Government funding for 'left behind' towns being spent in wealthier Tory marginals, analysis reveals

More than half of towns set to benefit from £3.6bn fund are held by Tory MPs, despite vast majority of poorest areas being in Labour constituencies 

Benjamin Kentish
Political Correspondent
Wednesday 13 November 2019 11:28
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The Conservatives have been accused of using public money to boost their election prospects after it emerged that funding designed to help deprived communities is being focused on wealthier Tory marginals.

Analysis found that money from the government's £3.6bn Towns Fund will be spent in richer areas where Conservative MPs are battling to keep their seats, at the expense of some of the country's poorest towns.

Despite 85 per cent of England's most deprived towns being represented by a Labour MP, more than half (55 per cent) of those set to receive the government funding have an incumbent Tory MP.

A third of the 100 towns set to receive funding that Boris Johnson promised would help "left behind" areas are not even among the 300 poorest in England.

Wealthier areas that will be given Towns Fund money include Newark, the constituency of housing and communities secretary Robert Jenrick. The town is only the 298th most deprived in England.

Loughborough, which is not even in the top 500 poorest towns, is also set to benefit. The town is represented by Nicky Morgan, the culture secretary, who has a majority of just over 4,000.

Other towns that will receive money and are represented by Tory MPs with majorities of under 5,000 include Brighouse, Cheadle, Worcester and Crawley, according to analysis by The Times.

By contrast, Kirkby on Merseyside, the second most deprived town in the UK in terms of income, is not on the list. Nor is Church in Lancashire, the third poorest, or Bilston in the West Midlands, the fourth most deprived. All are represented by Labour MPs.

The analysis found that the towns set to receive money had an average parliamentary majority of just over 6,000, compared to almost 11,000 for the ten most deprived towns - all but two of which are represented by Labour MPs.

The Towns Fund was announced by Boris Johnson in July, with ministers later unveiling the 100 towns that would be invited to bid for the money.

Under the scheme, each of the 100 towns will be entitled to bid for up to £25m to help with regeneration.

Mr Johnson claimed the funding proved that his government was "answering the pleas of some of our left behind towns".

But commenting on the new analysis, Andrew Gwynne, Labour's shadow communities secretary, said: “Like most Tory policies, the Towns Fund is neglecting those that need the most support.

“This report raises serious questions about the role that ministers and advisors played in robbing some of the poorest towns in the country to funnel cash into Tory target seats in a scramble for votes.

“This announcement was an insult to Towns across the country that have been forced to bear the greatest burden of austerity. There is a clear choice in this election on 12 December: more of the same with Boris Johnson’s Tories or real change and investment in our communities under Labour."

A Conservative spokesperson said: “We are committed to levelling up towns across the country and ensuring all parts of the country benefit from economic growth in the same way as more prosperous areas have.

“All of the 100 towns were chosen according to the same selection methodology. Labour should be getting behind local communities and welcoming the Conservative Party’s support for our towns, many of which have been neglected for far too long."

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