Levelling up: More than 90% of funding not yet spent

Figures obtained by the Labour party show £392m has been spent from the £4.8bn fund as of last month.

Levelling up: More than 90% of funding not yet spent
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By Joshua Nevett
BBC Politics

The UK government has spent less than 10% of its £4.8bn fund for levelling up since its launch in 2020, according to official figures.

The figures, obtained by the Labour Party, show £392m has been spent from the fund as of last month.

The fund awarded £1.7bn to projects in October 2021 and another £2.1bn in January 2023.

It is part of the wider levelling-up agenda, which is designed to address UK regional economic inequalities.

The policy aims to close the gap between parts of the UK by improving transport, education and broadband.

Dozens of projects across the UK have been awarded money from the fund, which was an initiative started by the Conservative government of former Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

Labour submitted a freedom of information (FOI) request to ask the government to confirm how much of the £4.8bn allocated to the fund had been spent.

In its response, the government said a total of £224m had been spent as of 18 January 2023, with that figure rising to £392m by 22 February.

Shadow levelling up secretary Lisa Nandy revealed the figures as MPs put questions to government ministers in Parliament on Monday.

She compared the cost of the government's decision to give high earners pension tax breaks in the Budget earlier this month to the money it had spent on levelling up.

Ms Nandy said: "They can get their act together when it comes to the 1%, but when it comes to investment in our local transport, decent housing, even on delivering on a single one of the levelling-up missions, why is it that the rest of us always have to wait?"

But Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove defended the government's record, arguing that Chancellor Jeremy Hunt had made sure millions of pounds would be spent in his Budget.

"This is a government impactful, effective and focused," Mr Gove said. "And on the other side, I'm afraid, all we hear is the cackle of impotence."

To receive money from the Levelling Up Fund, local authorities can apply for money from the UK government to pay for infrastructure projects. The fund has awarded £3.8bn to 216 projects in total over two rounds.

A total of 111 areas were awarded money from the second round in January this year, including £50m for a new train line between Cardiff Bay and Cardiff Central Station and £27m for a ferry in Shetland.

The North West of England got the most money in both rounds of funding.

But some politicians have complained about the process for allocating the money.

Andy Street, the Conservative mayor of the West Midlands, has criticised the funding process, calling it a "broken begging bowl culture".

He suggested the money would have been allocated better by local decision-makers than civil servants in London.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan has said "levelling up adds little value to London communities" and called the process for allocating funds "an unmitigated disaster".

Labour has said it would end the "competitive-style bidding" process but would not cancel projects that had already been approved.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has argued the most deprived areas would benefit from the money.

The government says there will be a third round of the Levelling Up Fund but is yet to announce when this will be made available.

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