RISHI Sunak has been accused of “favouritism” after MPs blasted his government’s levelling up agenda as “completely corrupt”.
Members of the Prime Minister’s own party also expressed disappointment with numerous Tory MPs stating that their local councils had worked “really hard” on their bids only to be unsuccessful.
Labour MP and former minister Chris Bryant claimed the whole operation was “completely corrupt” after the government announced how the latest round of funding would be spent.
He said: “In the 18th century, a government minister used to stand at the end of the parliamentary session at the entrance to Westminster Hall and reward MPs who voted loyally with the Government throughout the year with dollops of cash.
“I am not trying to give ideas to the Government and I hope everybody would accept that is utterly corrupt.”
He added: “I also happen to think that the operation of the levelling up fund and the operation of the towns fund is completely corrupt because it is not based on need, it is not based on the poorest communities in the country, it is not based on levelling up.
“It is discretionary and it is competitive, which rigs itself deliberately against the poorest communities in the land, as we have seen over the last 24 hours.”
Bryant then called for a debate in government time “on corruption in the operation of slush funds in this country.”
Commons leader Penny Mordaunt insisted that levelling up bids “were not assessed by ministers.”
Sunak’s own wealthy rural constituency of Richmond in North Yorkshire is to receive £19 million in the latest round of funding, prompting allegations of favouritism as bids from poorer areas failed to secure any cash.
Analysis by the Labour Party shows that the north-west and south-east of England are the biggest winners of the levelling up project – with many noting that the north-west contains many “red wall” seats the Conservatives hope to hold on to at the next General Election.
The second round of the Levelling Up Funding will see £2.6 billion shared by local communities across the UK between 2022 and 2025, with £212 million confirmed for projects in Scotland.
But figures from the Scottish Government suggest that Scotland is missing out on more than £300 million in European Union funding, which would have equalled £549 million in that same period.
The SNP MP for Dundee West, Chris Law, said that while he was pleased that Dundee City Council’s bid for £14 million to redevelop a multi-story car park into a sustainable transport hub was successful, the reality was that EU funding was greatly missed.
“I welcome this news for our city of Dundee, which will help modernise part of our city centre and further integrate sustainable transport options as we look towards a greener future,” he said.
“Dundee has a growing reputation nationally and globally as a hub for innovative ideas on sustainability and green technology, and this development will go a long way to cementing that status.
“Sadly, this funding still represents a massive drop when compared to what was previously available before Brexit. The UK Government may claim that Brexit is working for our local communities, but when you compare the figures, they simply don’t add up.
“With the cost-of-living crisis biting and inflation still high, our communities need investment like this now more than ever. Matching the lost investment from the EU should be the first step in providing this support.”
The leader of Glasgow City Council, Susan Aitken, also criticised the scheme – which Tory MPs are now being encouraged to refer to as “stepping up” rather than levelling up.
She said: “It takes money away from deprived urban areas to give to wealthy towns.
“It blatantly targets resources away from some of the most socially & economically challenged communities.
“The value of Levelling Up projects in Scotland is £348m of which Glasgow has been awarded 3.7%.
“Based on our population share it should have been 3 times that. Based on the proportion of people living in Scotland’s most deprived communities it should be 15 times as much.
“This has turned out not to be the open bidding process we were told it would be. It has actually cost Glasgow money.”