Rishi Sunak boasted to Conservative Party members that he was prepared to take public money out of “deprived urban areas” to help wealthy towns.
Speaking to grassroots Tories in Tunbridge Wells, Kent, on 29 July, the former chancellor said that he had “managed to start changing funding formulas” to make sure “areas like this are getting the funding they deserve”. The average house price in the affluent town was £528,459 at the end of last year, compared with a national average of £271,000.
A video shared with the New Statesman showed Sunak, who is competing with Liz Truss for the Tory leadership, telling party members: “I managed to start changing the funding formulas, to make sure areas like this are getting the funding they deserve because we inherited a bunch of formulas from Labour that shoved all the funding into deprived urban areas and that needed to be undone. I started the work of undoing that.”
Lisa Nandy, the shadow levelling up secretary, expressed anger at the video. She said: “This leadership race is revealing the Conservatives’ true colours. It’s scandalous that Rishi Sunak is openly boasting that he fixed the rules to funnel taxpayers’ money to prosperous Tory shires.
“This is our money. It should be distributed fairly and spent where it’s most needed – not used as a bribe to Tory members.”
Sunak’s campaign team was approached for comment.
It is not clear what funding formula Sunak was referring to. However, the Towns Fund he introduced as chancellor in 2021 attracted widespread criticism. The Commons Public Accounts Committee exposed the opaque process for distributing the £3.6bn fund, which was intended for “left-behind” areas and administered by the Department for Levelling Up. The committee’s MPs raised concerns that funding decisions may have been politically motivated and said that they were “not convinced by the rationales for selecting some towns and not others”. They added that ministers were selecting towns based on “vague” and “sweeping assumptions” rather than data on deprivation.
An analysis of one tranche of funding found that almost 90 per cent of the £1bn in question went to Conservative constituencies.
A Rishi Sunak campaign source said: “Levelling up isn’t just about city centres, it’s also about towns and rural areas all over the country that need help too. That’s what he [Sunak] changed in the Green Book and he will follow through as prime minister. Travelling around the country, he’s seen non-metropolitan areas that need better bus services, faster broadband, or high-quality schools. That’s what he’ll deliver as prime minister.”
A Liz Truss campaign source said: “Levelling up isn’t about pitting one area of the country against another, or laying dividing lines between urban vs rural, towns vs cities. It is about unleashing growth and making sure every individual has the chance to thrive. Liz has a plan to create an aspiration nation based on equality of opportunity, and will deliver it in a conservative way.”