Mansfield MP and new county council leader Ben Bradley on his vision for getting our economies back on track
Changing the high street landscape across Mansfield and Ashfield could be one of the crucial ways of ensuring more money comes flooding into both districts, along with Government support, education, tourism, and drawing more businesses into the area.
Mansfield MP Ben Bradley and newly-elected leader of Nottinghamshire County Council, has been speaking to Chad about the challenges he faces performing both roles, and the potential benefits the dual responsibilities could bring to the districts – and the rest of the county.
Mr Bradley was elected as the new council leader on Monday after winning a seat for Mansfield North by a landslide in last week’s local government elections.
The vote saw huge gains for the Conservatives across the county, winning with a majority of 37 from the 66 seats available on the county council.
Paddy Tipping also lost the Police and Crime Commissioner role to Conservative Caroline Henry, while the Tories hold eight of the 11 parliamentary seats in the county.
But within hours of the announcement of Mr Bradley’s appointment, criticism started flooding in from both main opposition parties on the county council – Labour and the Ashfield Independents – saying he had bitten off more than he could chew and that the electorate would lose out if he fails to meet the needs of both roles effectively.
Mr Bradley said that the initial challenge would be to insure that both local and national Government departments become aligned in order for his time to be spent ‘most effectively in Mansfield, County Hall and Westminster’.
He added issues that arise at a local level will become more easily rectified in Parliament through his role as MP, allowing him direct access to Government Ministers.
Speaking about his priorities for the county – recovering from the Covid pandemic and boosting local economies, including bringing more visitors and tourists into areas like Mansfield and Ashfield – he described it as a ‘challenge’.
Mansfield, with it’s close proximity to Sherwood Forest, has never really financially benefited, in terms of visitors coming into the town, while the county’s literary heritage – Byron’s links to Ashfield and DH Lawrence’s to Eastwood have also failed to achieve much in the way of visitor economy.
In terms of Mansfield making more out of Sherwood and it’s legendary outlaw, Mr Bradley said: “That’s the big challenge, making the connection between the two. Historically, we’ve struggled for hotels in Mansfield, and now we have one ready to go, and another planned for the former bus centre site. There’s a lot of opportunity and a lot of money behind it.”
In terms of high street spending across Mansfield and Ashfield, Mr Bradley said that things also need to change and that the traditional models of retail and office work would not be enough to give them a new lease of life – particularly post-lockdown, as many people get increasingly used to remote working and online shopping.
He said: “We have talked about the struggles of the high street for a long time, but you can’t prop up the high street with office space and retail alone.
“We want to introduce more leisure opportunities – Mansfield has become increasingly affluent, and it's how you get those people to come and spend their money in Mansfield town centre.”
He said that, as council leader, he would be using his influence to ensure the Government’s Levelling-up Fund – which aims to bring more prosperity to some of the country’s most economically challenged areas – would benefit Mansfield and Ashfield, along with other areas of the county.
Additional Government cash through the Towns Fund – aimed at breathing new life into struggling town centres – was another weapon in getting our economies back in business.
A total £12.3m has already been confirmed for Mansfield district and £6,2m for Sutton, with hopefully more to come for Ashfield’s other towns.
Encouraging more businesses into Mansfield and Ashfield, is also a key priority, he said, working with educators such as West Nottinghamshire College and Nottingham Trent University to ensure residents have the necessary skills and qualifications to get gainful employment.
And responding to criticism from other parties about taking on the dual role, he described it as similar to any other constituency MP taking on a ministerial responsibilities, in terms of workload and financial reward.
Mr Bradley, who was first elected as Mansfield MP in 2017 under Theresa May’s Tory Government, said he is not the only Member of Parliament doing “full-on other roles”.
He said: “It’s not unprecedented in the sense that MPs are also MSPs (Members of the Scottish Parliament), there are MPs who are also Metro Mayors, and there are also 100 MPs who are ministers in Government and, as you can imagine, Matt Hancock is a constituency MP and also running a £300bn Government Department, which is also a pretty full-on other role, so it’s not unusual from that perspective, although I’m sure Matt Hancock is working even harder than I am.
“In my mind, all I am doing, rather than trying to climb the career ladder in Westminster, my commitment is to residents in Nottinghamshire, and I’ll spend my time here trying to deliver better services.”
And responding to Labour calls for him to clarify whether he would be taking full salaries for both roles – almost £82,000 as an MP and around £50,000 in allowances as leader for Nottinghamshire County Council, he said: “I’m going to be incredibly busy and I’m going to take every penny. I’m throwing my whole life into this.”