Simon Clarke MP: Towns and high streets need our support more than ever

Writing exclusively for The Northern Echo, Simon Clarke MP pledges ongoing government support to help the country get back on its feet.

After months standing empty, businesses like hairdressers, bars and hotels will welcome back loyal customers.

As High Streets Minister, I understand how difficult shutting up shops has been for our local shopkeepers, and how strong the appetite has been to re-open as soon as possible.

I was delighted to be in Guisborough recently for the re-opening of shops like Willow Moon gift shop. The owner, Julie Hart, couldn’t be more devoted to getting her business back up and running, or more conscious of her responsibility to keep her customers safe. It’s for people like her that we should all give our high streets our support.

And as we return to the shops, and some normality, it’s important we do so safely and that both business owners and customers continue to follow social distancing guidelines. From new online ordering systems, setting up one-way systems in shops, and making use of apps, already we are seeing innovative examples of how businesses are adapting their premises and their business model to keep their employees and customers safe.

I applaud this work, and we want to support it further. That is why we have allocated £2.4m from our Reopening High Streets Safely Fund to help firms in the North-East with this important work.

But we know we must go further.

That’s why the Prime Minister’s announcement earlier in the week that the Government will bring forward a “New Deal” to deliver jobs, skills and infrastructure is so important. For the North-East, it means £113.6million of accelerated funding to boost economic growth, including £64.6 million invested in infrastructure projects, unlocking up to 4,500 homes on brownfield sites and fast-tracking £6million funding for six places.

Infrastructure projects set to benefit could include the Tyne Dock Enterprise Park, which would create 200 new jobs in the area, and the Elwick Bypass and Hartlepool Western Link, delivering a third route into Hartlepool and something long championed by Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen.

Projects like these will fuel economic recovery in the North-East and across the whole of the UK, ensuring every city, town and village is able to fire on all cylinders again.

The ‘New Deal’ is just the latest package of support for the nation’s economic recovery.

Across the North-East, we’ve already provided £562million to councils to administer grants of up to £25,000 to over 46,000 small and medium-sized businesses.

Beyond this, councils across the North-East are receiving £168million to deal with the pressures of coronavirus, while their core spending power rose by £148.3million this financial year even before additional emergency funding was announced.

Earlier in the week the Local Government Secretary announced further funding of £500m to cover immediate funding pressures for councils across England for councils until the end of August. On top of this, he also announced that the Government will reimburse the majority of the lost income councils have suffered as a result of the pandemic.

As our high streets reopen, I want to reassure you that this support will continue. Our High Streets Task Force will provide councils and businesses with access to cutting-edge tools, training, information and advice.

This will help all organisations involved with high streets to not only deal with the effects of the pandemic, but to respond to longer-term trends, including the shift towards online retail and home delivery.

Now more than ever, towns and high streets need our support to restore pride and confidence, and build better, stronger local economies for the long term.

In the North-East, we are fast-tracking £6million investment in seven towns through our Towns Fund, including Darlington, Hartlepool and Middlesbrough, ahead of deals worth up to £25million each being signed in the months ahead. Five communities, like Loftus and Bishop Auckland, are candidates for investment from the Future High Streets Fund.

These deals are about more than just our recovery from the pandemic. They will help our towns improve their connectivity, infrastructure and their ability to attract business investment. They will also build people’s skills, create new jobs and ensure we are investing in cultural spaces to make our towns better places to live and work.

So as we look towards cinemas, bars and hotels reopening their doors and coming back to life this weekend, I want to reassure you, the people, customers, business and shop owners of the North-East, that this Government is here to support you in getting back to trading safely and securely for the long term. You are not, and never will be, on your own.

Our New Deal is a demonstration of this support, a first step towards recovery and a promise to you that this Government will build back better and move our country forward – stronger and better and more united than ever before.

* Simon Clarke is the Conservative MP for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland, and the Minister for Regional Growth and Local Government

Yorkshire Evening Post