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RISHI Sunak has been caught on video bragging about diverting state funding away from “deprived urban areas” to more prosperous Tory shires.
Speaking in Royal Tunbridge Wells in Kent last week, the former Chancellor boasted that he had started “undoing” funding formulas inherited from past Labour governments, suggesting he would do it more as Prime Minister.
He told a crowd of Tory supporters on July 29: “I managed to start changing the funding formulas, to make sure areas like this are getting the funding they deserve.
“Because we inherited a bunch of formulas from Labour that shoved all the funding into deprived urban areas and that needed to be undone.
“I started the work of undoing that.”
The boast appeared to fly in the face of the Tory government’s levelling up agenda, which is supposed to boost investment and living standards outside the prosperous south east.
Tunbridge Wells is the least deprived part of Kent, and one of the least deprived parts in England, according to official data.
Mr Sunak’s camp also attacked Tory leadership rival Liz Truss earlier this week over the foreign secretary's plans for regional pay cuts outside London, calling it “levelling down”, not levelling up.
Rishi Sunak will struggle to explain this to the red wall and show how this is consistent with levelling up. Feels like a moment https://t.co/7PfE3XgfnN
— Robert Peston (@Peston) August 5, 2022
Labour said Mr Sunak’s remarks in Tunbridge Wells, first reported by the New Statesman, were “scandalous”, while supporters of Mrs Truss also attacked Mr Sunak.
Foreign Office minister Lord Zac Goldsmith said: “This is one of the weirdest – and dumbest – things I’ve ever heard from a politician.”
Jake Berry, the chairman of the Northern Research Group of ‘red wall’ Tory MPs, said that in public Mr Sunak “claims he wants to level up the North, but here, he boasts about trying to funnel vital investment away from deprived areas”.
The Truss supporter went on: “He says one thing and does another – from putting up taxes to trying to block funding for our armed forces and now levelling up.”.
However Tees Valley mayor Ben Houchen, a supporter of Mr Sunak, said Boris Johnson had promised to invest in areas “that have been ignored at the expense of urban cities”.
Labour’s shadow levelling up secretary Lisa Nandy said: “This leadership race is revealing the Conservatives’ true colours. It’s scandalous that Rishi Sunak is openly boasting that he fixed the rules to funnel taxpayers’ money to prosperous Tory shires.
“This is public money. It should be distributed fairly and spent where it’s most needed – not used as a bribe to Tory members.”
SNP MP Alison Thewliss said: "Rishi Sunak has been honest with Tory party members about his plans for the future, but not with the general public.
"Beyond the rhetoric, it's clear that regardless of who becomes the next Prime Minister, their goal is to make the rich richer and the poor poorer.
"With the Westminster government failing to properly tackle the cost of living crisis, it's clear that Scotland needs the full powers of independence more urgently than ever, to properly protect households and build a fairer and more prosperous society."
Mr Sunak’s campaign did not dispute the video but instead defended its content.
A source said: “Levelling up isn’t just about city centres, it’s also about towns and rural areas all over the country that need help too. That’s what he changed in the [Treasury] green book and he will follow though as prime minister.
“Travelling around the country, he’s seen non-metropolitan areas that need better bus services, faster broadband or high quality schools. That’s what he’ll deliver as prime minister.”