UK Gov accused of squandering money on levelling up fund which gave most cash to Tory seats in Wales
A group of cross-party MPs has accused ministers of squandering billions of pounds of taxpayers’ money on ill-thought-out “levelling up” plans and through the unfair allocation of funding.
The majority of ‘levelling up’ funds for Wales announced last October went to Conservative constituencies, including £13.3m for the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct and Canal World Heritage Site and £15.4m for the Montgomery Canal Restoration.
The Conservatives won 14 of 40 seats in Wales at the 2019 General Election but Tory seats received over 60% – £73.2m – of the levelling up cash.
Today, the Public Affairs Committee (PAC) described the way in which the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) had allocated the large sums of money as “unsatisfactory”.
In a report published on Wednesday, the MPs highlighted how the first round of the £1.7 billion Levelling Up Fund was only awarded after the department knew the identities of shortlisted bidders.
Six of the schemes announced for Wales in October were in Conservative constituencies, three in Labour seats and two in Plaid Cymru seats.
Only 16.7% of the money – £20.2m – went to Labour constituencies, despite them winning 22 of Wales 40 seats at the 2019 Westminster election.
The PAC’s report said some bidders for the first round may only have been successful on the basis of unrealistic claims about their projects, at the expense of other more practical claims.
It adds that “the DLUHC has past form with this”, such as the awarding of the £3.6 billion Towns Fund which also had “not been impartial”.
Some 16 MPs sit on the committee, which is chaired by Labour’s Dame Meg Hillier.
Dame Meg said the Government was “gambling taxpayers’ money on policies” which are “little more than a slogan”.
She said: “The PAC has reported too often on the problems the government has with delivery of its major projects, programmes and promises.
“Without clear parameters, plans or measures of success it’s hard to avoid the appearance that government is just gambling taxpayers money on policies and programmes that are little more than a slogan, retrofitting the criteria for success and not even bothering to evaluate if it worked.
“The nation is being squeezed harder than it has for decades, there is no more to throw away like this.
“The Government must learn again to account to taxpayers for its use of their money.”
The DLUHC said its assessment process was “transparent, robust and fair”.
A spokesperson for the department said: “The first round of the Levelling Up Fund is delivering vital investment to communities across the UK that have for too long been overlooked and undervalued.
“The assessment process was transparent, robust and fair, and the criteria included the need for projects to be deliverable and to fuel regeneration and growth to level up areas most in need.
“Further rounds of the Levelling Up Fund will continue this work, with unsuccessful bidders given feedback and able to apply again.”
Wales’ economy minister Vaughan Gething had previously described the plan to decision to bypass the Welsh Government and directly allocate funding via UK-wide funds as a “deliberate assault on Welsh devolution”.
Speaking in the Senedd in June, Economy Minister, Vaughan Gething, said: “These UK proposals represent a new era of aggressive centralisation. One that deliver a very clear, message to Wales: ‘you’ll get what you’re given.’
“It’s an approach that provokes division based on an economic rationale that is difficult to identify, let alone endorse.
“Worse still, this top down, throwback to pre devolution economic policy is a deliberate assault on Welsh devolution. As things stand, Wales is set to have less say, over less money.”
The report published today by the Westminster committee called on the UK Government to work more closely with the devolved governments on allocating the funds.
The report said that they “were sceptical about how close past cooperation with devolved Governments had really been and the extent to which it enabled national priorities to be accommodated, though we acknowledged that co-operation between officials appeared to have improved.”
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