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Rishi Sunak accused of ‘naked pork-barrel politics’ as billions of pounds of ‘levelling up’ cash handed out

Rob Merrick
·2-min read

Rishi Sunak has been accused of “naked pork-barrel politics” after billions of pounds of Budget handouts appeared to favour Tory-held constituencies.

At a Downing Street press conference, the chancellor was asked why 40 of 45 places receiving £1bn of towns fund grants are represented by his own party’s MPs.

Meanwhile, the leafy Richmondshire borough – which falls within Mr Sunak’s north Yorkshire seat – has been given higher priority for a new £4.8bn “levelling up fund” than struggling Barnsley.

Mr Sunak was asked to reassure the public that he was using “fair criteria” to assess eligibility – or “whether this looks a little bit like naked pork-barrel politics”.

In reply, he insisted decisions were made “based on an index of economic need which is transparently published”.

The row echoes the controversy over the £25m towns fund handout to the constituency of Robert Jenrick, the local government secretary – which was only 270th on the most-deprived list.

The cabinet minister later admitted the decision was made by Jake Berry, a fellow minister – while he approved a grant to Mr Berry’s constituency.

In this Budget, 45 towns have shared a further £1bn of grants, of which only five are in opposition-held seats, an analysis by The Financial Times found.

Meanwhile, the £4.8bn levelling up fund will “support town centre and high street regeneration, local transport projects, and cultural and heritage assets”.

Labour protested that four other authorities in the seats of cabinet members – Newark and Sherwood (Mr Jenrick), Pembrokeshire (Simon Hart), Dumfries and Galloway (Alister Jack) and Great Yarmouth (Brandon Lewis) – had top priority.

Yet the much-poorer Barnsley, Flintshire, Coventry, Plymouth, Salford and the Wirral had all been relegated to the second tier for priority.

The government was “diverting the money to serve their own party’s needs,” alleged Steve Reed, the shadow local government secretary.

“Just months after the government was criticised for diverting funding away from towns that desperately needed it, we discover that cabinet ministers’ own constituencies now stand to benefit ahead of more deprived areas,” he said.

Challenged at the press conference, Mr Sunak said: “The formula for 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.”

He said it was “based on a bunch of objective measures so that will be there for people to have a look at”.

The chancellor added: “Remember, that’s only the areas that have received some capacity funding to bid.

“No area is excluded for bidding – it’d just that those areas, on the basis of this formula, might need a bit of extra help, so we’re giving those local areas some money to put their bid together to help them.”

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