Levelling-up: some wealthy areas of England to see 10 times more funding than poorest

Exclusive: Per-head funding inequality exposed by Guardian research into Boris Johnson’s levelling-up agenda

Some of the wealthiest parts of England, including areas represented by government ministers, have so far been allocated 10 times more money per capita than the poorest under Boris Johnson’s “levelling up” agenda, Guardian analysis has found.

Michael Gove, the communities secretary, will announce on Wednesday new measures designed to end what the prime minister has called the “outrage” of regional inequalities.

But analysis of the £4.7bn allocated under the levelling up agenda to date shows how some of England’s most deprived areas are receiving far less support than some of the richest boroughs. A further £1.8bn is still to be announced.

Eight councils from among the poorest fifth in England are set to receive less than £10 a head in levelling-up funding, while some areas within the most affluent fifth are set to receive many times that amount for every person.

Sajid Javid’s constituency, Bromsgrove in Worcestershire, will receive nearly £15m – £148 a head – despite being one of the wealthiest areas in England.

Central Bedfordshire, an area partly represented by the culture secretary, Nadine Dorries, has received £26.7m – £91 a head – from the Levelling Up Fund despite being among the top fifth of local authority areas in affluence.

In contrast, eight local authorities that are among the poorest in England have received less than £10 a head from the four funds announced to date. These include Swale in Kent; Tendring in Essex; Barking and Dagenham; Southampton; and Knowsley in Merseyside.

The analysis brings together the four main levelling up funds for the first time. The Future High Streets Fund, the Community Renewal Fund and the Towns Fund have been fully allocated, while the levelling up fund has allocated £1.4bn with a further £1.8bn still to be announced. A total of £4.7bn has been allocated in England across the four schemes so far.

Jonathan Webb, a senior research fellow at the thinktank IPPR North, said: “This new analysis from the Guardian demonstrates the gap between the rhetoric and the reality of levelling up.

“Forcing local areas to bid for centrally controlled pots of money is resulting in an opaque and unfair allocation of already limited resources, as this analysis shows. The fact some of the most deprived local authorities have received no money from any of the government’s four main levelling up funds is unacceptable and will only widen the UK’s existing regional divides.”

The Commons public accounts committee, which scrutinises government spending, has ordered Gove’s department to provide more information about how its funding decisions were taken amid concerns about a lack of clarity and transparency from ministers and officials.

Other relatively affluent areas that have received much larger awards than poorer areas include Lewes in East Sussex (£443 a head), South Derbyshire (£229) and South Ribble in Lancashire (£226).

The analysis is based on four funds: the Levelling Up Fund, the Towns Fund, the Future High Streets Fund and the Community Renewal Fund.

If the funding was announced at upper-tier or combined authority level it was reallocated to the appropriate lower-tier local authority. In instances where the funding was split over more than one local authority the funding was divided by the number of relevant authorities, unless it was clearly going to one specific area.

Population figures used are 2020 ONS mid-year estimates, and deprivation data was taken from the Indices of Multiple Deprivation 2019. IMD figures were used to divide areas into quintiles based on deprivation. Buckinghamshire, North Northamptonshire and West Northamptonshire have been excluded due to recent boundary changes. Isles of Scilly and City of London were excluded due to low population. 

Many areas of high deprivation have also received large payouts. Copeland and Barrow-in-Furness, which are both among the most deprived 40% of councils nationally, will receive more than £600 a head – the largest per capita awards.

But Southampton and Knowsley, both among the most deprived fifth of councils, have so far received nothing from the four funds.

The Merseyside borough of Knowsley, the third poorest local authority in England, has been rejected by three of the funds despite being identified by the government as a top priority for investment. It was named on Tuesday as one of the government’s “educational investment areas” to be outlined in the white paper, however.

Graham Morgan, the Labour leader of Knowsley council, said levelling up had been “nothing more than a slogan so far” and suggested the area was being punished because it was a Labour stronghold: “The people who actually work for the government on these schemes can’t find any box which we haven’t ticked. So there is some other reason – a political reason – why Knowsley isn’t getting the support which local people need.”

Lisa Nandy MP, the shadow levelling up secretary, said: “For all the talk of levelling up, we have been completely short-changed. Ministers are hiding behind process, refusing to come clean on how these decisions around funding are being made. People are struggling to keep their heads above the water with rising costs, rising bills and rising taxes.”

The government said it had assessed data on deprivation, need for regeneration, impact of Brexit, transport infrastructure and other indicators to decide which areas should get funding.

It said local authorities that were wealthier on average would often contain pockets of deprivation and that urban areas with metro mayors may have benefited from separate government funding streams.

But Henri Murison, director of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership, a regional economic thinktank, said: “This analysis shows the government has allocated money without enough regard to the high levels of economic disadvantage in many parts of the country – this seriously undermines their professed commitment to levelling up.”

Murison said Johnson’s government was planning to spend less on English regional development than Theresa May or David Cameron’s governments and that true levelling up would need long-term financial backing form the chancellor, Rishi Sunak.

A spokesperson for the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities said the analysis was misleading because it “ignores the billions of pounds of levelling up funding that will be allocated in the coming months, and the huge amount of work taking place across government to level up the UK”.

They added: “Levelling up is more than one grant – it’s a massively ambitious, generation-defining project that includes the largest shift of power from Whitehall to local leaders in modern times alongside innovative new policies to end the postcode lottery and shift focus and resources to Britain’s forgotten communities.”

• This article was amended on 2 February 2022. A reference to Central Bedfordshire (a local authority) earlier appeared as Mid Bedfordshire (a parliamentary constituency), owing to an editing change.


Niamh McIntyre, Pamela Duncan and Josh Halliday

The GuardianTramp

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