Rishi Sunak accused of favouring Richmondshire in access to £4.8bn ‘levelling up’ fund

Chancellor Rishi Sunak delivering the budget in March last year.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak has been accused of favouring his own constituency in giving Richmondshire preferred access to a £4.8bn ‘levelling up’ fund.

The district is listed as a category one area which will be given preference by the Government when it is deciding which areas to give cash from the fund.

The district falls entirely within chancellor’s Richmond parliamentary seat, although Hambleton, which is partly in the constituency, is placed in category three – the lowest of the three priority groups.

Harrogate and Craven are also in category three, while neighbouring Darlington is in category two, as is Ryedale.

In a prospectus published alongside his Budget, the Chancellor said the fund was intended to support investment in places “where it can make the biggest difference to everyday life, including ex-industrial areas, deprived towns and coastal communities”.

However, critics point out that Richmondshire is one of the least deprived areas in England, ranking at 251 out of 317 on the Government’s own index of deprivation.

Sheffield City Region mayor Dan Jarvis has questioned why Richmondshire was prioritised over his city, which is 93nd on the deprivation index, and nearby Barnsley – 38th -, which are both in category two.

He accused the Government of pursuing a “divide and rule” approach, highlighting that the Chancellor also used the budget to announce a new Treasury campus in Darlington.

He said: “A cursory glance at the government’s criteria for the levelling up fund is symbolic of their divide and rule approach.

“The chancellor has identified his own Richmond seat as ‘category one’ and relocated his Treasury office to a neighbouring constituency, but has labelled places like Barnsley and Sheffield as ‘category two’ – pushing them to the back of the queue for economic support.

“Ministers must change their approach, or they will put the country on course for a deeply divided recovery.”

Asked at a Downing Street press conference if he was using the levelling up fund for “naked pork barrel politics”, Mr Sunak said: “The formula for the grant payments for the new fund to give them some capacity funding to bid for projects is based on an index of economic need, which is transparently published actually I think by MHCLG based on a bunch of objective measures.

“And remember, that’s only areas that have received some capacity funding to bid – no area is excluded for bidding it’s just that those areas on the basis of this formula might need a bit of extra help, so we’re giving those local areas some money to put their bid together to help them.”

And Upper Dales Conservative county councillor Yvonne Peacock said the Government’s decision to give the district top priority for access was “absolutely brilliant news”.

“It’s fantastic that the Government has recognised the need in Richmondshire – so often we get overlooked.

“Richmondshire regularly comes out near the bottom of the table for deprivation in terms of access to services – it’s 30 miles to the nearest hospital from the Upper Dales and a long way for our young people to get to college or university.

“This money needs to be spent on skills and apprenticeships to attract business to come to Richmondshire and I think it will really make a difference.”