Stokie ridicules multi-storey car parks as Tory minister defends levelling up on BBC Question Time

A government minister has told a Stoke-on-Trent audience that levelling up in the city will 'take time'. Treasury minister Nigel Huddleston, who was among the panel on the BBC's Question Time programme on Thursday, was quizzed over the apparent lack of progress on regeneration schemes in Stoke-on-Trent since 2021.

But he told the King's Hall audience that while he understood residents' frustration, levelling up was a 'long term transition' that would not happen overnight. Labour MP Lisa Nandy, though, derided the Conservative government's approach to levelling up as no more than handing out 'little pots of cash'.

The panel was responding to a question from audience member Lee Mollart, who said that since Stoke-on-Trent had been awarded £56 million of levelling up funding in 2021, all he had seen was one multi-storey car park built, and another one demolished. Host Fiona Bruce, referencing a Local Democracy Reporter Service story from last month, added that £34 million of Stoke-on-Trent's funding was still unspent.

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Mr Huddleston's assertion that 'these things take time' drew laughter and groans from the audience, but he insisted that levelling up was happening, pointing to the Goods Yard scheme next to Stoke Station - the only levelling up scheme in Stoke-on-Trent which is well underway.

He said: "These things don't happen overnight. They do take time. You mentioned that £34 million has not been spent yet but lots of it is in progress. Literally just around the corner from here, there's the old Goods Yard - that is in place, that is visible, that is happening and there are other projects as well, like the Spode site.

"So yes, I get the frustration if you're not seeing it, but levelling up is real, it is happening. It is important because you need it. The reality is, as many as you know, Labour took you for granted for too long. It's really, really important that we invest in areas like Stoke and other areas right across the country."

But Lisa Nandy, shadow international development secretary, said that levelling up had to be about long-term economic development rather than just a few capital projects.

She said: "Levelling up isn't little pots of cash handed out for leisure centres and car parks, things that are picked up in Whitehall by people hundreds of miles away, who've never set foot in the communities where we're somehow supposed to be grateful for these small gifts back. What it is is a long term plan to get good jobs back into communities.

"If we want to repair our high streets, if we want to reboot our economies, we've got to get money back into people's pockets. And that means good jobs in every part of the country. And for me, this is just a basic question of respect. Just as it's disrespectful to tour the country handing out little pots of cash for things we never asked for."

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