Rishi Sunak accused of pumping levelling up cash into the South
The Prime Minister denied that with over £2billion for more than 100 projects across the country was ‘pork barrel politics’ – as furious Tories branded it a ‘f**k up of epic proportions’
With the Tories in control of Westminster, there has been much talk of “levelling up” – investing money into areas of the country that have been neglected for too long. However, after the first allocation of levelling up funding it seems that this money is not necessarily being distributed fairly, with Conservative constituencies receiving significantly more funding than others. In this article, we take a look at the facts and ask if this is really levelling up or just politics as usual.
To be fair, no one ever expected it to be a level playing field, during Sunaks race to be coronated as Tory prime minister, a video was realised where the then-former chancellor, was filmed speaking to Conservative party members in Tunbridge Wells, Kent.
In footage obtained by the New Statesman, Sunak said: “I managed to start changing the funding formulas to make sure areas like this are getting the funding they deserved.
I can’t get enough of this. He’s like a reverse Robin Hood. Taking from the have-nots to give the wealthy more places to sit outside Pret A Manger.— Jonathan Pie (@JonathanPieNews) August 5, 2022
It doesn’t surprise me, it’s just fantastic that he’s just come out and said it. pic.twitter.com/pCJwUUaTHk
I suppose what you can say is he is the firstr tory prime minister to keep his word, even if it is only to his party.
What is Leveling up?
In 2019, the Conservative Party Manifesto pledged to “level up” the country by investing in economically disadvantaged areas. The party’s reasoning was that these regions had been neglected for too long and that their residents deserved better opportunities. In 2020, Prime Minister Boris Johnson reiterated this commitment, vowing to close the North-South divide.
However, some have accused the Conservatives of using “levelling up” as a way to funnel money into constituencies that are already safe for the party. Critics point to a lack of investment in Labour-held seats as evidence of this claim. They also argue that after the crash of the Red wall in 2019 that now many of the most deprived areas in the UK are located in former Labour constituencies now held by the Tories but it doesn’t take long to check that out and find areas like Bolsover and Doncaster received no funding.
Whether or not the Tories are truly committed to levelling up the UK remains to be seen. However, it is clear that they see political gain in doing so.
Overview of the Tory Levelling Up Agenda
The levelling up agenda is a key part of the Tory Party’s election manifesto. The party has pledged to invest £100 billion in infrastructure and research and development over the next five years, with a focus on areas that have been neglected by previous governments.
The party has also promised to create a new £23 billion Levelling Up Fund, which will be used to invest in projects that will benefit communities across the country. The Tories say that this fund will help to tackle regional disparities and ensure that every area of the UK benefits from economic growth.
The levelling-up agenda has been criticised by some, who argue that it is a way of funnelling money into Conservative constituencies that have been neglected by previous governments. However, the Conservative Party argues that this investment is necessary in order to create jobs and boost growth across the country.
Analysis of Funding Allocation
Sunak was forced to defend the government’s allocation of levelling up funds after announcing the 111 projects that will benefit a share of the £2.1bn on offer before the next general election. The winners included £50m for Eden Project North in Morecambe and £50m for a new rail line in Cardiff. However, the awards were met with anger and dismay from across the political spectrum after a number of deprived areas missed out.
Andy Street, the Conservative mayor of the West Midlands, decried the government’s “begging bowl culture” and said he had pressed ministers for answers on why some of the region’s poorest areas had lost out.
He added: “The centralised system of London civil servants making local decisions is flawed and I cannot understand why the levelling up funding money was not devolved for local decision-makers to decide on what is best for their areas.”
A Guardian analysis found that Conservative marginal seats, those with majorities of fewer than 8,000 votes, have received 1.5 times the amount of funding per person than all other constituencies under the £4bn budget – £76 a head compared with £53 a head.
Analysis shows that seats in the South and London fared better than Yorkshire and the North East – stoking anger from jittery Conservative MPs worried the PM is abandoning the Red Wall.
London received £151million compared with just £120million for Yorkshire and £108million for the North East.
Projects in the West Midlands received £155million, while the South West was handed £186million.
The South East is the second biggest winner with £210million, while the North West comes out on top with £354million.
Only half of the 80 successful bids in England are in the 100 most deprived areas of the country, with wealthy areas such as Rutland, North Somerset and Malvern Hills, Worcestershire receiving cash.
The Prime Minister’s own leafy Richmond constituency in Yorkshire is receiving £19 million, with money going to Catterick Garrison to regenerate the town centre. Some £7million was doled out to tackle health inequalities in Camden, in Keir Starmer’s London seat.
Tory constituencies also did better than Labour ones. Of 74 areas matched to a constituency by the Northern Agenda, 50 are currently held by Conservative MPs, 23 by Labour, and one by an Independent.
A whopping £1.02 billion is going to projects in constituencies held by Conservative MPs.
MPs laughed and jeered at Tory minister Lucy Frazer as she insisted that the second round of the levelling up fund would direct funding “where it is needed most”.
This is not the first time that the Conservatives have been accused of using public money to benefit their own supporters. The party has a long history of channelling funds towards areas that vote for them, while neglecting those that don’t.
The most obvious example of this is the so-called “Wales Bill”, which saw £1.2 billion transferred from London to Cardiff after the 2015 general election. The bill was passed despite fierce opposition from Labour MPs, who argued that it would disproportionately benefit Tory-voting areas of Wales.
The fact that the government is now pumping money into Tory constituencies again shows that they have learned nothing from their past mistakes. If anything, they seem to be doubling down on their divisive and self-serving approach to governing instead they hope to buy votes.
Benefits of Levelling Up
There are many benefits to levelling up. One of the most important is that it enables the government to invest money in areas that have been neglected for years. This, in turn, creates jobs and boosts the local economy.
Another benefit is that it gives people in these areas a sense of hope and pride. People who have long felt forgotten by Westminster can suddenly see that their voices are being heard and their needs are being addressed. This can help to create a more positive outlook on life, which can have a knock-on effect on health and wellbeing.
Finally, levelling up also has the potential to increase social mobility. By investing in education and infrastructure in deprived areas, it becomes easier for people from all backgrounds to access opportunities that might otherwise be out of reach. This could help to close the gap between rich and poor, and create a fairer society for everyone, the emphasis is on could!
However, Research by the Guardian found that the money allocated so far would disproportionately benefit people in Conservative seats. Voters in Tory seats got £19.47 more per head than those in similarly deprived non-Conservative constituencies in the latest round of funding.
Criticism of the Tory Levelling Up Agenda
The Levelling Up Agenda has been criticised for a number of reasons. Firstly, it has been accused of being a way of funnelling money into Tory constituencies rather than areas that actually need it. Secondly, the Agenda has been criticised for its lack of focus on addressing regional inequalities. Finally, some have argued that the Agenda does not do enough to tackle poverty and social exclusion.
Conclusion Tory levelling up is an attempt to pump money into Tory constituencies, ostensibly in the name of economic growth. However, being the sceptic I am, you can clearly see this is little more than ‘pork barrel politics’ a political ploy to ensure continued support from Conservative voters while ignoring areas which have traditionally been Labour strongholds and are in need of investment. The policy is controversial but it remains to be seen whether or not it will deliver on its promises and create more balanced regional economic growth across the country, the abandoned labour heartlands remain abandoned while the southern liberal elite gets the lion’s share of public money.