Michael Gove has defended the allocation of a £2 billion levelling up fund, saying it is “simply untrue” that the cash is mainly being handed to the relatively affluent areas.
The Levelling Up Secretary insisted the latest round of investment is “specifically tilted towards the North, the Midlands, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland”.
It follows criticism that the funding for more than 100 projects across the UK is being directed at areas not considered deprived, including Rishi Sunak’s own Richmond constituency.
The military town of Catterick Garrison in the Prime Minister’s wealthy North Yorkshire seat is receiving £19 million to regenerate the high street, prompting accusations that Conservative areas are being favoured.
Mr Gove refuted the claims, even when a story in The Times was put to him which said 52 Tory constituencies in England benefit – more than twice as many as those represented by Labour MPs.
He 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”.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “If you look at it in terms of the amount of money allocated per person, then it is the case that it’s the North West, the North East, Wales, which do best of all.”
Channelling funding away from “deprived urban areas”
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 Department for Levelling Up promised the latest round of funding would deliver much-needed economic growth and new jobs to communities across the country, as the Prime Minister promised to “build a future of optimism”.
Mr Sunak, who will visit the North West on Thursday to announce the successful bids, said: “Through greater investment in local areas, we can grow the economy, create good jobs and spread opportunity everywhere.”
But Labour accused the Government of presiding over a “Hunger Games-style contest where communities are pitted against one another”.
Here is a regional breakdown of the levelling up funding:
– 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