Rishi Sunak rejected claims the allocation of more than £2 billion in taxpayers’ money for local projects was skewed towards relatively affluent areas including his own constituency.
The Prime Minister said the projects backed by the levelling up fund would help generate pride in local communities and insisted northern England was receiving more per person than the south.
He said: “If you look at the overall funding in the levelling-up funds that we’ve done, about two-thirds of all that funding has gone to the most deprived part of our country.”
A regional breakdown of the funding shows:
– Yorkshire and the Humber: £120,619,162
– West Midlands: £155,579,834
– Wales: £208,175,566
– South West: £186,663,673
– South East: £210,467,526
– Scotland: £177,206,114
– Northern Ireland: £71,072,373
– North West: £354,027,146
– North East: £108,548,482
– London: £151,266,674
– East Midlands: £176,870,348
– East: £165,903,400
Projects in the latest round of levelling up fund allocations included a £19 million regeneration scheme in Mr Sunak’s Richmond, North Yorkshire constituency.
The Prime Minister defended the regeneration of the Catterick Garrison high street, saying the funding would deliver the amenities needed by troops living there: “I’m really grateful to all our armed forces personnel for the incredible job that they do and I’m delighted that this investment will support them.”
He denied the levelling up fund is an example of “pork barrel politics” for Tory seats.
Speaking to broadcasters during a visit to Accrington, the Prime Minister said: “The region that has done the best in the amount of funding per person is the North.
“That’s why we’re here talking to you in Accrington market, these are the places that are benefiting from the funding.
“We’re delivering on what we said, we’re investing in local communities, this is levelling up in action.”
He added that the fund would boost growth and “make sure people feel enormous pride in the places that they call home”.
“What’s levelling up about? It’s about investing in local communities so we can create jobs, drive growth and make sure people feel enormous pride in the places that they call home,” he said.
Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove said the latest round of investment is “specifically tilted towards the North, the Midlands, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland”.
Analysis in The Times indicated 52 Tory constituencies in England benefit – more than twice as many as those represented by Labour MPs.
Mr Gove told Times Radio: “I think more of the money is going to Labour-led local authorities than to Conservative-led local authorities and that’s because the money’s been allocated according to a set of objective criteria and on the basis of deliverability.”
Asked about the South East receiving larger sums of cash, Mr Gove said: “It’s simply untrue that the levelling up fund is concentrated disproportionately on London and the South East.”
He said London and the South East together constitute a quarter of the country’s population, but that per capita “the biggest winners are those in the North West”.
Concerns over favouritism were heightened by leaked footage of Mr Sunak at a summer garden party in Tunbridge Wells, Kent, telling Tory members how as chancellor he had channelled funding away from “deprived urban areas” to “make sure areas like this are getting the funding they deserve”.
Mr Gove said he did not think it was “quite right” to infer a tilt away from funding for the North from Mr Sunak’s comments, arguing he was simply pointing out that areas in the South East also need investment.
“There are areas of deprivation in London and in the South East, particularly along the Kent coast, that we do need to invest in,” the Levelling Up Secretary said.
The £2.1 billion allocated to more than 100 projects comes from the overall £4.8 billion levelling up fund announced in 2020.
Shadow communities minister Alex Norris told MPs there was a “rock-bottom allocation for Yorkshire and the Humber, nothing for the cities of Birmingham, Nottingham and Stoke, nothing for Stonehouse in Plymouth, a community in the bottom 0.2% for economic activity.
“But money for the Prime Minister’s constituency, money for areas in the top quartile economically. What on earth were the objective criteria used to make these decisions?”
Shadow levelling up secretary Lisa Nandy said the fund was a “Hunger Games-style contest” which only offered a partial refund for resources stripped out of communities through austerity measures.