Blackpool council leader criticises Tory minister’s ‘ignorant’ comments

The leader of Blackpool council has criticised “ignorant and ill-advised” comments by a Tory minister who was forced to apologise after describing the town as “godawful”.

Speaking at the launch of the government’s new digital strategy on Thursday, Heather Wheeler, a junior minister in the Cabinet Office, was reported to have said: “I was just at a conference in Blackpool or Birmingham or somewhere godawful.”

Wheeler subsequently apologised in a tweet, saying that she “made an inappropriate remark that does not reflect [her] actual view”.

The Labour councillor Lynn Williams said the comments were particularly frustrating because the government was supposed to be working alongside the Lancashire town to tackle social deprivation as part of its flagship levelling up programme.

“We know we’ve got a lot of social inequalities to deal with and we’re actually meant to be working with the government to deal with those as part of the levelling up programme so, yeah, it’s just frustrating,” she said.

The transparency of the programme, which has been a cornerstone of the government’s platform since 2019, has come into question with leaders outside London claiming that some promised investment has not been received and other funds have been funnelled to Conservative seats.

Appearing on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Williams said the popular seaside resort was “used to getting sort of ignorant and ill-advised comments” and implored Wheeler to “come and have a look round” herself.

She said the remarks had made her “quite cross” particularly after the town hosted the Tory spring conference in March and a huge rise in footfall in the last two years. “We’re doing something right. People love Blackpool,” she said.

Asked about Wheeler’s apology, she appeared unconvinced. “I mean, you said it, you thought it,” she said, adding that making Blackpool and Birmingham the butt of the joke was “more evidence of what the true thoughts are”.

Williams joins a number of key voices in her party in criticising the junior minister’s comments. Labour’s deputy leader, Angela Rayner, tweeted: “The mask has slipped. This minister has blurted out what Boris Johnson’s Conservatives really think about our communities behind closed doors. The disrespect is off the scale.”

Lisa Nandy, the shadow secretary of state for levelling up, housing and communities, wrote: “They tell us they’re levelling up the country but this is what they truly think. They can’t even tell the difference between ‘Blackpool or Birmingham or somewhere godawful’.”

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