SNP accuses UK Government of not being ‘impartial’ after Towns fund review

The UK Government has been accused of not being impartial after a review into the selection process for the Towns fund.

The UK Government has been accused of not being impartial after a review into the selection process for the Towns fund
The UK Government has been accused of not being impartial after a review into the selection process for the Towns fund

In a report published today, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) cast doubts on the fairness of the scheme aimed at “levelling up” deprived areas with £3.6 billion in funds.

Now a report has claimed the process gave Tory ministers “discretion to choose which individual towns would be eligible to bid”.

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The document added: “[The UK Government] has also not been open about the process it followed and it did not disclose the reasoning for selecting or excluding towns.

“This lack of transparency has fuelled accusations of political bias in the selection process."

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While the funding applies for English towns, the SNP have now suggested Tory government ministers taking spending decisions into their own hands highlighted issues with the UK Internal Market Bill.

They say clause 46 of the Bill will enable the UK Government to bypass Scotland’s Parliament and to take control of devolved spending in key areas such as education, infrastructure, economic development and sport.

The SNP’s shadow housing, communities and local government spokesperson David Linden claimed it showed the UK Government could not be trusted with spending decisions.

He said: “This damning new report not only shines a light on the Tory government gerrymandering crucial spending decisions for political purposes and a blatant lack of impartiality and transparency, but it once again highlights the threat to Scotland through the Tories' power grab Bill.

"While the Towns fund applies to English towns, the Internal Market Bill will allow Westminster to bypass the democratically elected Scottish Parliament and enable UK Government ministers to take control of devolved spending in areas such as education, infrastructure, economic development, culture and sport.

"What this PAC report accuses the Tory government of doing across England, there is no doubt the Tories will aim to do across the devolved administrations through its power grab Bill.

“The Tory government is hell-bent on orchestrating the biggest power grab in the history of devolution, and the only way to protect the Scottish Parliament's powers is through independence.”

There were 101 deprived areas given funding, but they included Newark, the constituency of Housing Minister Robert Jenrick.

This came even though it was actually the 270th most deprived area.

Mr Jenrick denies any wrongdoing, insisting there was a “robust and fair” methodology and dismissed allegations he had involvement as “completely baseless”.

The senior Tory minister has admitted that he and a junior minister approved payments to towns in each other’s constituencies.

Labour's shadow Communities Secretary said: “This report raises yet more questions about the government’s misuse of taxpayers’ money.

“Scandal-prone Robert Jenrick deprived more deserving towns of funding so he could funnel it into Conservative target seats ahead of the general election.

“The Secretary of State must now publish the Accounting Officer’s findings because the public deserve to know if their money was used to benefit the Conservative Party instead of the struggling towns and high streets it was intended for.”

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