A new report from the Public Accounts committee (PAC) has accused the government of failing to be transparent over the “gambling” of billions in funding awards for “Levelling Up” programmes.

PAC sat that ministers finalised the principles for awarding the first round of £1.7 billion of Levelling Up funds only once they knew the identities and scores of shortlisted bidders –, saying “DLUHC has past form with this”.

 In November 2020 the committee reported that the selection process for awarding the Towns Fund had “not been impartial” and raised concerns about the lack of transparency over the towns selected. 

The committee remains concerned over the timing of Ministerial input for funding awards, and also that realistic bids to the Levelling Up Fund have missed out at the expense of projects claiming to be ‘shovel-ready’ that have “since been beset with delays”.

In 2019, the committee highlighted how DLUHC did not know the impact of its £12 billion Local Growth Fund – but had also decided not to evaluate it, and says now that “accountability for levelling up outcomes remains unsatisfactory”.

Levelling up

The government has spent billions on local growth policies over many years without “a strong understanding of what works” or how it will measure performance across different geographical areas and timescales and must “demonstrate how the priorities of the devolved administrations will be addressed” in local growth funds.

MPs say they are: “concerned that optimism bias has meant realistic bids to the Levelling Up Fund have missed out at the expense of ‘shovel-ready’ projects that have since been beset with delays”.

Dame Meg Hillier MP,  who chairs the committee, said: “The PAC has reported too often on the problems the government has with delivery of its major projects, programmes and promises.

“Without clear parameters, plans or measures of success it’s hard to avoid the appearance that government is just gambling taxpayers’ money on policies and programmes that are little more than a slogan, retrofitting the criteria for success and not even bothering to evaluate if it worked.

“The nation is being squeezed harder than it has for decades, there is no more to throw away like this. The government must learn again to account to taxpayers for its use of their money.” 

A spokesperson for the DLUHC said: “The first round of the Levelling Up Fund is delivering vital investment to communities across the UK that have for too long been overlooked and undervalued.

“The assessment process was transparent, robust and fair and the criteria included the need for projects to be deliverable and to fuel regeneration and growth to level up areas most in need.

“Further rounds of the Levelling Up Fund will continue this work, with unsuccessful bidders given feedback and able to apply again.”