The House of Lords debated the Government’s Levelling Up Fund today, with Baroness Wilcox of Newport saying it was based on a “flawed methodology” and contributed to a “divide and rule approach”.
At the Budget earlier this month a priority list was revealed for the Government’s £4.8bn Levelling Up Fund, ranking areas which would be more likely to get funding if they bid for the scheme.
A methodology released a week later showed this list was based on measurements such as productivity and commuting times, and therefore areas such as Richmondshire, which includes the Chancellor’s constituency, ranked above areas such as Sheffield and Barnsley.
Baroness Wilcox said: “This list, as it currently appears, is proof that this Government's actions are levelling areas down, pushing regions and nations and some of the poorest places in the UK to the back of the queue for investment. It appears to be about this Government using the money to level up the Conservative Party's electoral prospects rather than the economic realities of left behind communities.”
Liberal Democrat Baroness Pinnock, who is also a councillor on Kirklees Council, said: “My own area of West Yorkshire includes towns and cities that, by any fair measure, will qualify for focused help to support their residents. I am therefore particularly keen to understand what it is all about.”
She said: “Of course, metrics can be carefully selected to ensure that the towns that the Government wish to benefit from additional funding come out top of the pile. That is clearly what has happened in these instances.
“Using the metric of distance to travel to work will target those places that are of a more rural nature. If that is the aim, the Government should be honest about it and focus on improving public transport in rural areas. If the heart of so-called levelling up is providing focused support to places suffering from multiple deprivations, the Government should use the metrics that enable that to happen. If they do not, they are being hypocritical and make those of us looking on regard what they are doing with some cynicism.”
But Lord Greenhalgh, responding for the Government, said: “The Government has set out its approach to the wider levelling up agenda.”
He said: “The approach to the Levelling Up Fund has been focused on making very clear how we allocate funding. The methodology used to develop the index and the index have been published and the index is around the need for focusing on areas that have a need for economic recovery and growth, a need for improved transport and connectivity, and a need for regeneration.”
He added: “Ministers did not see a list of specific places before agreeing the list of metrics, and no changes to the index weightings or metrics were made as a result of ministers being sighted on the list of places.”