Michael Gove goes on attack over claims levelling up fund favours London

Minister for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, Michael Gove (PA) (PA Wire)
Minister for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, Michael Gove (PA) (PA Wire)

Michael Gove has defended the Government’s £2billion levelling up funding round amid claims that it favours London over “red wall” areas in the north and the Midlands.

A total of 18 projects in the capital and south east will receive £360m in the second tranche of funding awarded as part of the Conservatives’ flagship policy to tackle deprivation.

By comparison, six projects in Yorkshire and the Humber received £120m, triggering complaints from some northern Tory MPs who fear Rishi Sunak has abandoned areas which helped secure Boris Johnson his 2019 election triumph.

However Levelling Up Secretary Mr Gove said the claim was “not quite true”, insisting that when the awards were broken down per capita (per head of population) they were still heavily tilted towards deprived parts of the north, Midlands and Wales.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “If you look at it in terms of the amount of money allocated per person, then it is the case that it’s the north west, the north east, Wales, which do best of all.

But he added: “London and the south east together constitute a quarter of the country’s population. There are areas of deprivation in London and in the southeast, particularly along the Kent coast, that we do need to invest in.”

According to Government figures, London received £17 per head - the lowest allocation per capita in the latest round of levelling up funding. By contrast Yorkshire and the Humber received £22, the north east received £41, the north west £48 and Wales came out on top with £67. The south east received £23.

When both funding rounds are taken into account, projects in London received £216 million from a pot of nearly £3bn. Only the north east (£208m) and Northern Ireland (£120m) have received less.

But when the money is measured by head of population London received £24 and the south east received £39 - the two lowest per capita amounts. Wales came out on top with £104 per head.

London’s biggest winner in the latest round of awards was a £43m project to make Leyton and Colindale underground stations step free. Belmont in Sutton will receive £14m to improve train services and £20m will go to revitalise the Selby Centre in North Tottenham. Camden - where Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has his constituency - will receive £7m for cycling and walking infrastructure and local GP services.

But the latest funding award has also attracted controversy for favouring Conservative seats over Labour ones.

Mr Sunak’s own Richmond constituency in Yorkshire was also awarded £19m, raising further awkward questions for the Government.

Asked on LBC whether this award had been influenced by the Prime Minister being the local MP, Mr Gove said: “No, it’s nothing to do with that and has everything to do with the fact that the money is going to Catterick, which I think is the biggest infantry base in the country. And the money is going to make sure that the neighbourhood in which service families live is invested in appropriately.”

And he insisted more levelling up money is going to Labour-led local authorities than those run by Tories.

Shadow Levelling Up Secretary Lisa Nandy criticised the Government’s “Hunger Games” contest, saying: “Most places have lost. Four out of five places that asked for some money have got none at all.

“And even the winners are losing because it’s the equivalent of handing us a fiver and nicking 20 quid out of our back pocket.”

Mr Sunak defended the funding allocation, saying northern England had "disproportionately" benefited from the levelling up fund projects announced in the latest round.

The Prime Minister said: "We are completely committed to levelling up across the United Kingdom.

"If you look at how we are spending this money it is disproportionately benefiting people in the North East, the North West, and that's great."

He denied the funding allocations were motivated by an attempt to shore up support in southern Tory seats.

"I think around half the funding we have announced over the course of today, or both funds, has actually gone to places that are not controlled by Conservative MPs or councils," he said.

"I don't think anyone can say it's being done on that basis, there's a completely objective, transparent criteria."