperately needs revaluating to make it fit for purpose for the 21st century.
Public transport is also a big issue. Companies often cherry-pick the most profitable bus-routes, leaving many with no means to get to where they need to go. We need to improve our bus services so our communities can thrive, not cut them.
I know there’s much to do – but I know we have the skills, talent, creativity and ideas to rebuild and reinvigorate our communities.
We just need a Government willing to look beyond the cities