Almost 90 per cent of £3.6bn Towns Fund cash winners represented by Tory MPs

Michael Gove has denied party politics has played a role in levelling up spending despite almost 90 per cent of areas to win Towns Fund cash being represented by Conservative MPs.

The Levelling Up Secretary told the BBC's Panorama programme that he "completely rejects" the idea that allocations were made on a political basis. The programme said 89 out of the 101 places to receive money from the Towns Fund have Conservative representation in Parliament.

The show, presented by new BBC political editor Chris Mason, found that of the allocations in the first two rounds of Towns Fund money across England, 80 out of the 101 places due to receive a combined £3.6bn are represented by Conservative MPs, including 24 seats the Tories won from Labour at the last General Election.

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Nine towns with both Conservative and Labour MPs were successful and just 12 towns only with Labour MPs were successful.

Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Minister for Intergovernmental Relations Michael Gove (centre) at the opening of the Great Field play area at Poundbury during his visit to Dorset.

The programme highlighted the £24.1m given to Stocksbridge in South Yorkshire from the fund. Stocksbridge, which is represented by Tory MP Miriam Cates, received the money despite having initially been classed as low priority in the Government's selection process.

Local property developer Mark Dransfield, who jointly chaired the bid team with Ms Cates, was asked on the programme whether it had made a difference to the Government's allocation of the money, which is part of its wider levelling up initiatives.

He said: "I think the answer has got to be yes it has. Ultimately the reason why the money is here is because of the influence of the MP obviously. I think she is doing an amazing job to do that.

"Our community in Stocksbridge has been starved of investment for many many generations.

"Whichever politician came forward and offered what they've offered, I would imagine they secure the votes of our community because we just want to see our community prosper."

Interviewed on the programme, Mr Gove denied that the fund was a case of "pork-barrel politics" and "shovelling money in the direction of Conservative MPs".

"If we were interested only in political calculation, then we wouldn't be spending money and devoting resource as I have to the fate of what is happening in Greater Manchester and the fate of people in Birkenhead. So I completely reject the idea it is driven by party politics."

In November 2020, cross-party MPs on the Public Accounts Committee said they were "not convinced by the rationales for selecting some towns and not others".

They said: "The justification offered by ministers for selecting individual towns are vague and based on sweeping assumptions. In some cases, towns were chosen by ministers despite being identified by officials as the very lowest priority (for example, one town selected ranked 535th out of 541 towns).

"The Department has also not been open about the process it followed and it did not disclose the reasoning for selecting or excluding towns. This lack of transparency has fuelled accusations of political bias in the selection process, and has risked the Civil Service’s reputation for integrity and impartiality."

Their report highlighted 12 low-priority towns had been selected ahead of "the majority of medium-priority towns".

The Government said it disagreed with the committee's finding the process had not been impartial.

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