This is untrue. It is the Conservative Government that doesn’t give much in the way of funding for rural areas. This administration has done more than any other to channel funding to the market towns and rural areas.
For example, we’ve supported £4 million of investment in Leominster’s Heritage Action Zone. We gave Covid recovery funding directly to the market towns so they could decide for themselves how best to spend it. We’ve invested millions in drainage works on the road network. We helped every market town develop an investment plan. And we hold regular ‘town hall’ meetings with local businesses and the voluntary sector in every market town. Our coalition has always focused on fairness. Fair distribution of funding throughout the whole county is a key principle and practice for us.
When government regulations allow, we spread funding fairly through the whole county. For example, we set up the much-loved Shop Local voucher scheme as part of Covid recovery - every household could get a £15 voucher to spend in a local business anywhere in the county. It helped thousands of local businesses at a crucial time.
The point about £42 million allocated to Hereford-Centric projects is simply ridiculous. The allocation of these funds, as the Conservatives know, was decided by central government. We submitted three applications, but only the Hereford one was approved by government.
Roughly half, £22.4 million, is from the Towns Fund. In 2019 the government told us that only Hereford city could apply for this money. We have made the most of this opportunity by helping bring together a fantastic set of proposals from a wide range of community groups under the #StrongerHereford banner - projects that include a new cycle track, skate park, library, learning centre, digital skills training facilities, museum, and free electric hopper bus, as well as great new sports facilities and a food growing project in South Wye. The projects started implementation in 2022 and will be completed by 2025.
The other £20 million is from the Levelling Up Fund. Herefordshire Council submitted three applications for this fund in 2022. Unfortunately government did not fund our proposals in South Herefordshire (the Ross Enterprise Park) or North Herefordshire (Heritage and Public Realm in Ledbury and Leominster). Instead, they chose to fund the transport bid for Hereford. On the plus side, we got nearly 40% of our total request, whereas other areas averaged only 20%, so we did quite well. The Levelling Up Fund money also has to be spent by March 2025.
So, the ‘£42 million for projects in Hereford’ is not money that that council has chosen to spend in the city instead of the market towns. It is central government funding, restricted by them to the city. It is also money that will be spent over three years, not one year.
Sadly, government doesn’t give much at all in the way of funding for rural areas. It has promised us £1.7 million ‘Rural Prosperity Fund’ funding over the next three years - but we are still waiting for them to confirm this, many months after we sent in the requested plans.
Central government also rejected our £17 million bid last year for our Bus Service Improvement Plan. In fact they didn’t give any money for buses to any of our neighbouring counties either - a very strong indication that government just doesn’t care about rural areas, even though our bus subsidy levels are less than 10% of the subsidy levels that London gets.
And we’ve also made far more effort to build links with the market towns and rural areas than any previous administration. For example, since 2021 we have been holding ‘town hall’ meetings every 6 months in every market town (and now in Golden Valley too) with local businesses, where we share information about council plans and projects, ask for feedback, and answer questions.
So it’s simply not true to say we’re ignoring rural areas. In fact, we’re focusing more on them than any previous Herefordshire administration has done.