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Government Has "No Proper Oversight" Of Levelling Up Spending, Committee Chair Warns

Levelling up has been a key government policy since 2019 (Alamy)

5 min read

The chair of the cross-party Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee has warned that the government has “no proper oversight” of levelling up spending, and questioned whether the policy could ever be properly delivered.

Launching the report today, Clive Betts said it is “concerning” that DLUHC “does not even appear to know which pots of money across Government contribute towards levelling up” and said the approach “raises doubts about whether the policy can be successfully delivered”.

Speaking to PoliticsHome, the Labour MP for Sheffield South East explained on the issue of complex funding of its flagship policy that the “government had no idea – and admitted they were still working on it – about the different pots of money in different departments [...] which are meant to help with levelling up.

“They’re all different, they’re all disparate, they’re not joined up, and [there’s] no proper oversight.” 

Betts was speaking as the committee launched the Funding for Levelling Up Report, which examines the different pots of money designed to achieve the government's promises.

The cross-party group of MPs has said that they are “yet to see” coordination from government departments on the various pots of money which are supposed to contribute to levelling up, and say that ministers "must get to grips with setting out which funding streams are materially contributing to the Levelling Up policy".

While Betts acknowledged that the department – renamed under Michael Gove to focus on levelling up – shows commitment, he questioned whether they were "geared up" to see the ideas become a reality.

“The name of the department signals a clear government intention and that’s really welcome, and there’s cross party support for doing something about the enormous inequalities between different regions in this country," he told PoliticsHome

“Then you have to say ‘is the department geared up to achieve this objective?’ And I think our finding was that it isn’t.” 

The report also addressed how money is allocated, and warned that the competitive nature of bidding for levelling up funding is encouraging “resentment” between communities across the country, as they work to qualify for cash to help their towns and cities.

Money for programmes such as the levelling up fund and the future high streets fund was handed out following bidding processes, with last year's levelling up white paper having acknowledged that a "patchwork of fragmented funds" had emerged. 

The committee has now told the government that these schemes should not "pit communities" against one another to get their hands on "finite resources," and one regional mayor has criticised the government for making local authorities use their "scant resource" on trying to secure money. 

“The nature of competitive bidding can result in resentment between communities and similar neighbouring authorities across the country," the committee's report said today. 

“Communities and local authorities should be encouraged to work together and the government should be mindful of any adverse effects caused by competitive bidding."

Liverpool City Region mayor Steve Rotheram told PoliticsHome that the levelling up fund was "little more than a ‘levelling off’ fund in practice" and accused ministers of turning it into a "beauty contest".

He added: "The government forced hundreds of councils, many of whom have been cut to the bone by the Tories, to use their scant resource on a beauty contest they could ill-afford.
“The whole charade was a nakedly political stunt to funnel money to Conservative seats – including former Chancellors and the Prime Minister’s own – at the expense of areas that need it most."

Councillor Kevin Bentley, Chairman of the Local Government Association’s People and Places Board, also xommented on the allocation systems, and said that more powers for local authorities "without them needing to negotiate costly funding competitions, will also help make levelling up a reality”.

He explained:  “Levelling up has the potential to transform people’s lives and livelihoods, with councils best placed to make this happen.

“This should be locally led by evidence of where crucial investment needs to go to, not based on costly competitive bids between areas, as this important report confirms." 

Shadow levelling up secretary Lisa Nandy has said the government is “going backwards” on their flagship agenda and said that Labour would shift power “out of Westminster” and hand powers back to communities. 

She said: “Because the Tories hoard power in Westminster, local leaders are forced to go cap-in-hand to junior ministers in Whitehall to compete for permission and resources to do what they know will work for them.

“But things can be better, if we stop writing off most people in most parts of Britain.”

The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities said: “Levelling Up is a long-term programme of reform that sits at the heart of our ambition as a Government. It is breathing life into long overlooked communities, whether it is record investment in town centres and high streets or devolving more money and power out of Westminster to the regions.

“Almost £10 billion has been allocated from DLUHC since 2019 to support around 1,000 projects, in addition to the £7.5 billion commitment to the nine city-based Mayoral Combined Authorities in England.

“We are continuing to work towards simpler funding processes to support local authorities and are currently reflecting on the lessons learned from the first two rounds of the Levelling Up Fund allocations to inform the design of Round 3.”

Last week PoliticsHome reported that the government had scrapped the proposed jobs that would oversee the delivery of levelling up across the country. 

Levelling Up Directors had been planned for every English region, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, having been announced in Gove’s white paper last year. 

However, ministers now say they have “decided not to proceed with the appointment of the directors".

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