Labour has called for an investigation into Rishi Sunak’s comments during the summer Conservative leadership election on funnelling public money out of “deprived urban areas”, which were exclusively revealed by the New Statesman.
The shadow levelling-up secretary, Lisa Nandy, has written to her counterpart, Michael Gove, asking for an independent investigation to establish which funding formulas were changed.
At a Conservative Party members’ event in Tunbridge Wells, Kent on 29 July, Sunak said: “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.”
In her letter, Nandy, the MP for Wigan, wrote: “The Conservative Government was elected in 2019 on a flagship promise to level up parts of the country that had experienced relative economic decline.
“[Sunak’s claim] could not be more serious. The Prime Minister has admitted that when he was Chancellor, he fixed the rules to funnel taxpayers’ money from ‘deprived’ to more affluent parts of the country. This is the complete opposite of levelling up. The Prime Minister has no mandate from the electorate to reverse the commitments made in 2019. His admission undermines the trust and confidence of the public and shatters the legitimacy of this government. It is a warning sign that Rishi Sunak is not on the side of working people.”
It is not clear which funding formulas Sunak was referring to in his comments. However, the government’s Towns Fund has been criticised for its opaque processes. MPs on the Commons Public Accounts Committee raised concerns that funding decisions may have been politically motivated and said they were not “convinced by the rationales for selecting some towns and not others”.
The committee 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.
Labour’s intervention comes only a day after Sunak promised to restore “integrity and accountability” to government. When the comments on taking money away from deprived urban areas were first revealed in July, a 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 [which describes how public sector investment is assessed] 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.”
[See also: Rishi Sunak’s cabinet exposes how weak he is]