The levelling up secretary, Michael Gove, has denied that the south-east is getting an unfair proportion of money aimed at tackling inequality in the UK.
On a media round on Thursday morning, he repeatedly denied that the latest announcement of £2.1bn for 100 projects was a tilt away from funding the north of England.
Labour analysis shows that London will receive more funds than both Yorkshire and the north-east. Levelling up has previously been trumpeted as a programme to break down the wealth gap between north and south, but the south-east is the second biggest recipient of the latest cash, allocated £210m, nearly twice as much as the north-east.
Gove told Times Radio: “It’s simply untrue that the levelling up fund is concentrated disproportionately on London and the south-east.”
He added: “If you look per capita at the amount we’re spending, the biggest winners are those in the north-west and of course, yes there is some spending in London and the south-east – but there are some areas of deprivation in London and the south-east – but it’s overwhelmingly the case that the areas that benefit the most are the north-west, the north-east and the east Midlands.”
Speaking from Blackpool, which will receive £40m for a new higher education campus “multiversity”, Gove insisted that the north was not losing out.
When asked on Radio 4’s Today Programme whether the public had misunderstood that the levelling up project was “about helping communities in the north of England to pull up to the levels that we see in the south”, he replied: “Levelling up is precisely about making sure that those communities that have suffered from lower productivity in the past, that haven’t had the economic attention that they should have done, are provided with the tools in order to generate investment and high value jobs. And that is why investment has heavily tilted towards the north of England, the Midlands and also to parts of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.”
The government has also been accused by Labour of favouring Conservative seats over Labour ones. Catterick Garrison, a small army town in Rishi Sunak’s wealthy Richmond constituency in North Yorkshire, will receive £19m of funding to regenerate its town centre.
Responding to the idea that levelling up money was going to “the Surrey of the north”, Gove told Sky News: “We are giving money to Catterick but that money is going to the biggest army infantry base in the country. Over recent weeks I’ve had a chance to talk to service families about their accommodation … If people want to say that service families and the Catterick garrison don’t deserve cash then let them.”
He told Times radio: “Again, you often get situations where you will have Conservative MPs representing areas which will have Labour local authorities and that’s a feature of the changing political geography of the country and that’s because in 2019 a significant number of people in those areas that were overlooked by Labour governments, and indeed some Labour councils in the past, decided it would be a good idea to have a Conservative government.”