Seats held by seven ministers are set to receive tens of millions of pounds of development money when they were previously deemed not in need of funds, triggering new accusations of bias in the ‘race to the top’ .
The constituencies of Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor, Liz Truss, the Foreign Secretary, and Stephen Barclay, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, are on a list of ‘priority places’ ahead of a new annual fund of 1.5 billion pounds sterling.
Yet all three – plus those of Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis, Commerce Secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan, Chief Whip Mark Spencer and Robert Jenrick, the former Minister of Communities – had been classified as “Most developed” and unlikely to receive subsidies.
The revelation, resulting from the search for The independent, has sparked further uproar over a disruption in development spending after Brexit, after delays that have already slipped around Â£ 1.5bn into needy areas this year.
Independent experts have warned ministers ignore where “the need is greatest” and scoff at Boris Johnson’s famous pledge to level the country.
Labor accused the government of “funneling money to the ridings of the richest ministers” after similar controversies over various funding pots.
The long-promised UK Shared Prosperity Fund – to replace the loss of EU structural funds of Â£ 1.8bn per year – is already mired in controversy, having been postponed until next year.
The government has pledged to match pre-Brexit grants – to build local economies by attracting businesses and jobs – but even a Â£ 220million interim fund, for 2021-2022, has yet to distribute d ‘money.
A total of 100 ‘Priority Places’ have been announced across England, Scotland and Wales for this UK Community Renewal Interim Fund to help them ‘prepare’ for Shared Prosperity Fund grants from Â£ 1.5bn to follow next year, although more areas will follow next year. also be eligible.
The list sparked anger by excluding some of the poorest areas – Liverpool, Sheffield, Knowsley, Carlisle, Plymouth and Preston – which received EU funds.
Today, research by the House of Commons library found that seven ministerial seats were in “most developed” areas of low priority under the old regime – but are now on the front lines. for several million pounds each.
They are in the local authorities of Richmondshire, North Yorkshire (Mr Sunak’s constituency), King’s Lynn & West Norfolk (Ms Truss’s), Fenland, North East Cambridgeshire (Mr Barclay’s), Newark and Sherwood, in Nottinghamshire (Mr. Spencer’s and Mr. Jenrick’s), Northumberland (at Mrs. Trevelyan) and Great Yarmouth (at Mr. Lewis).
Of the 49 towns in England that were considered “the most developed” but are now “priority places”, no less than 35 have Conservative MPs, or a majority of Conservative MPs.
The New Economics Foundation think tank denounced the way the fund was set up, accusing ministers of wasting “a golden opportunity” to target areas still suffering from the loss of old industries.
“These delays and its allocation process – which seems to pay little attention to the most urgent needs – are a missed opportunity to give people greater control over their local economies,” said Frances Northrop, associate member of the NEF. .
Professor Steve Fothergill of the Center for Regional Economic and Social Research at the University of Sheffield Hallam also condemned a “very flawed” process that would help “clearly prosperous areas” at the expense of the poorest.
He criticized the use of district data from local authorities – when local economies stretched much further – and population density as a criterion, “a discriminator in favor of rural areas” which tend to be conservative.
âThe officials messed this up with a formula that produced bizarre and stupid results,â Professor Fothergill said, while dismissing the idea of ââa âpolitical solutionâ.
He added: âThe EU structural funds have been the main source of financing for economic development for 30 years. The government cannot take its upgrade program seriously if this list is used for the Shared Prosperity Fund allocation.
And Steve Reed, secretary for shadow communities, said: “Giving money to the ridings of the richest ministers, to the detriment of the poorest, will do nothing to correct the regional inequalities that the Conservatives have created and worsened over the past decade. “
The Shared Prosperity Fund is due to start next April, but offers have yet to be solicited – and there are doubts whether all funding will be replaced, with only an annual ‘average’ of $ 1.5 billion. pounds sterling to spend.
As ministers and Whitehall officials make decisions on allowances, there are also fears of a takeover that would undermine the union.
The Department for Grading, Housing and Communities defended the way the zones were chosen and confirmed that this would allow them to “take full advantage of the UK Shared Prosperity Fund when it launches next year”.
“The UK Community Renewal Fund’s selection process is transparent, robust and fair to help identify areas that need funding the most,” said a spokesperson.