Following last night’s announcement of a £2bn-plus “levelling up” fund for projects across the country, levelling up Secretary Michael Gove has rejected claims that it is mainly going to projects in the South East.
It follows criticism that money was given to several areas that are not considered deprived, and disproportionately went to Conservative or south-eastern regions.
Mr Gove told Sky News: “We have objective criteria that govern where money is going.
“We look at the strategic fit, the deliverability, the economic benefits and heritage matters as well”.
Mr Gove was also asked about the funding that had been earmarked for Rishi Sunak’s constituency. According to The Times, Sunak’s seat in Yorkshire and the 251st most deprived council area in England is getting £19 million to upgrade its high street.
“Well, we are giving money to Catterick, but that money is going to the biggest army infantry base in the country”, Mr Gove said.
He continued: “I don’t think anyone would deny that investing money in making sure that our service families have absolutely the best circumstances to support them”.
When it was put to Mr Gove that only half of the 80 or so successful bids for levelling up funds were in the most deprived areas of the country, he added: “Well, there are areas of deprivation across the whole United Kingdom. … I think it is the case actually that more Labour local authorities than Conservative local authorities receive money.
“But it will be news to people in Cleethorpes or in Workington who are receiving money today that they are not areas of high need – areas that have been undervalued in the past”.
Another notable area receiving funding is Camden, in Keir Starmer’s London seat, which is getting £7 million to tackle health inequalities.
According to the Yorkshire Post, two-thirds of the £1.6 billion given to places in England are represented by Conservative MP.
Equally, a number of Conservative MPs who missed out on funding are said to be unhappy with the distribution of levelling up cash. Ipswich MP Tom Hunt and Bolsover MP Mark Fletcher, both Conservatives, missed out on funding in their areas.
Mr Gove also rejected this morning that Conservative MPs in marginal seats have been told not to use the phrase “levelling up” because people do not know what it means. Reports had suggested MPs were told to switch it for “enhancing communities” or “gauging up”.
The levelling up secretary told LBC Radio: “No, levelling up is absolutely the central domestic mission of this Government”.
“We want to ensure more economic growth across the country, particularly in areas where there has been lower productivity and that is why we are not just investing cash because that on its own doesn’t do enough, it is also why we are empowering local people and making sure that we work with the private sector in order to provide people with high value jobs in areas that have been overlooked and undervalued in the past”.