A salutary story to bear in mind as we approach the County Council elections.
At the full Council on Wednesday, 24th February, EDDC agreed by 25 votes to 15 with nine abstentions to write to both Simon Jupp MP and the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities & Local Government Robert Jenrick to express their disappointment that Exmouth was not, as promised on December 8th 2019, given the opportunity to engage with the bidding process for the Future High Streets Fund.
Robert jenrick had just visited Exmouth to boost Simon Jupp’s general election campaign a few days before the general election. He made this promise as recorded by Simon Jupp: Exmouth will receive new funding from the Government’s new Future High Streets Fund. The Secretary of State for Housing, Communities & Local Government, Robert Jenrick, has confirmed that Exmouth will receive funding to help secure up to £20 million pounds from the Government’s new Future High Streets Fund. Also widely reported in the press eg here.
Only the funding, £150K, to support a bid never happened .
Now Councillors want answers to four questions:
1) Why the announcement four days before a General Election (see this link) was not followed with any communication, a firm process and confirmation of the next steps to be announced to East Devon District Council (the responsible authority for submitting such bids)?
2) Why no reply was received to the letter sent by the former Leader of the Council in January 2020 (see this link)?
3) If there will be future iterations of Future High Street funding, even though the previous process was described as ‘once in a lifetime’ and a spokeswoman from the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government has stated that the rest of the funding has been transferred elsewhere? (see this link)
4) Was a unilateral decision taken by the Secretary of State anywhere else in the country to subvert the bidding process?
Remember: Axminster had been chosen by EDDC as the preferred candidate Town to receive funding but failed to get short-listed in 2019. Owl subsequently posted an article suggesting that the explanation could relate to the fact that Axminster lay in a “safe” seat. So this highly politicised promise came out of the “blue”.
“Coincidentally”, last week two days before the EDDC Council meeting, Simon Jupp asked the following question of the Secretary of State and received an answer further muddying the waters by holding out hope in reference to two new funds: the levelling-up fund and the UK shared prosperity fund.
No apology for misleading the people of Exmouth, no explanation.
Topical Questions 22 Feb
Simon Jupp Conservative, East Devon
Since I was elected, I have been speaking up for Exmouth and East Devon in Parliament, and working hard to secure support for our hospitality industry, Exeter airport and the mighty Exeter Chiefs. Exmouth continues to grow, and I want to work with East Devon District Council to help the town stay a great place to live and work. Could the Secretary of State provide an update on when the next round of funding to improve towns, transport and high streets will be made available?
Robert Jenrick The Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government
I very much enjoyed visiting East Devon during the general election campaign, and I look forward to seeing Exmouth’s application in due course. As I said then, Exmouth is exactly the sort of town that we want to benefit from the town regeneration funds that we have made available. I am pleased to tell my hon. Friend that we are driving forward our plans to boost town centre regeneration in every corner of the country. The levelling-up fund and the UK shared prosperity fund will build on the work of the future high streets fund and the towns fund, and the prospectuses for those will be published very soon. I hope East Devon District Council will work with him to grasp this opportunity and put in good proposals that we can consider carefully.
If there really is hope of securing future funding the Council resolved to request a meeting with all MPs to work together on a cross-party basis to prepare a bid for which ever Town or community EDDC judges to be the candidate with the best chance meeting the criteria for success. [Owl paraphrases. At the meeting the proposers accepted s more generalised wording proposed by Cllr Sarah Jackson]
Owl would just reinforce the point made by Sarah Jackson during the debate: it is not for Simon Jupp to decide whether Exmouth should be the choice of community most in need, though the inappropriate intervention of December 2019 has now raised expectations.
The EDDC Council debate can be watched on the youtube replay for 24 Feb, starting at 2:20:50. See if you can spot any Tory showing signs of remorse/guilt/regret.