First the good news. A new tranche of funding has been announced by the government to support its ‘Levelling Up’ agenda (if that’s what they’re still calling it). Among the winning projects are the Eden Project in Lancashire, the regeneration of Gateshead Quays, and the regeneration initiative in Blackpool.
£40 million has been awarded to West Yorkshire Combined Authority to transform its bus services. The North East Combined Authority will receive £20 million to buy electric buses. Cheshire, Greater Manchester, and Merseyside authorities also received support for a range of projects. Altogether there were 111 grants given out across the UK.
However, the West Midlands didn’t get anything, whilst the ‘Blue Wall’ – places like Rutland, north Somerset, and the Malvern Hills are on the list. Some are suggesting that the polls are so bad that Rishi Sunak is shoring up support in traditional Tory areas – and the so-called Red Wall has already been abandoned.
Indeed, despite denials to the contrary, the loud whisper in Westminster is that ‘Levelling Up’ is yesterday’s news – a Johnsonian soundbite that – even if the party-loving, blonde bombshell was genuine about it – had little or no prospect of being delivered in a meaningful way.
Whatever the truth, here is a fact that nobody can argue with. Local authorities, with scarce resources to start with, are encouraged by central government to work up bids and submit them for consideration.
Councils from across the country spend literally millions of pounds preparing their evidence to get the green light for their transformational projects from Whitehall civil servants – and most of them are left disappointed, out of favour, and out of pocket.
These ‘beauty contests’ among cash strapped councils are a huge waste of limited cash and resources. Levelling Up funds ought to have been distributed in an equitable fashion through Combined Authorities, who could then decide where best in their place money should be invested.
The charade of pitting poor areas against other poor places is crackers. It is a process that the government needs to review and stop.
Many congratulations to those who were successful in this latest bidding round. But if you add up the totals of what it has cost all the unsuccessful ‘contestants’ to pull their bids together, one can’t help but feel that there is a massive false economy being encouraged and promoted by ministers and Whitehall mandarins. What a waste of money!