Government accused by MPs of squandering billions of pounds on ‘levelling up’

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Home Office Minister responsible for identity cards, Meg Hillier in Liverpool to announce that the National Identity Card will be available to residents across the North West including those who live and work in Cheshire, Merseyside, Lancashire and Cumbria from January next year. (PA Archive)
Home Office Minister responsible for identity cards, Meg Hillier in Liverpool to announce that the National Identity Card will be available to residents across the North West including those who live and work in Cheshire, Merseyside, Lancashire and Cumbria from January next year. (PA Archive)

A group of cross-party MPs has accused ministers of squandering billions of pounds of taxpayers’ money on ill-thought-out “levelling up” plans and through the unfair allocation of funding.

The Public Affairs Committee (PAC) has described the way in which the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) has been allocating large sums of money as “unsatisfactory”.

In a report published on Wednesday, the MPs highlighted how the first round of the £1.7 billion Levelling Up Fund was only awarded after the department knew the identities of shortlisted bidders.

The Government must learn again to account to taxpayers for its use of their money

Dame Meg Hillier

The fund – which will later total £4.8 billion – is being awarded to projects aiming to “improve everyday life across the UK” including by “regenerating town centres and high streets, upgrading local transport and investing in cultural and heritage assets”, according to the Government.

The PAC’s report said some bidders for the first round may only have been successful on the basis of unrealistic claims about their projects, at the expense of other more practical claims.

It adds that “the DLUHC has past form with this”, such as the awarding of the £3.6 billion Towns Fund which also had “not been impartial”.

The PAC has also previously criticised the department for lacking “a strong understanding of what works” when planning for its £12 million Local Growth Fund.

Some 16 MPs sit on the committee, which is chaired by Labour’s Dame Meg Hillier.

Dame Meg said the Government was “gambling taxpayers’ money on policies” which are “little more than a slogan”.

She said: “The PAC has reported too often on the problems the government has with delivery of its major projects, programmes and promises.

“Without clear parameters, plans or measures of success it’s hard to avoid the appearance that government is just gambling taxpayers money on policies and programmes that are little more than a slogan, retrofitting the criteria for success and not even bothering to evaluate if it worked.

“The nation is being squeezed harder than it has for decades, there is no more to throw away like this.

“The Government must learn again to account to taxpayers for its use of their money.”

The DLUHC said its assessment process was “transparent, robust and fair”.

A spokesperson for the department said: “The first round of the Levelling Up Fund is delivering vital investment to communities across the UK that have for too long been overlooked and undervalued.

“The assessment process was transparent, robust and fair, and the criteria included the need for projects to be deliverable and to fuel regeneration and growth to level up areas most in need.

“Further rounds of the Levelling Up Fund will continue this work, with unsuccessful bidders given feedback and able to apply again.”

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