ACROSS Dudley South, we’re lucky to have some great town centres and shopping areas.

On the western side of the constituency we’ve got Kingswinford, Crestwood Park, Wordsley Green and Wall Heath village offering local community-style shopping.

In the centre of the constituency we’ve got Brierley Hill town centre which has been given a new lease of life thanks to help from the Government’s Future High Streets Fund – enabling the council to improve the pavements and street furniture, as well as bringing back the public toilets and refurbishing the library. Improvements that, over time, should help attract new shops and shoppers back into the town to accompany brilliant existing businesses like the traders at Brierley Hill Market.

On the eastern side of the constituency we’ve got Netherton, and although it is much smaller than nearby larger towns like Brierley Hill and Dudley, it still has a proud history as a local shopping centre. It also has a part to play going forward as a secondary shopping centre serving the surrounding local community. With hundreds of varying towns just like Kingswinford, Brierley Hill and Netherton up and down the country – all facing similar challenges given the changes in shopping habits and the rise of online retail – the Government has put together the Long-Term Plan for Towns.

This plan is a strategy that puts the future of our towns back into the hands of local people, so that they can decide on local priorities and what’s best for the long-term future of the places where they live.

Under the strategy, Netherton, Woodside and Holly Hall could benefit from a chunk of £20m worth of investment which has been earmarked for a new ‘Dudley Town Board’ area that also covers Netherton and Holly Hall Ward.

I have had a number of meetings with regeneration officers at Dudley Council and Government officials about the plans, and just last week we met again to discuss progress.

The funding will be allocated in an ‘endowment-style’ with approximately £2m being available each year for a whole decade to fund community-driven regeneration projects within the Town Board area – intentionally providing a catalyst for further private investment and community capital to maximise the overall benefit for the area. Of course, the Wednesbury to Brierley Hill Metro extension will run right through Dudley and Netherton, so this funding from Government is very timely to help us link in with the opportunities this brings.

We’re expecting further updates on the revised timeline for the next phase of the Metro extension later this year – and although it was extremely sad to lose Andy Street as Mayor for the West Midlands, I will be lobbying his successor just as strongly to make sure the Metro is completed all the way to Brierley Hill.

More broadly, we have seen the positive economic news we were all hoping for – confirmation that the UK economy is back to growth after what turned out to be a relatively short technical recession, especially when compared with the recession of 2008 which lasted for more than a year.

The confirmed figures show that our economy grew by 0.6 per cent in the first quarter of 2024 – the joint highest in the G7 – and is projected to grow faster than any other major European economy over the next six years.

With average wages growing much faster than inflation, energy prices falling and tax cuts worth £900 a year to the average worker hitting bank accounts, we really are turning a corner and hopefully putting the worst economic effects of the Covid pandemic and the War in Ukraine behind us.