Calls for transparency as Boris Johnson accused of focusing 'levelling up' on Tory areas

20 May 2021, 00:01 | Updated: 20 May 2021, 00:41

Boris Johnson has been told to be more open over levelling up funds.
Boris Johnson has been told to be more open over levelling up funds. Picture: PA

By Will Taylor

Boris Johnson has been told to increase transparency over how places are chosen for Government funding, amid accusations of bias to Tory areas.

Grimsby, which returned a Tory MP for the first time since the 1930s, has been given funds from a £830 million high street rejuvenation pot.

The Government also announced on Wednesday that Stoke, where the Conservatives made gains during the 2019 election, would get some Civil Service jobs.

Now, a cross-party group of peers has asked Mr Johnson to be more open about how the areas picked for "levelling up" were selected, and to use deprivation data to make decisions on where to spend extra funds.

That data wasn't used when handing out the £1 billion Town Fund, from which a number of Tory areas benefitted.

Baroness Armstrong, the Labour chair of the House of Lords Public Services Committee, said: "This lack of transparency has fuelled accusations of political bias, led stakeholders to question why criteria such as commuting distance have been given such prominence, and risks undermining public trust in 'levelling up'.

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"'Levelling up' funding criteria should instead work alongside existing measurements that take better account of local needs."

The Lords committee's "The Levelling Up and Public Services: Position Paper" called for more powers for local authorities and services.

In a statement, Baroness Armstrong added that "it's unclear exactly what the government wants to level up, how much its strategy will cost, how long it will take and how it plans to achieve its goals".

She also said: "The strategy will require a major change of direction if it's to achieve its admirable ambition for people in 'left-behind' areas to have the same opportunities as elsewhere in the country."

She called for a measure called the Index of Multiple Deprivation to be used for funding allocations and said the levelling up White Paper should be published "urgently" in a letter to Mr Johnson.

The Tories have broken into Labour's red wall of Northern England seats, with Mr Johnson pledging to distribute economic prosperity.

But Labour was angered by areas picked for financial support, saying 40 of 45 areas allocated cash under the Towns Fund had a Tory representative.

A Government spokesperson said: "We're supporting all areas of the country to level up by providing billions of pounds of new funding that will have a real impact on people's daily lives and improve their services - from health and social care to education.

"We will publish a Levelling Up White Paper later this year, setting out bold new policy interventions to help improve livelihoods, spread opportunity and drive economic growth - all as part of our efforts to build back better from the pandemic."