Andy Burnham, Andy Street and Tracy Brabin hit out at competitive bid system for Levelling Up cash

Photo: Kim Mogg
The West Yorkshire mayor said the competitive bidding process is ‘not good for the North’

Regional leaders in England have hit out at the way levelling up funding is distributed to local authorities, describing the competitive bids system as “ineffective, inefficient,” and “no good for the UK”.

Three of England’s directly elected mayors told MPs on the Levelling Up, Housing and Communities select committee that cuts to local authority funding mean councils are less able to put together time-consuming bids for levelling up cash from central government.

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Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham called for a requirement for equivalent living standards throughout the regions of the UK to be enshrined in law, saying life for those in the North of England “would be very different indeed,” if this were the case.

Competitive bidding system ‘just not working’

Much of the funding made available to local authorities for specific schemes as part of the levelling up agenda comes through competitive funding schemes, forcing councils to put together bids in order to receive cash. This has, in some instances, led to accusations of political interference, or so-called ‘pork-barrel politics,’ as it has been claimed that some areas have been unfairly prioritised for political reasons.

Of the billions of pounds made available for levelling up funding in recent years, the vast majority has been distributed via competitive bidding processes, including the Future High Streets Fund, the Levelling Up Fund and the Community Renewal Fund.

But regional leaders have criticised this system, saying that councils without sufficient time and resources to spend on the bidding process - which can cost hundreds of thousands of pounds - are losing out.

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West Yorkshire mayor Tracy Brabin said that the “erosion of local authority budgets has meant that fewer staff are meant to do more bids”.

Brabin said: “There are local authorities whose budgets have been absolutely slashed, and they’re behind others in the queue because they just don’t have those resources. It’s just not working.”

She also highlighted the recent case of investment zones, which were announced by Liz Truss’ government earlier this year but then scrapped by Rishi Sunak - although not before dozens of councils spent time and money putting together proposals for the scheme.

She said: “The bidding process is ineffective, inefficient and it’s expensive. It doesn’t deliver. And it’s also subject to ministerial changes in the weather, which is not good for the North. And it’s not good for the UK.”

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Calls for a ‘long term approach’

Her comments were echoed by Burnham and Andy Street, mayor of the West Midlands, who suggested government officials’ time would be better spent “looking at issues of much greater significance” than how combined and local authorities spend “relatively small sums of money”.

Street said that the system of competitive funding pots, and central government deciding how elected regional leaders should spend money in their communities more generally, was contrary to the principles of devolution.

He said: “I think the real issue here is if you trust people with these roles, and then you hold them to account with the electorate directly, then actually, you need to entrust them to take the right decisions, not in a sense have their proposals marked by civil servants and ministers in London.

Burnham, who has served as Greater Manchester mayor since 2017, called for a “long term approach,” to funding settlements and said levelling up should become “a permanent, long-term mission”.

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He also praised an element of the German constitution which required that there is an equivalence in living standards between the different regions of the country.

“Can you imagine if we had such a provision in this country, how different life would be for people in the North of England?” he said, “It would be very different indeed.”

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