In the aftermath of his budget speech last week, Rishi Sunak sent a tweet trumpeting a £20m investment in transport in the Leeds West constituency. It was designed to goad the local MP and shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves. But as Reeves pointed out, the money was actually for next-door Pudsey, a Tory seat.
Yet even in Pudsey last week, where the money will be spent on upgrading a main road, there was little support for Sunak’s supposed largesse, given that it comes after a decade of underinvestment.
Janet Walsh, who has lived in the town for 45 years, had little faith that Westminster politicians could really do anything about Pudsey’s problems – and the budget had not given her any more confidence. There were “so many” issues that need to be fixed, she said, adding: “One person wouldn’t be able to do what needs mending.”
As the largest city in Europe without a mass-transit system, Leeds has long complained it is in desperate need of improved transport. Plans to reintroduce trams and trolleybuses were cancelled in 2016 after 20 years of back and forth between local leaders and national government. For now though, many people would be happy with more reliable and affordable public transport.
Tracy Brabin, West Yorkshire mayor, said the overall pot of £830m for transport in her region would make little difference. “This funding actually includes money for maintenance and pot-hole repairs that would have been expected in any normal spending round. For a start, west Yorkshire and other city regions really need adequate revenue funding to help deliver capped fares and subsided bus routes. The spending review wasn’t clear about whether this would be coming in future.”
This level of funding would help save bus services in Pudsey, like one Walsh used weekly to nearby Morley, which was recently scrapped, much to her disappointment. “That was a big shock to everyone. There are a lot of elderly people who rely on it,” she said.
Thankfully, it now looks like it will be saved by another bus company. But there are plenty of places that residents cannot get to on public transport. “It’s not going to help people here,” said Stephen Barker, who works on a confectionery stall in the market. “We need local people to be able to move about. Pudsey is bad for parking and the bus station takes people out but doesn’t bring people in. We’re fighting a losing battle.”
Pudsey market is quiet, with only about half a dozen occupied stalls and even fewer customers at a time. Barker added: “The market relies on older people but a lot of them live too far away to walk here.”
Whitehall cash may attract headlines, but a decade of austerity and a Leeds city council budget that is still about 40% of what it was in 2010 has meant key community services have closed. Earlier this year, the council cut a further £87m and 800 jobs, a situation council leader James Lewis described as “pretty dire”. More than a third of children in Leeds now live in poverty, according to charity Action for Children, and Pudsey is about average for the city.
Bev Stephenson, a retired teacher who has lived in Pudsey her whole life, said the town had a strong community, with people keen to help each other. She is a volunteer at a new food and clothing bank which was set up at the parish church during the pandemic, but has now grown large enough to need its own space.
“We have some people in real need but we also have had dozens of volunteers,” she said. “People have wanted to help the community by donating and giving their time. Pudsey has such a lovely feel.”