Despite everything happening in Westminster – and I can’t possibly cover Brexit here, because whatever I write will be out of date by the time its printed – I am focusing 100% on fighting for North Devon.
I have just come from a very productive meeting with Jake Berry, the Minister for Local Growth. It came after the announcement that Barnstaple has been selected to go forward to the next phase of the Future High Streets Fund. This is a substantial pot of government money which has just been increased to a billion pounds and is designed to help councils transform local high streets.
When Jake Berry wrote to me, he said, ‘An ambitious vision for Barnstaple has been put forward, with the potential to build on its position as a regional economic centre and a tourist town with a rich history’.
With warm words like that, I knew it was likely to be a productive meeting. But I was delighted when the Minister asked me to pass on an invitation for Barnstaple to bid for up to £150,000 straight away, just to put together the business case. Let’s be clear, this is money to help with the bidding process; the actual grant could be many millions of pounds.
North Devon Council is now being invited to submit that full business case, and I will continue to support it however I can.
Of course, Barnstaple is not our only town in North Devon in need of investment. During the summer recess, I spent considerable time in Ilfracombe, meeting many community groups and hearing about some of the challenges faced by the local community.
So I have just taken the opportunity of asking the Minister what help might be available for Ilfracombe too. He has pointed me towards the £3.6billion Towns Fund, and says there will be further tranches of the Coastal Communities Fund as well. I will make sure Ilfracombe is at the front of the queue when this new money is being distributed.
It’s this personal relationship and influence with ministers which is so helpful, and I will continue to use it unashamedly to get what we need for North Devon.