More than a dozen of the most deprived areas in England have not received any funding from the main levelling up funding pots, while several of the least deprived areas have received millions of pounds, NationalWorld can reveal.
The government has been accused of failing to “close the gaps” on regional inequality, while MPs and regional leaders have hit out at the competitive funding process which pits “town against town”.
This comes after we revealed that cash-strapped local authorities have spent more than £27 million producing bids for levelling up funding in recent years, at least £5 million of that on unsuccessful bids, and with rural areas disproportionately losing out.
Deprived areas have missed out on funding
Using the Office for National Statistics’ (ONS) indices of multiple deprivation (IMD) to rank all lower-tier authorities in England based on data obtained through Freedom of Information (FOI) requests by NationalWorld, we found that some of the country’s most deprived areas have missed out on millions of pounds.
Of the 78 local authorities in the top 25% of most deprived areas in England, 13 have received no funding from either the Future High Streets Fund, Community Renewal Fund, Levelling Up Fund round 1, or the Town Deals. This includes five areas which rank in the top 10% for deprivation.
In total, these areas have spent at least £450,000 producing bids for funding which were ultimately unsuccessful, not including internal resources, such as staff time.
The deprived areas in England which have not received any funding from the four schemes analysed are:
- Barking and Dagenham
The majority of these areas are represented by Labour MPs and have Labour councils, whereas the majority of the less-deprived areas which have received funding are represented by Conservatives.
Knowsley is one of the most deprived areas in England and has put in at least two unsuccessful bids for levelling up funding, spending at least £37,000, not including internal costs.
George Howarth, Labour MP for Knowsley, said the council could not afford to risk any money from its budget, due to cuts of more than £100 million since 2010, meaning that highly deprived areas are “not always competing against places with equal resource problems”.
Despite the prevalence of the levelling up agenda in politics since 2019, Howarth says his constituents haven’t felt any real benefit because, “it doesn’t address the structural problems”.
He said: “I think the major problem is the government has created the impression that decisions have been made politically, rather than on the basis of either the quality of the bid itself, or the relationship between the area and the level of deprivation.
“The way in which bids are assessed must be flawed. Because, for example, I know that Knowsley’s bid for the regeneration of Huyton town centre was a high quality bid, and Knowsley is second in the Indices of Deprivation, so how could that be? How could that decision be arrived at when it ticked all of the right boxes in terms of deprivation and quality, but somehow they didn’t get through the assessment process?”
Among the areas ranked in the 25% least deprived , eight local authorities placed successful bids for funding and were awarded more than £113 million.
- South Gloucestershire
- Isles of Scilly
- Central Bedfordshire
Luke Myer, research fellow at IPPR North said the government’s approach to levelling up funding has created “a fragmented and inefficient funding environment”.
He said: “Competitive funding pots only put further pressure on local government to spend time and resources on applications when they are already overstretched.
“These funding streams are also highly centralised and this top-down approach to addressing regional inequality helps neither Hackney nor Hartlepool. The UK now faces the deepest regional divides of any comparable country, and the failure to close these disparities is holding back the economic success of the country as a whole. To truly empower localities, the government must let go, through sustained regional investment and substantial devolution.”
A Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities spokesperson said: “Our £4.8 billion Levelling Up Fund is transforming areas and restoring local pride in communities across the UK. It is only right we have a rigorous application process in place to ensure taxpayers’ money is spent wisely. Unsuccessful bidders are also provided feedback and will be able to bid again.”