As the country shifts its focus away from the pandemic and towards long-term recovery and growth, Cat Smith argues her constituency is the perfect example of the challenges the levelling up agenda needs to tackle. 

It has been two years now since Boris Johnson promised my constituents in Fleetwood that the Conservatives would bring back a railway to their Lancashire town. As so often happens on these occasions, it was a flying visit, stopping off for a soundbite opportunity whilst on the way to another 'red wall' constituency. The soundbite was an echo of other promises Boris and the Tories made during that General Election of 2019 – the same empty promises that had proved so alluring during the Brexit campaign.

It will not surprise you to learn that little progress has been made to ensure the people of Fleetwood are able to get from A to B. But without a rail service linking us with other towns and cities, we will continue to struggle to attract property developers, entrepreneurs, major retail brands, tourists, day visitors, employers – and our young people full of determination, ambition, talent and skills feel they have no choice but to move elsewhere to achieve their potential.

The Prime Minister's promises were part of his manifesto commitment to 'levelling up' – making sure that left behind northern communities are given the same leg-up as those in the south. Coastal towns like Fleetwood, already hit by what locals see as historic injustice with the cod wars, have been ignored for far too long.

According to the most recent data, more than a third of my constituents in Fleetwood don't have access to a car. For a town that does not have access to a train, that is pretty serious. There are 27,000 people who live in Fleetwood and two of our council wards are among the most deprived areas in the country. Nearly one fifth of those in Fleetwood aged 66 and over are in receipt of pension credits – a top up provided if you're over state pension age and on a low income. Nearly a quarter of my constituents aged 16-65 are on Universal Credit – in most cases they are in receipt of benefits to top up their income from very poorly paid jobs. In Fleetwood nearly 1,500 children receive free school meals and across my constituency nearly 2,500 children are living in relative poverty.

Write for us.

We're always on the lookout for talented writers and welcome submissions. Please send your opinion piece or pitch to:

Yes, there has been a pandemic which meant 'levelling up' took a back seat – but even more reason therefore to focus attention once again on helping these forgotten communities get back on their feet. But it is not happening.

Last year the government announced a pot of money to regenerate town centres. Here in Fleetwood the high street is littered with empty units and charity shops. The local council put a bid in. The Government rejected it. Most of the money went to bids from the 'red wall' seats that turned blue after the General Election.

We are now anxiously waiting to hear if the Government has deemed us worthy of another grant but the odds are stacked against us. Fleetwood's neighbouring towns are wealthier and this skewers the statistics when civil servants come to determine our eligibility. If the Government really wants to 'level up' it needs to make sure this begins with a level playing field – and at the moment ours is sloping heavily towards the sea.

In the last month Boris has promoted his arch nemesis Michael Gove to the new Ministry of Levelling Up. Following his appointment, Gove told journalists "our relentless focus will be on delivering for those overlooked families and undervalued communities across the United Kingdom." Fleetwood ticks both of those boxes.

I have already written to Mr Gove, as I did to all his predecessors asking them for government support and highlighting the challenges Fleetwood faces. I am once again not holding my breath, but I will not give up fighting, and I still have hope that one day I will be able to get a train from Fleetwood to Westminster.

5 votes

Sign-up for free to stay up to date with the latest political news, analysis and insight from the Comment Central team.

By entering your email address you are agreeing to Comment Central’s privacy policy