Since I started in politics many years ago, I’ve always been a vocal advocate of investing in local communities. Here in Stockport, I strongly believe that with the right investment, we can unlock a huge amount of potential.
Many of you will know that in 2019 the Tory Government was elected on a promise to ‘level-up’ regional communities. Unfortunately, this hasn’t really happened, and instead we’ve seen regional inequalities widen.
Part of the reason for this is a lack of proper investment. The Government’s ‘levelling-up’ programme of funding tends to work in this way; a pot of money is made available, and regional communities have to scrap for access to it.
This is the case with the UK Shared Prosperity Fund (UKSPF) which was formed to replace previous EU structural funds. Greater Manchester has been named as lead authority for administering the fund in the city-region. As the fund isn’t enough to cover all the investment needed throughout the region, access to the money will be decided through a competitive process, with local authorities making the case for investment in their area.
Obviously, I have political disagreements with the formulation of the UKSPF. I would much rather see proper strategic investment that rebuilds communities and removes the burden on local authorities – who all have a claim to investment after 12 years of Tory rule – to fight it out. That being said, politics is often about playing the hand you’re dealt, and this situation is no different.
Stockport Council is in the process of making an excellent submission to the UKSPF fund, and one that I am incredibly proud to support. They’re putting forward four projects for consideration, including a digital innovation centre and an enterprise academy for start-up businesses within the now vacant Debenhams store.
The proposal I’m most excited about, however, is the conversion of the vacant former Reddish baths into a modern flexible workshop and office space. These baths have been closed for 17 years now, and it’s a real shame to see this listed building (which was constructed in 1907) sitting empty and gathering dust.
That’s why a conversion of these buildings into a workspace is an ingenious solution to this problem. Not only will this proposal create additional office space in Stockport, but it will also repurpose and breathe new life into a historic building.
I’ll be doing everything I can in Parliament and beyond to champion this scheme and look forward to working closely with Stockport Council to see this ambition become a reality.