West Midlands Mayor Andy Street at the Conservative Party annual conference at the International Convention Centre in Birmingham. Picture date: Sunday October 2, 2022.
A Tory mayor has launched an outspoken attack on the government’s flagship levelling up policy.
Andy Street accused ministers of creating a “begging bowl culture” over the distribution of taxpayers’ money around the UK.
Street, who is the Conservative mayor of the West Midlands, hit out after the government announced £2.1 billion-worth of funding to projects around the country.
A breakdown of where the money went showed that the north west of England received the most (£354 million) followed by the south east (£210.5m) and Wales (£208.2m).
The West Midlands came eighth with £155.6 million. Bottom of the pile was Northern Ireland, which received £71.1m.
Street said most of the funding bids made from his area had been rejected, with “some of our most deprived areas” missing out.
He said local politicians, rather than civil servants in Whitehall, should decide where the cash goes.
In a statement on Twitter, he said: “Fundamentally, this episode is just another example as to why Whitehall’s bidding and begging-bowl culture is broken, and the sooner we can decentralise and move to proper fiscal devolution the better.
“The centralised system of London civil servants making local decisions is flawed, and I cannot understand why the levelling up funding money was not devolved for local decision-makers to decide on what’s best for their areas.”
A row also erupted after Rishi Sunak’s wealthy constituency in Richmond, north Yorkshire, received £19.1 million to improve Catterick town centre.
Alex Sobel, Labour MP for Leeds North West, said: “I had to wake up this morning to hear on the news that the Rishi Riches of Richmond received funding a second time - having their mouths stuffed with gold.
“He flew into my constituency in a private jet, drove in a limousine past the cold council houses and the people of Leeds’s six bids got no money.”
Gavin Newlands, the SNP MP for Paisley and Renfrewshire North, said: “How is it possible that areas of multiple deprivation can miss out while the prime minister’s constituency - which is one of the wealthiest in the UK - nabs £19 million?”
But Sunak - who was criticised today for taking a private jet from London to Blackpool - defended the money awarded to his constituency.
Speaking to broadcasters in a visit to Accrington, the prime minister 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.
“With regard to Catterick Garrison, the thing you need to know is that’s home to our largest army base and it’s home to actually thousands of serving personnel who are often away from their own families serving our country.
“It’s important that they have access to a town centre providing the amenities they need – that’s what that funding is going to deliver.
“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.”