The Tories have handed 83 per cent of a £610 million fund for struggling towns to areas with Conservative MPs.
Ministers have been repeatedly criticised for directing cash from the government’s ‘towns fund’ towards their own seats and and marginal constituencies, leading to accusations of “pork barrel politics” from critics.
Now it has been announced that a further 26 towns are to receive handouts from the fund – and just four are represented by MPs of any other party.
Of the previous 45 towns to receive a slice of the £1 billion fund, as many as 40 had at least one Tory MP.
A report by the National Audit Office, released in July, revealed that 61 of the towns in the first list – announced in 2019 – were chosen by a group of ministers led by Robert Jenrick, the housing secretary. All but one of these seats was either held or targeted by the Tories.
Meg Hillier, the Labour MP and chair of the Commons Public Accounts Committee, told the Mirror that ministers are “cherry-picking” which areas received public funding.
Hartlepool – which recently elected a Tory MP for the first time in decades – will get £25 million to spend on a Health and Care Academy and a Civil Engineering Institute; Redcar, which voted Conservative for the first time in 2019, will also receive £25 million.
Rishi Sunak, the chancellor, has denied targeting Tory seats with the money, claiming grants are made on an “index of economic need, which is transparently published… and based on a bunch of objective measures.”
In an interview with The London Economic, Paul Dennett – Salford city mayor – said the towns fund was “clearly pork barrel politics”. Despite being the 18th most deprived local authority int he country, Salford has received no Treasury funding.
“We’ve got to be very clear about that,” he said. “They’re targeting investment in certain parts of the country where they’ve got a marginal constituency, or a small vote for the Conservative party they’re trying to hold on to.
“The data corroborates that. Unfortunately Salford isn’t the beneficiary in the short term. If the government is serious about the industrial strategy of this country and what’s good for the economy, then taking cities and towns like Salford more seriously is absolutely the way forward.”
Announcing the latest tranche of funding, Jenrick – who is also the communities secretary – said: “We are levelling up towns and cities across the country by building stronger and more resilient local economies, boosting prosperity and opportunity in our communities, and helping them build back better from the pandemic.
“Today I am announcing new town deals in 26 areas, backed by over £610 million investment from the Towns Fund. This will support locally-led projects to transform disused buildings and public spaces, deliver new green transport and create new opportunities for people to develop new skills.
“This is a boost for communities and businesses across England.”