Government accused of bias over funding development of Tory target seats

Ben Gartside
Boris Johnson walks with Northern Powerhouse minister Jake Berry and Doncaster Council chief executive Damian Allen during a visit to Doncaster market, Yorkshire, Britain. Photo: Jon Super/Reuters

Boris Johnson’s government is facing criticism over alleged bias towards Conservative target seats via the allocation of money from the Towns Fund, a £3.6bn scheme to boost growth of local economies and devolve funding to town-level across England.

According to an analysis published in the Times, 32 of the towns funded were outside the 300 most deprived towns in the UK, based on rankings from the Office for National Statistics.

In July when the scheme was launched, the government had promised that the fund would “unleash the full economic potential of more than 100 places and level up communities throughout the country.”

However, some of the least deprived areas to be awarded funding are also key battlegrounds for the Conservatives at the upcoming general elections.

Loughborough, Brighouse, Kidsgrove, Cheadle, Worcester and Crawley are towns that have received funding despite not suffering from the highest levels of deprivation, and had elected a Conservative MP at the 2017 election with a majority of less than 5,000.

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Another town which received funding despite having lower levels of deprivation was Stockbridge, a marginal constituency where Labour won by just 1,322 votes.

The Times report said 55% of the recipient towns voted Conservative in 2017, whereas more than three quarters of the 10% of most deprived towns backed Labour at the last election.

Towns Fund money has also been pushed to 23 towns with a population below 25,000, with some funds going towards Millom, in Cumbria, which has a population of only 5,887 people.

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Responding to the report, Labour politician Lisa Nandy said: “We were promised real investment, including billions through a shared prosperity fund. Instead we’ve seen money pushed towards marginal towns during an election campaign.”

Andrew Gwynne, the shadow communities secretary, said: “This raises serious questions about the role that ministers and advisers played in robbing some of the poorest towns in the country to funnel cash into Tory target seats in a scramble for votes.

“The Towns Fund is an insult to communities across the country that have been forced to bear the greatest burden of austerity.”

Will Jennings, an academic at the Centre for Towns told The Times that more transparency was urgently needed as to why some less deprived towns were included, but places such as Tipton, Bootle and Sheerness had not.

Yahoo Finance UK has approached the Conservative party for a comment but it is yet to respond.