Levelling Up funds; key questions for Rishi Sunak and Robert Jenrick – The Yorkshire Post says

THE size of the £3.6bn Towns Fund, and now the £4.8bn Levelling Up Fund, are not in doubt – many regeneration schemes across Yorkshire will now go ahead on the back of these two initiatives.

Rishi Sunak and Robert Jenrick on the steps of 10 Downing Street before the Covid lockdown.

What is in doubt, however, is the methodology used by the London Government to allocate money via these flagship funds; the lack of transparency over flawed decision-making processes until key documents were released and a nagging sense that these initiatives do, in fact, mask a wider policy vacuum.

A consequence is the Towns Fund appearing to favour the Newark seat of Robert Jenrick the Communities Secretary, over more deprived areas and rural Richmondshire, home to Chancellor Rishi Sunak, ranking far higher in the Levelling up Fund than the likes of Hull and Barnsley where societal inequalities are plain to see.

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As such, the question facing Ministers this weekend is a profound one. Is ‘levelling up’ meant to benefit those communities, of which there are far too many in the North, that have been left disadvantaged – or simply the ‘sprucing up’ of electoral seats being targeted by the Tories?

Chancellor Rishi Sunak is coming under pressure over the Levelling Up Fund.

There is a discernible difference between the two approaches and the available evidence points to the politics of the day trumping wider economic factors; one of the key criteria in the Levelling Up Fund is public transport access and this explains why rural areas have done unexpectedly well.

Now this is not to begrudge funding to those countryside areas where picture postcard scenery can mask pockets of poverty, but the Government should remember – in case it has already forgotten – that it has a mandate to deliver the Northern Powerhouse, and that its opaque words on ‘levelling up’ will be treated with suspicion until it sets out clear policy objectives and puts a Cabinet-level minister in charge who can be held to account.

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Robert Jenrick is the Communities Secretary - and Newark MP.