Pork Barrel Politics: Boris Johnson facing corruption legal battle over £4.8bn ‘levelling-up fund’ that sent cash to Tory areas

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Pork Barrel Politics Boris Johnson facing corruption legal battle

The High Court has granted permission for a legal challenge to the “Levelling Up Fund”

The Good Law Project has been granted permission for a legal challenge to the “ Levelling Up Fund ”. It is claimed the huge £4.8bn fund pretends to be the centrepiece of a levelling up agenda – The Good Law Project think it’s just a way to funnel money into constituencies of political benefit to the Conservative Party.

Judges agreed to hear a legal challenge brought by the Good Law Project, stating: “The grounds are arguable.”

The lawsuit, formally filed against Rishi Sunak, Robert Jenrick and Grant Shapps in their government roles, could find that the centrepiece of the government’s so-called “levelling-up” agenda is unlawful.

The leafy market town constituencies of Mr Sunak and Mr Jenrick are among the areas to benefit from an unusual funding formula that critics accused of amounting to “pork barrel politics”.

Jolyon Maugham, the barrister who founded the campaign group, said: “If you think that it’s coincidence that Tory marginals are huge beneficiaries I have a fine bridge to sell you. To ensure the Tories don’t use public money for party purposes, the Good Law Project is suing.”

This permission decision means the Government will have to defend itself in Court. It’s the latest in a string of permission decisions that have gone in Good Law Project’s favour. Of the 14 cases we have issued since the start of 2020, the Court has granted permission in 11 at the first time of asking. Since 2010, official statistics show that this has only happened in 17% of all judicial reviews. Good Law Project’s success rate on the other hand is a staggering 78%. Judges clearly agree that the Government is acting in ways that deserve closer scrutiny, and they see the importance of the cases we bring.

Campaigners cited an investigation by the National Audit Office, which found that the government’s list of targets for the cash had been published without supporting information to explain why they had been chosen.

The House of Commons’ cross-party Public Accounts Committee had also said the lack of transparency had left to concerns of “political bias” in the allocation of funds.

Forty out of the first 45 schemes to be approved under the fund in March had at least one Conservative MP.

The campaigners cited Chris Hanretty, Professor of politics at Royal Holloway, University of London, who looked at the funding formula and evidence presented by the National Audit Office and government.

“On the basis of the data collated by the ministry and published by the NAO, there is robust evidence that ministers chose towns so as to benefit the Conservatives in marginal Westminster seats,” he wrote.

“This evidence is robust in the sense that the effects persist even when controlling for other town characteristics that might justifiably affect selection.

“Choosing towns to benefit a particular party goes against the seven principles of public life (the ‘Nolan principles’), and in particular the obligation to ‘take decisions impartially, fairly and on merit, using the best evidence and without discrimination or bias’.”

The Good Law Project has previously challenged the government in court over alleged cronyism in PPE contacts, clean air, and access to remote education during the pandemic.

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government said in response to the suit at the time: “The £4.8bn Levelling Up Fund is open to all places in Great Britain and will play a vital role in helping to support and regenerate communities.

“The published methodology makes clear the metrics used to identify places judged to be most in need. It would not be appropriate to comment on potential legal action.”

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