Rishi Sunak has announced that more than £2bn will be invested in over 100 projects across the UK through the levelling up fund – with £19m going to his own constituency.
Reinforcing his commitment to levelling up the country, the prime minister promised the latest round of funding would “build a future of optimism” by delivering economic growth and new jobs across the UK.
Labour criticised the fund, accusing the government of presiding over a “Hunger Games-style contest where communities are pitted against one another”.
A spreadsheet of the 111 successful bids released by the Department for Levelling Up shows that £19,008,679 has been granted to a project in Mr Sunak’s Richmond constituency after an application by the local district council.
The document says: “Richmondshire will receive £19m to transform Catterick Garrison town centre. This includes new routes for walking and cycling, a new town square, and a new community facility that will host new businesses and a community kitchen.”
Speaking to broadcasters in a visit to Accrington, the prime minister defended the decision.
“If you look at the overall funding in the levelling-up funds that we’ve done, about two-thirds of all that funding has gone to the most deprived part of our country,” he said.
“With regard to Catterick Garrison, the thing you need to know is that’s home to our largest army base and it’s home to actually thousands of serving personnel who are often away from their own families serving our country.
“It’s important that they have access to a town centre providing the amenities they need – that’s what that funding is going to deliver.”
Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove also defended the funding allocations, telling Sky News the government had “objective criteria that govern where money is going”.
Among the other projects is the Eden Project North in Morecambe, which receives £50m for a regeneration project designed to transform the Lancashire town’s seafront.
Also on the list is the Cardiff Crossrail plan, which has been allocated £50m of government funds – and a new roll-on, roll-off ferry for Fair Isle in the Shetlands is to receive £27m.
The government said the £2.1bn in funding had been split between £672m to develop better transport links, £821m for community regeneration, and £594m to go towards restoring local heritage sites.
Mr Gove said: “These are areas which have been overlooked in the past by previous governments – but this government is absolutely committed to levelling up, to spreading opportunity and to investing in the future and making sure that people have, whether it’s investment in higher education here or investment in economic activity elsewhere, the opportunity to prosper in the future.”
Projects in London, however, have received more investment than those in Yorkshire and the North East combined, and projects in the South East have been allocated almost twice as much as those in the North East.
Levelling up funding has caused even more friction
Over 13 years of Conservative governments, we have seen the transition from George Osborne’s “Northern Powerhouse” project (which some argue laid the groundwork for the Tories’ 2019 “red wall” wins) to Boris Johnson’s “Levelling Up” and now Rishi Sunak’s own interpretation of that policy.
Grumbles from MPs in the Conservatives’ southern heartlands have clearly been noted in Whitehall. Today the South East has received more cash than the North East, Yorkshire, or the East or West Midlands.
While a number of affluent areas benefit, there is also funding for deprived communities in the south like parts of the Kent coast.
Michael Gove points out, very fairly, that North West England is the biggest winner.
But that includes millions for marginal Tory-held seats in Blackpool, as well as Workington and Copeland in Cumbria. More than twice as many Conservative seats benefit than Labour ones.
Allegations of favouritism are not, however, Labour’s only critique of this £2.1 billion funding injection.
Lisa Nandy claims that 15 months after the first round of allocations, just 5% of the money has made it to the communities who were promised it.
She also says the Conservatives are effectively offering a “partial refund” for money stripped out of communities in recent years, and Labour’s devolution plan is a far better solution than an occasional round of government funding.
Whitehall sources point out both Ms Nandy and Sir Keir Starmer’s constituencies are benefitting to the tune of almost £30m.
Ultimately it is ministers who make the final decisions and today’s figures show you are more likely to get a grant if you have a Conservative MP.
Lisa Nandy, shadow levelling up secretary, criticised the fund and accused the government of “extraordinary arrogance”.
“The Levelling Up Fund is in chaos, beset by delays and allegations of favouritism,” she said.
“It takes an extraordinary arrogance to expect us to be grateful for a partial refund on the money they have stripped out of our communities, which has decimated vital local services like childcare, buses and social care.
“It is time to end this Hunger Games-style contest where communities are pitted against one another and Whitehall ministers pick winners and losers.”
But Mr Sunak said two thirds of funding was going to the north of England and denied the levelling up spending is an example of “pork barrel politics”.
“The region that has done the best in the amount of funding per person is the North,” he said.
“That’s why we’re here talking to you in Accrington market, these are the places that are benefiting from the funding.
“We’re delivering on what we said, we’re investing in local communities, this is levelling up in action.”
Ten projects in Scotland will share £177m of levelling up funding, including £20m to help turn Arbuthnot House in Aberdeenshire into a museum and library, as well as modernising Macduff Aquarium, and £20m to refurbish the Palace Theatre in Kilmarnock.
Other investments granted include:
• £20m to Gateshead Quays and the Sage
• £5.1m to build female changing rooms in 20 rugby clubs across Northern Ireland
• £50m to create a direct train service linking Newquay, St Austell, Truro and Falmouth/Penryn in Cornwall
• £40m for a new Multiversity – a carbon-neutral education campus in Blackpool’s Talbot Gateway central business district
“The defining mission of this government has been to level up this country, to break the link between geography and destiny so that no matter where you live you have access to the same opportunities,” Mr Johnson said as he unveiled the government’s levelling up white paper last year.
The latest successful bids follow the allocation of £1.7bn to 105 projects from round one of the levelling up fund in 2021.
The government confirmed last year that round two funding would match round one, but said it increased this by more than £400m after receiving a high number of bids.
The total allocated so far from the fund to local community projects is £3.8bn.
The government has also confirmed there will be a further round of investment.