The government's Town of the Year competition is off to an embarrassing start.
Following up on promises made last year to give "left behind towns” across the country a boost with an allotted £3.6 billion, communities secretary Robert Jenrick launched his tour of English towns in the city of Wolverhampton. Let that marinate for a moment.
Jenrick is a local to the area, having been born in Wolverhampton and raised in Shropshire, and was 18 when the town was granted city status in December 2000, making the snafu even more humiliating. While it's arguably a bit pedantic to be picking someone apart over using the terms 'town centre' and 'city centre' interchangeably - as a spokesperson for the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government did - someone should have twigged something was amiss for the much lauded nationwide tour of towns. Because now Jenrick looks doubly stupid.
The Town of the Year competition "aims to celebrate towns’ achievements, including in areas such as entrepreneurship, technology, community, enterprise, and integration," and will see 100 towns receiving a slice of the £3.6 billion pie, as well as the creation of a ‘Towns Hub’ to offer support for the development of each towns plans.
As silly as all of this looks, the city will ultimately benefit from all of this, so aside from being a PR embarrassment, it's not so bad in the grander scheme of things. But it's rubbed some people up the wrong way, with the Labour MP for Wolverhampton South East, Pat McFadden, tweeting "This new Govt strategy hasn’t had the best of starts. Wolverhampton is a city and has been for 20 years."
The city's mayor, Claire Darke, used the mix-up as an opportunity to question the motives behind the competition, saying "We have been a city for 19 years and they need to catch up. Are they that out of touch that they did not bother to look it up?
"My concern would be that this competition is politically motivated and that they are doing it because there is a tough fight next year to vote for [a] regional mayor for the West Midlands and they are trying to attract support."
Jenrick has previously referred to Wolverhampton as both a city and a town, and honestly, who cares really. It's been both. As long as we see promises of investment pay off in the areas that were set out, it's not that big of a deal. [The Guardian]