Rishi Sunak’s £4.8bn ‘levelling-up’ UK fund met with scepticism


The government will launch a “levelling-up fund” for England worth £4bn to support towns and communities with regeneration projects, Rishi Sunak has said.

The chancellor used his spending review statement to announce details of the new funding package as part of Boris Johnson’s election promise to boost the economic prosperity of areas outside London and the south-east of England. Alongside the £4bn for England, there will be funding worth £800m for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Local areas will be able to apply for up to £20m each from the fund to spend on projects which command local support, including from an MP. Sunak said the fund, which will be controlled from Westminster, was designed to improve “the infrastructure of everyday life”.

He said this could include funding for a new bypass, upgraded railway station, roadworks to cut traffic, more libraries, museums and galleries, or town centre improvements.

Promises to rebalance Britain’s lopsided economy through higher spending on infrastructure and other projects were a central message of Boris Johnson at the 2019 election, helping him to win seats in traditionally Labour-voting northern constituencies.

Sunak said the fund would be managed jointly by the Treasury, the Department for Transport and the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government. Projects must have “real impact” and be delivered before the end of the current parliament in 2024.

Sarah Longlands, the director of the leftwing IPPR North thinktank, said control of the fund from Westminster, and the requirement for local areas to submit competitive bids, risked pitting areas against each other and would not hand power to communities.

She added: “What we really needed today was ambitious plans to empower local leaders and people to lead our recovery from Covid-19, and from our regional divides. What we got was a sticking plaster.”

Helen Barnard, the director of the independent Joseph Rowntree Foundation, said: “Remarkably for a much-hyped statement on levelling-up opportunity across the country, the chancellor’s words ring hollow as weaker local economies will be getting less money than previously in the aftermath of the pandemic.”