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Fixing the UK wealth gap: flagship policy off course – UK News News – Report by AFR

Trains arrive at Bradford Central Station every 10 to 20 minutes. The driver then disembarks on the platform and walks to the other end of the carriages before continuing the journey.

The time-consuming routine takes place daily because Bradford – England’s sixth largest city – has no through station, forcing trains to turn around to continue along the route.

Regional leaders have long called for a solution to infrastructure deficiencies like these, which highlight the prosperity gap between places in the north like Bradford and more affluent areas in the south.

When Prime Minister Boris Johnson won a landslide election in 2019 in which he promised to “level” places like Bradford, it seemed imminent.

But two years later his government announced modernization plans without the planned through station on a proposed high-speed line between nearby Manchester and Leeds – disappointing local residents.

Instead, more modest upgrades were approved.

It fueled suspicions that Johnson could not be trusted about the promise.

“I was just really disappointed,” said Mandy Ridyard, finance director at Produmax, a Bradford-based aerospace engineering company that is looking to improve connectivity to attract workers.

“We’re asking what the rest of Europe and the south (of England) are expecting,” she told AFP.

“We’re trying to catch up. So not investing… it’s really madness because there’s an opportunity like that.”

– Briefly exchanged –

In 2019, Johnson’s “leveling promise” helped his Conservatives win in disadvantaged, post-industrial parts of central and northern England traditionally held by the main opposition Labor Party.

But critics argue there has been little tangible progress since, with some analysis showing the situation has worsened.

New doubts were sown this week when Johnson sacked the minister responsible for implementing the policy, before resigning himself as leader of the ruling party.

West Yorkshire Chamber of Commerce’s Mike Cartwright called “leveling” a “wonderful catchphrase or slogan” – but said there was a lack of physical action.

A much-anticipated strategy paper from the government last year was a “missed opportunity” and the region feels it has been “missed” so far, he said, praising the ambition but stressing the importance of the results.

Labor City Council leader Susan Hinchcliffe agreed, saying investing in places like Bradford is key “if stepping up is going to mean anything”.

– ‘Forgotten’ –

Bradford and surrounding cities have received some additional resources, including “boosting funding” and designation as an “Education Investment Area”.

The wider region of West Yorkshire also got its own directly elected mayor last year and is facing further decentralization.

But when a new £18.9 billion ($22.7 billion) inter-city railway line opened in London in May, Bradford residents are furious at their canceled project.

“It just felt a little bit like we’d forgotten it again,” said Josie Barlow, a food bank executive who received a top-up grant to help buy the building where it operates.

She added they are “really grateful” for the £225,000 but the city needs bigger infrastructure investments.

Bradford – once a wool-producing powerhouse – is now the fifth-highest income city in the country, according to the government’s latest poverty index in 2019.

– ‘dirt’ –

In Redcar, 70 miles (110 kilometers) north-east of Bradford, the boost in funding has helped refurbish homes previously plagued by crime.

Clare Harrigan, development director of Beyond Housing, which rents out many of the low-rise buildings, called the £711,000 grant “the green shoots” of levelling.

“This is just one example of where it made a difference,” she told AFP.

Sandra Cottrell, 64, who has lived on the Church Lane Estate for decades, said it has become “a mess” and the wider region has been neglected by successive governments.

“We lived in squalor until this all started,” she said as workers installed insulation and landscaped the site.

Despite the new investment and ambitious plans to turn nearby Teesside Steelworks into a hub for industries like offshore wind power, Cottrell is skeptical of Johnson’s lofty goals.

“I don’t believe anything he says,” she told AFP, echoing countless polls showing most Brits now distrust him after lockdown-breaking parties at Downing Street.

“I just think he talks a lot of rubbish.”

Johnson will soon be speaking as a former prime minister. It remains to be seen whether his signature policy will live on.

#Fixing #wealth #gap #flagship #policy

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