“We’re also looking at the levelling up fund that you’ve announced and you’ve come up with some priority areas. I noticed that your constituency of Richmondshire is in priority area one... I just wondered if you can give us some assurance that you’re using fair criteria to assess the eligibility of these areas…”
“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 MHCLG.”
Update: The week after this article was originally published, the government released more details of how it prioritised areas for 'Levelling Up' funding which can be read here. This article reflects the situation at the time of its original publication.
The Chancellor Rishi Sunak has claimed that local areas were prioritised for funding from the newly announced “Levelling Up Fund” using a transparent index of economic need published by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG).
The list of priority areas has been published, but details about how this was determined have not.
The “Levelling Up Fund” was announced as part of the Budget, providing £4.8 billion in funding for areas across the UK for infrastructure investment.
Initially, local authorities in England deemed to be in the most need of levelling up, including Mr Sunak’s own constituency, as well as all local authorities in Scotland and Wales, will receive £125,000 worth of “capacity funding” to help them to prepare bids for the fund. Capacity funding will also be made available to areas in Northern Ireland.
The Treasury has published a list of local authorities in Great Britain by priority category. In documentation describing the fund it calls this list an “index” a number of times, so it may have been this Mr Sunak was referring to.
But the only explanation given for these rankings, at the time of writing, is that the priority ranking index takes into account the need for economic recovery and growth, improved transport connectivity and regeneration.
The “Levelling Up Fund” prospectus says: “We will shortly publish further detail on the methodology used to calculate the index.” The Treasury confirmed to us this was still the case when we asked them for comment.
Politicians and government ministers who make claims in public should be ready to show the data they rely on to others for scrutiny. This ensures they can be held to account, and helps to build public trust.
This is not the first time questions have been raised about how the government has selected local areas to benefit from new capital funding.
In November, the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee (PAC) published its report into the “Towns Fund” announced by MHCLG in the summer of 2019, and which invited 101 English towns out of 541 assessed, to apply for money from the fund.
The PAC found that the process by which towns were selected was “not impartial” and that the department “has a weak and unconvincing justification for not publishing any information on the process it followed.”