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Levelling Up: 90% of Promised Schemes are Nowhere Near Completion

Rishi Sunak and Boris Johnson’s promises to “Level Up” the country are going nowhere fast, according to a damning new report by MPs

Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak. Photo: PA Images / Alamy

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Ninety per cent of the “Levelling Up” projects promised by Rishi Sunak and former Prime Minister Boris Jonson are still years away from completion, a parliamentary report has revealed.

A report by the Commons Public Accounts Committee found that only £1.24 billion will be spent on the projects by the end of this month out of £10.47 billion programme originally promised by Johnson’s Government to improve dilapidated town high streets and run down areas of the country.

This month is supposed to be the completion of the first round of “Levelling Up” grants which councils had to put in bids under the scheme but the report reveals the deadline has had to be extended for at least a year because so few have been finished. The report reveals that out of 71 so-called “shovel ready” projects due to be completed this month, only 11 had been finished and the remaining 60 would not be completed until next year, if not later.

It also says only £3.7 billion out of the £10.7 billion has been allocated to councils by the ministry because the bidding procedure has been so complex and many councils have wasted council taxpayers money on projects which stood no chance of being accepted by ministers. 

Ministers changed the rules midway through the bidding for Levelling Up projects so that councils that were successful in bidding in the first round were disqualified from bidding in the second. As a result 55 councils wasted scarce council taxpayer’s money by putting in bids that were ruled out.

Dame Meg Hillier MP, Labour Chair of the Committee, said: “The levels of delay that our report finds in one of Government’s flagship policy platforms is absolutely astonishing. The vast majority of Levelling Up projects that were successful in early rounds of funding are now being delivered late, with further delays likely baked in. 

“DLUHC [The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities] appears to have been blinded by optimism in funding projects that were clearly anything but ‘shovel-ready’, at the expense of projects that could have made a real difference. We are further concerned, and surprised given the generational ambition of this agenda, that there appears to be no plan to evaluate success in the long-term.

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The ministry tried to claim to the National Audit Office that the majority of the programme was under way but when MPs questioned civil servants from the department it was revealed that “under way” only meant that construction was at the design stage or required planning permission.

Both the Local Government Association, which represents local councils, and the South East Councils, which represents local authorities in London and the South East, were highly critical of the bidding process to get the money.

South East Councils described the process as a “whole system of “beauty contest bidding” [which] is bad government. Levelling up funding further contributes to a “begging bowl culture” through a wasteful, inefficient, bureaucratic, over-centralised, unpredictable, short-termist, demoralising, time-consuming and frustrating way of allocating money to councils.”

In the South East only four councils got any money – they were Gosport, Gravesham, Test Valley and the Isle of Wight.

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