Today
Sat 17 April 2021

The Communities Secretary’s ministry is once again using the Towns Fund plan to shore up Tory seats – including £50 million to his own constituency, reports David Hencke

The Government is to hand over another £1 billion of public money to 45 towns – mainly to seats that the Conservatives gained in the 2019 General Election, and others with wafer-thin council majorities ahead of this May’s local elections.

Housing, Communities and Local Government Secretary Robert Jenrick’s constituency in Newark has been awarded a further share of a £175 million handout for the East Midlands. This is the second time that the minister’s town has been a recipient of public money aimed to help deprived communities, rather than places that are actually much more deprived. Last year, the National Audit Office (NAO) revealed the allocation was decided by ministers.

However, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government told Byline Times that Robert Jenrick “has had no involvement in decisions relating to a Town Deal for Newark” on this occasion as proposals were assessed by “officials”. “The Towns Fund selection process was comprehensive, robust and fair taking into account a range of factors”, the spokesperson told Byline Times.

A huge proportion of other towns that have gained extra money received cash in previous pork-barrel projects. These include seats which the Conservatives gained from Labour at the last general election, including Stockbridge, North East Derbyshire, Clay Cross, Lincoln, Wolverhampton south-east, Workington, Wakefield, Stockton South, and Ipswich.

Other places to get a second tranche of cash are places where the Conservatives increased its majority at the last election. They are Morley and Outwood, Southport, Mansfield, Northampton North, Carlisle, Halesowen and Rowley Regis, Nuneaton, Scarborough and Whitby, Stevenage, Worcester, Crawley, Margate, Milton Keynes North and South, Swindon North and Bournemouth West.


Pork Barrel Politics

The money has also been targeted at some seats where councils have wafer-thin majorities. These include Bolton, run as a minority Conservative council, which gets cash for the first time; Crawley, with no overall control, and Milton Keynes, which is a Labour minority council.

Among the new towns gaining are a large number in Lincolnshire and Humberside, including Grimsby, Skegness, Mablethorpe and Boston. 

In the West Midlands, where the Conservative are fighting to hold the West Midlands Mayor position, money has gone to Kidsgrove, Smethwick, West Bromwich, as well as Wolverhampton and Rowley Regis. Here, Conservative Mayor Andy Street had a wafer-thin majority over Labour last time. He now faces a strong challenge from Liam Byrne, a former Birmingham MP and Treasury Minister, infamous for leaving an ironic note to his Conservative successor telling him there was no money left when the Tories won the 2010 General Election.

Similarly, Tees Valley Conservative Mayor Ben Houchen had a very small majority over Labour in 2017, and money has gone to both Thornaby and Middlesbrough under the programme.

Other new places to get money are Rochdale, Leyland, Preston, Staveley, Lowestoft and Great Yarmouth.

One Labour town which had protested about being left out of the scheme did succeed in getting cash. Barnsley, has received money for a big project to improve Goldthorpe. 

Dan Jarvis, MP for Barnsley Central and Mayor of South Yorkshire, was highly critical of the Government last time round. He said that towns like Barnsley “are crying out for meaningful investment in our infrastructure, our high streets and our public services. The Government were elected on a manifesto commitment to level up and empower Barnsley, South Yorkshire and the North of England, yet time and again their actions are serving to level us down.”

The Government this time has given no extra money to Devon or Cornwall whereas last time two marginal Conservative seats received cash.

Conservative MPs yesterday seem to have been given forewarning of the announcement.

Justin Madders, Labour MP for Ellesmere Port, tweeted: “Looks like the Towns Fund is being allocated on the same party political basis as before and judging by the number of Conservative MPs who have just issued pre-prepared social media clips about their towns getting funding they aren’t even pretending its being done impartially any more.”

 His town lost out again.

This article was updated on 05/03/2021 to incorporate the response of the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government

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