Ministers accused of gambling billions on 'little more than a slogan' in levelling-up funds report

·3-min read

Ministers gambled taxpayers' money on policies amounting to "little more than a slogan" according to a report by MPs into how £1.7bn in levelling-up funds were shared out.

The Commons public accounts committee described as "unsatisfactory" the way cash was allocated through 105 awards in November last year.

Despite billions spent on a series of schemes to boost local growth over recent years the government "still does not have a strong understanding of what works", it said.

The latest report focused on the £1.7bn handed out in the first tranche of the £4.8bn levelling-up fund - designed to "improve everyday life across the UK" through projects such as high street regeneration, local transport upgrades and investment in cultural and heritage sites.

MPs found that by the time ministers had decided on the principles for awarding the money they had already decided which of the 170 shortlisted bidders would be successful as a result of these principles.

The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, which was responsible for allocating the money, also failed to list unsuccessful bidders, the select committee said, while there was "no transparency over the location and type of unsuccessful versus successful bids".

"We are also concerned that some bidders may have been successful on the basis of unrealistic claims about how ready their projects were to deliver, at the expense of other, more realistic, bids from elsewhere," the report added.

That may have put local authorities unused to the bidding process, such as those in the devolved administrations, at particular disadvantage.

Some of the "shovel-ready" projects that were chosen had since been beset by delays, the MPs found.

The government had planned to make available up to £600m of the £1.7bn funds by the end of the 2021/22 financial year but four weeks from the end of that period just £100m had been spent, according to the report.

MPs said the government had "past form" with the way it allocated funding.

The committee has previously said the allocating of the £3.6bn towns fund "had not been impartial" and criticised the department for lacking "a strong understanding of what works" when planning for its £12bn local growth fund.

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Dame Meg Hillier, chair of the committee, said that it "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 Levelling Up Department said: "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."

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