It was good news for Ipswich when the Government confirmed we would be getting £25 million in new investment, covering 11 projects across the Town. During the last General Election campaign, the Town Deal was dismissed by local Labour as an “election bribe” that “would never happen”. So, I guess they were more surprised than anyone when the money was confirmed by the Government.
However, the reality is that a long time has now passed, and the majority of the projects still haven’t been delivered on the ground. Some have been delivered and are very near fruition, such as the Old Post Office Building transition to the Botanist, the new Health and Social Care Academy, a new tech centre at Suffolk New College as well as a new Sustainable Construction Centre. It’s also been good to see the Local Shopping Parades fund going out to public consultation. Sadly though, most of the projects, including some of the most eye-catching ones, still haven’t had their business cases submitted and are quite a long way off from being delivered.
There are many different reasons for this, clearly not having a Town Deal Board Chair for a long period of time was part of this, but in my view, the principal reason for this slow progress has been the poor performance of the Labour led Borough Council.
Last week the local government Minister Dehenna Davidson had to take the step of sending a formal letter to the new Chief Executive of the Council requesting a formal meeting. Make no mistake, this was because of the slow, poor performance of the Labour led council.
This follows the Council effectively being stripped of the responsibility for developing the business cases with new external consultants being brought in to ensure the tight deadlines are met.
As much as Labour figures locally moan about a lack of Government investment. The reality here is that it’s the incompetence of the locally led Labour council that risks Ipswich missing out on millions of pounds of much needed investment.
A number of senior people who have been involved in several different Town Deals across the region are of the view that our own Town Deal has been one of the worst performing.
As the local MP I sit on the Town Deal Board but when it comes to the technical deal that sits behind key business cases, we’re in the hands of professional officers and the civil service. However, due to the extent of the failings by the Labour led Council both myself and my colleague Dan Poulter have become sucked into the detail in a way few other MPs have had to. Fortunately, with the new external consultants involved I can see a pathway to all outstanding issues being resolved and us meeting all relevant Government deadlines to secure the money.
I would like to see this as a cock-up not conspiracy. It would be depressing to think that key figures in the local Labour Party had put politics before what’s best for the Town. When some have suggested to me maybe there has been a deliberate tactic at play by key Labour figures to frustrate the delivery of the Town Deal, I have said this I’m confident this isn’t the case. Such behaviour would be unforgivable.
The reality is if the Town Deal is a success, we’re all winners. Everyone in the Town.
The simple truth though is that the local Labour led Borough Council need to do far better when it comes to bidding and managing large scale projects. They need to do what they need to do in order to ensure they’ve got the resources and the expertise they need to deliver. If they fail to learn the lessons from this episode there will only be one set of losers, the people of Ipswich.