Bedford Borough leaders and councillors have accused the government of letting down the residents of Kempston after the town missed out on ‘levelling up’ funding in the recent Budget.
Back in July, a bid for £14.9m from the Government’s ‘Levelling Up Fund’ was submitted to enable regeneration and transport infrastructure to improve the economic vitality of Kempston.
The pitch aimed to ‘increase footfall and encourage economic activity in Kempston town centre, improving its vibrancy and viability’.
But in the Budget announcement on 27 October, it was revealed that none of the funding would be making its way to Kempston.
Local councillors have voiced their anger and disappointment at the announcement, alongside Bedford and Kempston Labour MP, Mohammad Yasin.
He told the Bedford Independent: “I would like the Government to explain to my constituents in Kempston, why the levelling up funding bid which would have contributed towards a much needed new health hub was rejected while neighbouring Central Bedfordshire, has received £26.7m despite being among the least deprived fifth of local authorities in the country.
“Actions speak louder than words and this decision makes a mockery of the Government’s hollow levelling up agenda.”
Kay Burley, leader of Kempston Town Council and a Labour Borough Councillor for Kempston said: “It is a massively disappointing blow to people in Kempston that the bid has been rejected.
“Once again Kempston has missed out on much-needed funding. It would have been used to enhance the Saxon Centre, make a contribution to a Kempston medical hub, and to refurbish some roads and pavements.
“Areas of our town continue to deteriorate due to lack of central government investment. Hardly a budget for the ‘new age of optimism’, for Kempston.”
The government’s Levelling Up fund is designed to combat regional inequality by investing in infrastructure that “brings pride to a local area”, according to the scheme’s prospectus.
Among the projects set out in the bid for Kempston were two foot bridges, cycle and foot path improvements (including street lighting), a cycle park, an e-bike charging hub and funding towards a new health hub.
Neighbouring Central Bedfordshire Council, which is partly represented by the Conservative Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries, received £26.7 million in levelling-up funding despite being among the 25% least deprived areas in the country.
Sue Oliver, Bedford Borough Labour Group Leader and Councillor for Kempston North said: “This is the problem with a system of bidding for funds rather than an ongoing, fairly divided allocation of money for our towns which would allow us to plan a steady programme of improvements. We will keep fighting to get our fair share.”
“The Department for Letting Down”
Mayor Dave Hodgson also expressed his disappointment at the decision, saying that the funding would have greatly boosted the economic viability of Kempston town centre.
“The Saxon Centre is one of the focal points of Kempston Town Centre and it is disappointing we were not granted the funds to regenerate the area,” he said.
Liberal Democrat portfolio holder for town centres and planning, Cllr Henry Vann said “There is a real risk that the Department for Levelling Up is becoming the Department of Letting Down.
“When you examine the allocation of funds across the country, it raises a lot of questions and I think the people of Kempston deserve answers and investment in our communities.”
Conservative Deputy Group Leader, Councillor Roger Rigby, said that the blame could not be levelled at the government.
“It is a disappointment that the Borough Council’s bid for levelling up funding in Kempston has failed,” he said. “However, we all realise these government funds are very scarce and not everywhere can be a winner.
“My real grouse is not with the Government, it is with the Liberal Democrat Mayor and Kempston’s Labour Councillors who have been supporting the borough’s administration for many years when it could have been providing local levelling up funding in Kempston.
“Instead they did little, I quite understand how the blame game works, locally the Liberal Democrats and the Labour party having not invested significantly in Kempston they want to use a failed government bid as a fig leaf for their own continued failure.”
Mr Yasin said: “This Conservative Government found money in this budget for champagne drinkers and people taking domestic flights, yet have rejected this much-needed funding bid which had both a strong economic and social case.
“Actions speak louder than words and this is yet another example of the Government ignoring the real needs of our towns.”
“I stand with local Councillors in calling for Kempston to receive the funding it deserves.”