Rishi Sunak has handed 90% of a £1billion towns fund to Tory constituencies in the Budget yesterday.
Of the 45 towns benefiting from the fund, 40 have at least one Tory MP with almost half of the towns in the so-called “Red Wall” northern seats taken from Labour in the 2019 election. Those towns will receive £886million.
The FT also noted that Sunak’s constituency of Richmond in Yorkshire is in the “Priority One” list for the new Levelling Up Fund, also announced by the chancellor today.
In a prospectus published alongside his Budget, Sunak said the fund was intended to support investment in places “where it can make the biggest difference to everyday life, including ex-industrial areas, deprived towns and coastal communities”.
But Richmondshire, a mainly agricultural area which also attracts tourism as it covers a large part of the Yorkshire Dales, is one of the least deprived areas in England, ranking at 251 out of 317 on the government’s own index of deprivation.
Sheffield City Region mayor Dan Jarvis questioned the move after Richmondshire was prioritised over the city and nearby Barnsley, which rank 93rd and 38th on the deprivation index respectively.
Jarvis said: “A cursory glance at the government’s criteria for the levelling up fund is symbolic of their divide and rule approach.
“The chancellor has identified his own Richmond seat as ‘category one’ and relocated his Treasury office to a neighbouring constituency, but has labelled places like Barnsley and Sheffield as ‘category two’ – pushing them to the back of the queue for economic support.
“Ministers must change their approach, or they will put the country on course for a deeply divided recovery.”
Sunak denied targeting Tory seats.
He said: “The formula for the grant payments for the new fund, to give them some capacity funding to bid for projects, is based on an index of economic need, which is transparently published I think, actually by [the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government] and based on a bunch of objective measures.
“So that will be there for people to have a look at.”
Labour’s shadow communities secretary Steve Reed said: “Just months after the government was criticised for diverting funding away from towns that desperately needed it, we discover that cabinet ministers own constituencies now stand to benefit ahead of more deprived areas.
“This government should be investing to rebuild the foundations of our economy, but they’re pulling the country further apart by pitting regions and nations against each other for crucial funding then diverting the money to serve their own party’s needs.”