Levelling Up Fund bias is leaving deprived communities behind
Deprivation should indicate which areas get priority funding under the Levelling Up Fund. Instead, towns are pitted against each another in a competition for funding where Ministers get to pick winners and losers.
The government’s plan to fix regional inequalities is a charade. Despite the Prime Minister’s promise that funding would be allocated to tackle poverty and the government will “double down” on investment, so far all he’s done is pull our communities further apart.
Minister after Minister has spoken about the power of “levelling up” as we come out of this pandemic without really ever explaining what the government means by it – but now we know. According to the Chancellor’s Budget, it’s a new bus stop. For the Communities Secretary, it’s restoring a 12th-century gatehouse.
Every region should get the investment it needs to recover and rebuild, especially after the Conservatives have slashed council budgets by £15 billion over the last decade. Yet the government has made available less than what was taken away from councils in first place. The £1 billion in towns funding it handed out is less than half of the £2.4 billion it took away in sweeping cuts in those very towns.
How will such small pots of piecemeal funding fix such large regional inequalities across our country?
Instead, the government has ignored deprivation levels in its Levelling Up Fund formula, which is why more than a dozen wealthier areas including Richmondshire appear in the highest category, while the likes of Salford, Bolsover and Barnsley, where some of our most deprived neighbourhoods are situated, are low priority. My own constituency – Blackburn – has received no Towns Fund cash yet is more deprived than many of the areas that benefitted from it.
The reality is that what the government is promising and what it is delivering could not be further apart.
The Minister for Regional Growth, Luke Hall, told the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee that the government wanted to avoid competitive funding unless there is a good reason for it.
But the Levelling Up Fund – like the Towns Fund before it and the Community Renewal Fund to come – pits regions and towns against one another in a competition for funding, allowing Ministers to pick winners and losers.
I have spoken to furious councillors across the country who tell me the same thing: rather than get on with local recovery and genuinely tackling regional inequalities, they will waste hours and spend millions on navigating bidding processes.
The opaqueness of these funds is undermining trust in their integrity. When the government talks about a £4.8 billion Levelling Up Fund and a £3.6 billion Towns Fund, it needs to be honest that it is double counting and recycling existing money.
The Levelling Up Fund has reportedly raided £600 million from the Towns Fund and swallowed the £150 million transport Pinch Point Fund, while another £175 million of Towns Fund money has been transferred to the new freeports scheme.
So far, the government’s explanations have raised more questions than answers.
Why was deprivation not considered when deciding which areas would get priority funding under the Levelling Up Fund?
After the scandalous revelations of Ministers choosing each other’s seats for regeneration money, how can communities be sure that new funding will be allocated fairly, transparently and in a way that lets them have their say?
And crucially, how will such small pots of piecemeal funding fix such large regional inequalities across our country?
The government may think that they can convince voters that a few new roundabouts and hanging baskets on our high streets will fix a decade of economic decline in our regions. The real yardstick of success will be if these schemes rebuild the foundations of our country and leave every part of the country a good place to grow up and grow old in. That’s the vision Labour has for this country.
Kate Hollern is the Labour MP for Blackburn and Shadow Minister for Housing, Communities and Local Government.
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