Levelling up cash ‘being used to finance vital services’, mayors warn as they condemn funding formulas

Levelling up cash ‘being used to finance vital services’, mayors warn as they condemn funding formulas

Regions in the north of England are being forced to apply for a boost in funding to fund essential services, including public toilets, Tube mayors have warned.

Tracy Brabin, the Labor Mayor of West Yorkshire, told MPs on Monday that cuts in local government over the past decade have meant some areas “have to bid against each other for money that should be in their budget”.

“There’s no more fat to cut,” she said. “This cannot be the way forward that we are just bidding for [electric vehicle] Charging stations, for leisure centers, for toilets.”

Ms Brabin cited the example of Kirklees in West Yorkshire, which has lost 60 per cent of its usual funding since 2010. She claimed the borough, which includes the market town of Huddersfield, has been forced to seek increased funding “for the stuff they usually offer”.

Andy Burnham, the Labor Mayor of Greater Manchester, added that local councils “have to be arguing for leftovers from the table all the time”, including money that they “used to get for leisure centers or public toilets anyway”.

In a Commons inquiry into the government’s Leveling Up agenda, Tube Mayors also attacked the government’s funding formulas used to allocate cash from the £4.8billion Leveling Up scheme .

The fund, which allows councilors to bid for Whitehall’s pots of money, ranks the areas deemed most worthy of investment but does not provide metrics, including deprivation statistics.

Andy Street, the Conservative Mayor of the West Midlands, said the “random approach will not get the best bang for the buck”. “I don’t think that’s the right way at all. I think the overall approach should be much more strategic,” he added.

Ms Brabin claimed the scheme would leave her region worse off than it was under the European Union, despite the Government’s promise to match the average EU grant of around £1.5bn a year to the most deprived parts of the UK to help.

She said West Yorkshire would get $83m

More of politics

She added there is “a lack of clarity about the purity of decision-making about who gets what [and] If”.

“I really think that when it seems like some decisions have been made behind the scenes that aren’t clear, people really lose faith in politicians,” she said.

Mayors also urged the government to increase investment in transport in the north of England, warning that “without urgent funding, the regional economy is at risk”.

It comes after the West Yorkshire Combined Authority was forced to put transport plans, including road widening projects, park-and-ride schemes and railway station developments, on hold last week due to rising inflation.

Mr Burnham said the “fragility” of the northern railway system “means we are suffering more than other parts of the country”.

He called on ministers to give local authorities greater powers over rail funding, claiming that a “decentralized transport system works better because it brings with it an accountability that doesn’t exist in the national rail system”.

The Leveling Up agenda, which aims to reduce regional equity in the UK, was a key tenet of the Conservatives’ 2019 election campaign. However, the plan for implementation was only unveiled in February this year and it is believed that its guidelines will be met by 2030.

Mr Burnham told MPs on Monday that local authorities “didn’t really see it that way [many] visible signs of alignment that we would have liked”, but that the government program “unleashed a cry for regional fairness that will not go away”.

His comments came ahead of the return of the controversial Leveling Up Bill to Parliament on Tuesday, which is expected to cause further trouble for Downing Street.

It comes after Rishi Sunak was forced to step down on key housing targets included in the bill amid a major rebellion by Tory backbenchers last week.

Around 100 Tory MPs threatened to back an amendment that would force the government to scrap its target of building 300,000 homes a year in England.

The target will instead be ‘advisory’, meaning municipalities will be allowed to build fewer houses if they can demonstrate that achieving the target would significantly change the character of an area.

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