Communities minister Eddie Hughes brushed off accusations of politically-driven decisions being made over the £4.8bn Levelling Up Fund, and he said it “represents a new approach to local investment”.
He said: “Economic differences remain between places across the UK and these economic differences have real implications.
“They affect people’s lives through their pay, their work opportunities, their health and their life chances, tackling them and driving prosperity as part of levelling up the UK remains a priority for this Government ”
But the Government has faced criticism after areas such as affluent Richmondshire, which contains the Chancellor’s North Yorkshire constituency, came above places such as Barnsley in a priority list of places which need funding.
The methodology for the list was released last week and has a heavy focus on those places where people have long commutes to work over indicators such as child poverty.
Speaking in the Commons today, Labour’s MP for Barnsley Central, and South Yorkshire metro mayor, Dan Jarvis said: “If the Government’s formula says that the Chancellor’s Richmondshire constituency is in greater need of investment than Barnsley, the Government’s formula is wrong.”
And he pushed for the Government to urgently review the situation.
But Mr Hughes said: “We have no intention of reviewing how the money is allocated. The criteria were determined by civil servants. There was no political influence, so we are still comfortable with the basis on which funds are being allocated.”
Pointing to Mr Jarvis’ recent announcement of £860m of investment in South Yorkshire, including £500m borrowed from the Treasury, he added: “I am a keen reader of The Yorkshire Post and I understand that it is [Mr Jarvis’] intention to borrow £500m to spend in the local region, so that area, for one, will not be short of money.”
Sheffield South East Labour MP Clive Betts urged Mr Hughes to set out criteria for the Government’s levelling up agenda, which is widely accepted to refer to fixing the country’s regional inequalities or the North/South divide.
He said: “It is one thing to announce lots of policies and lots of money, but another to make sure the policies and the spending are successful.”
He asked: “What indicators are going to be used to demonstrate the success of levelling up? Are the Government going to set targets so that we can all decide at the end of this Parliament whether those indicators have been achieved?”
But Mr Hughes did not set out specifics and instead suggested “that if we are going to determine the success of these projects, the British electorate will probably do that at the next general election. I look forward to seeing how that turns out”.
Yorkshire Conservative Kevin Hollinrake, meanwhile, sought assurances the funding would reach rural as well as urban areas.
He pointed to Ryedale, which he said “may look prosperous from the outside but whose average earnings are below the regional average, partly because of a past lack of infrastructure investment”.
He added: “The situation could be reversed if funds were provided to important projects such as the improvement of railway stations in Malton and in Thirsk.”
Mr Hughes said bids would be assessed “based on deliverability, strategic fit and value for money”.