Labour says minister has 'something to hide' if he doesn't publish Towns Fund documents

Robert Jenrick speaks in the House of Commons

Robert Jenrick speaks in the House of Commons - Credit: Parliament Live

Robert Jenrick has "something to hide" if he does not publish minutes and correspondence linked to decisions around a £3.6 billion funding pot to help struggling towns.

It comes as Commons spending watchdog the Public Accounts Committee warned that a “lack of transparency” over how money has been awarded could “fuel accusations of political bias” and said it was “not convinced by the rationales for selecting some towns and not others”.

The communities secretary said the selection process was “clear and robust”.

Labour has accused the government of using the Towns Fund, originally launched in 2019, to aid its general election campaign last year.

Reed told the House of Commons: “The secretary of state is today accused of blocking funding from the £3.6 billion Towns Fund going to the most deprived towns for which it was intended, and instead funnelling it into Conservative Party marginal seats ahead of the general election, and to help his own re-election campaign.

“This is clearly not about levelling up so let’s see if the secretary of state will level with the British people about what really went on.”

Reed asked if Jenrick had discussed allocations with Downing Street or any Conservative Party employee, and asked for any correspondence to be published.

He added in the Commons: “Was the secretary of state present when his junior minister made decisions about his constituency (Newark) and will he publish all minutes from that meeting in which they both chose 61 towns that would benefit from funding?”

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Jenrick accused Reed of seeking to “sow discord where there is none”, adding: “We followed a very clear and robust procedure. The permanent secretary of my department has made that very clear.”

He said Reed had been “highly misleading” in his remarks, and said of funding for his constituency: “Newark was the 16th most highly ranked town in the East Midlands to be a beneficiary of the fund and we supported 19 places in the East Midlands.

“There’s absolutely no reason why a minister should disadvantage their constituency – we are all both ministers and constituency MPs, that’s one of the great virtues of our political system – but it is right that those decisions are not taken by that particular minister.”

The SNP’s David Linden accused the government of “cronyism and sleaze” over the matter.

Jenrick replied: “We followed a robust procedure that’s been set out by the department, and my permanent secretary in giving evidence to the Public Accounts Committee made that abundantly clear.”

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