This week I called in Parliament for Cheltenham to receive investment from the £1.6bn Stronger Towns Fund. This money has been allocated by the Government to boost less well-off towns in England after Brexit, and is intended to be targeted towards those communities which feel left behind.
What’s this got to do with Cheltenham, you may ask. Ours is a relatively affluent town after all. We’re not a coastal city or former mining town. Unemployment here is below the national average. Overall income per head is above. We are home to a highly skilled workforce. Life expectancy on average is relatively high.
But it’s not the whole picture. There are pockets of intense deprivation in our town. Some neighbourhoods fall into the most deprived decile (10th of population) nationally, with higher unemployment and poorer overall mental health. Most shockingly of all, males in that bracket can expect to live 8.5 years less than those in the least deprived.
That is a true burning injustice. It has persisted for decades in Cheltenham, and we need to fight it as a community with all the tools at our disposal.
There are no easy solutions of course, but there are two things that must be got right: first, children from all backgrounds need access to a great local education. Many immigrant communities have rightly recognised this as the most powerful tool for social mobility.
Second, there must be local opportunities for children from deprived areas when they leave those education settings. That’s the single biggest reason why I have campaigned so hard for Cheltenham’s cyber park in the West of Cheltenham. I know it can bring incredible opportunities for determined young people to turn their lives around.
The Government has already committed £22m to making that vision a reality. The Stronger Towns fund could help us go further. I will be urging those who hold the purse-strings to look beyond the Regency architecture and headline statistics.
I want them to target the communities in Cheltenham which need most support.