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UK Community Renewal Fund

Volume 816: debated on Wednesday 8 December 2021


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what were the criteria for allocating money from the UK Community Renewal Fund; and what assessment they have made of the analysis by the Centre for Inequality and Levelling Up at the University of West London, published on 4 November, which found that 21 per cent of the funding went to areas in the bottom 20 per cent of the Index of Multiple Deprivation, and that two-thirds of the funding went to areas in the top half of that Index.

The Government have confirmed that applications to the UK community renewal fund were assessed against the criteria set out in the prospectus and the assessment criteria published on GOV.UK. The analysis conducted by the University of West London used indices of multiple deprivation as an indicator for priority. Indices of multiple deprivation were not used for prioritising places under the UK community renewal fund. Instead, an index of economic resilience was used across Great Britain in identifying the 100 priority places. The prioritisation of place methodology and model has been published on GOV.UK. The analysis for Great Britain showed that 77%, or £146,198,866, of funding was allocated to a priority place.

I apologise for the length of the Question, but I am not entirely sure that I am happy with the Minister’s Answer. Surely this fund is flawed and something of a sham. The money should be going to areas with high levels of deprivation, but places such as Knowsley in Merseyside, Sandwell, Middlesbrough and Hyndburn have received no moneys at all from this fund. How can the Minister ensure that they are not further disadvantaged when they bid for the UK shared prosperity fund in 2022? Will that have different indices as well?

The sham is the analysis conducted by the University of West London. I have lived in west London all my life and I have never heard of the University of West London. Its error-strewn report has made this into something, but it contains error after error and there is no basis on which its analysis has any merit whatsoever.

My Lords, the Government have stated that they will ensure that the UK community renewal fund reaches those most in need. In applying checks and balances to that funding, when must that money be spent and how will it contribute towards the Government’s ambition to preserve and enhance the union?

With regard to union, it was very clear that we wanted to fund all four nations. That criterion was set from the outset. In addition, we wanted to raise all boats and strengthen the economic resilience of particular areas, which were banded A, B and C. I have been through this methodology and found it to be robust. What is more, the previous Secretary of State published the methodology and the current Secretary of State published the model. What more transparency could you ask for?

The Minister may well think little of the analysis of the Centre for Inequality and Levelling Up, but surely he thinks it important that the most deserving communities get the support that they need for levelling up. The Centre for Inequality and Levelling Up also asks for close monitoring of who is benefiting from the current tranche of bids. What monitoring arrangements have the Government put in place to ensure that the right communities get the funding that they deserve?

As a local authority leader for some of the most deprived parts of the country, I used to look at the index of multiple deprivation very carefully. The borough that I led for six years had some of the most deprived communities, so I understand that, but the purpose of this fund was not to identify those most deprived communities. It focused on what was going to lift economies and therefore provide job opportunities and enable us to thrive us a nation. That was its purpose.

My Lords, while we are talking about levelling up, is it possible to include the 500,000 people who are behind in their rent and may well be levelling down? We have spoken about this together and the Government have not yet come up with a solution for people who are behind in their rent or mortgage.

The noble Lord is a champion and a crusader on this, and quite rightly. This is something that we take seriously and have taken particularly seriously during this pandemic, so that we can provide support for people and do not create the rough sleeping and homeless crises of the future. We will continue to work with the noble Lord to come up with practical measures to ensure that we deliver our ambition to end rough sleeping.

My Lords, is the Minister saying that there is nothing that the Government and this fund can do to help councils and areas such as Knowsley to level up?

Of course I am not saying that. I am saying that there is a methodology and approach and that they are transparent. We have funded those bids according to that methodology. There is nothing controversial about that; there is nothing to see here.

My Lords, in Wales, additional funding has long been allocated to support communities that are struggling with high levels of poverty and deprivation. Could the noble Lord explain what criteria are being used, as over 60% of so-called levelling-up funding in Wales is being allocated to the 35% of constituencies that are Conservative held? Is this not another case of the UK Government funnelling money into their own back yards?

I know that is why the question has been asked, but it is simply not the case. Levelling up is around infrastructure—digital infra- structure, heavy infrastructure, transportation systems and the things that will bind this country together. I have a briefing today about the community renewal fund, which is the precursor to the UK shared prosperity fund. This is not about the politics you saw in Tammany Hall in New York; this is sensible stuff that aims to level up this country.

The UK community renewal fund will ultimately be financed by the taxpayer, although it is the successor to the EU structural funds. It is important to test things out with the community renewal fund, so that we get it right when we introduce the shared prosperity fund, which will be worth over £2.6 billion over the next three years.

My Lords, I worry that the Government are not addressing what community renewal means in its wider, profounder sense. This funding, welcome as it is to those who receive it, is taking place against the reality of councils, particularly in deprived areas, that are so starved of money that they are contemplating selling off important community assets such as theatres and children’s centres. Will the Government look more carefully at the meaning of community, rather than seeing it solely as new build and private enterprise?

I should probably declare my commercial interests before I answer the question. The reality is that local government has had a pretty generous settlement. The core spending power has increased.

Well, given the state of the national finances, increasing the core spending power to the degree that we have shows a real commitment to local government. I point out that this particular fund is all around the skills and what it takes to increase the economic output of an area. The levelling-up fund is another fund that is focused on the more capital-intensive digital and road and rail infrastructure.

Does my noble friend agree that the best way to achieve levelling up is by economic growth and higher productivity, helped by good local authorities? I agree with my noble friend that the rising tide raises all boats. We should be seeking to make that a reality in these difficult times.

The reality is that we need local leadership. We need the vision in local places. We need to understand why a place should be competitive and then, with that local leadership, backed up by taxpayer pump-priming, turn places around. We have too few local leaders who have clear vision at the moment. There are some examples: we are seeing the success of our mayors, and we have to back them to ensure that the whole country rises. But the rhetoric about lifting all boats is precisely right.

My Lords, the noble Lord has made a good case for the community renewal fund, but is it not the case that the allocations were delayed from July to October? Will that mean that the application and monitoring of those funds will take a longer period? If not, the funds will be wasted. Levelling up is far too important to be bungled by this Government.

There is always delay. I have been a Minister for 18 months now: I am not used Whitehall, but I have seen many things delayed and that is not always as a result of direct ministerial influence. Things just take time. We have been through a global pandemic and, yes, this will probably delay things, but the commitment is there—there is clarity—and this is not a case of double-dealing or dodginess—

No, it is not—absolutely not. A clear methodology has been set out. It will benefit all the regions of the UK pretty much in equal part.

My Lords, can the Minister tell me how many different pots there are for levelling up for councils to bid for? I was told that there are now over 100. If so, do councils have to spend money trying to fulfil different sets of criteria for each one?

I have some sympathy with the noble Lord’s first question: there are probably too many funding pots. We are doing our best to narrow those down as we move towards the levelling-up fund for capital and the UK shared prosperity fund. We do not want local authorities to become grant farmers. We want them to focus on the vision for their place and then to apply for a limited number of pots. It is appropriate to have deals as well, on the other side, but, in terms of central pots, we are broadly going down to two main ones.