‘Not our lived experience’: Tunbridge Wells leaders rubbish Sunak leveling up boast | Conservatives

Rishi Sunak’s boast to Tunbridge Wells residents that he diverted public funds from deprived urban areas to help those such as the affluent Kent borough has been rubbished by local leaders.

The prime minister was told by the council this had “not been our lived experience” and only one competitive funding bid by the council for a pot of central government money had been successful in the past six years.

In a document seen by the Guardian, they said: “Government funding schemes to promote growth and leveling up start, change and stop with bewildering frequency and severely limit local authorities’ ability to plan and manage growth over a sufficient period.”

The admission may cause concern among Conservative MPs in the so-called blue wall of traditionally safe seats, which, according to polls, are at risk of being lost at the next election.

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Tunbridge Wells borough council (TWBC) took aim at Sunak’s comments over the summer, when a video emerged of him speaking to Conservative activists in the area during the previous Tory leadership race.

Reflecting on his former role as chancellor, Sunak told party members in August: “I managed to start changing the funding formulas to make sure areas like this are getting the funding they deserve.

“We inherited a bunch of formulas from Labor that shoved all the funding into deprived urban areas and that needed to be undone. I started the work of undoing that.”

He was criticized at the time, including by the Tory MP Jake Berry, then chair of the Northern Research Group. Berry said the comments suggested that despite Sunak’s commitment to leveling up in the north of England, he “says one thing and does another”.

Months later, TWBC also criticized Sunak’s suggestion. In a report submitted to a parliamentary committee, local leaders said: “We suspect that TWBC might have been invited because of the suggestion that the government has changed funding formulas to benefit areas like Tunbridge Wells. As this submission will demonstrate, this has not been our lived experience.”

TWBC said “in contrast” to Sunak’s claim, it had “only been successful in one competitive funding bid”, which was for a local cultural centre.

It criticized “the proliferation of multiple competitive pots over the last decade”, saying this had led to “fragmentation, inefficiency, complexity, and administrative burdens”.

“These constant false dawns, stop/starts and constant changes to existing schemes erodes trust and confidence in the next scheme or initiative that is launched,” TWBC added.

Leveling up and economic development “take time, yet funding mechanisms chop and change and wax and wane”, said the council, adding it was facing additional pressures due to cuts to local authority funding inflation.

It claimed there had been seven invites to apply for growth or leveling up funds – including the local growth fund, community renewal fund and investment zones – over the past five years.

Each pot was said to have had “different eligibility and bidding requirements”, with bids costing up to £30,000 each – not including hundreds of hours of staff time preparing the required documentation.

The council’s submission added: “We would be most surprised if any local government minister would be able to name and describe the various pots and schemes that have been announced over the past few years and account for their success.”

Labor claimed the criticism by TWBC was proof that the Conservatives’ approach to leveling up was failing.

Lisa Nandy, the shadow leveling up secretary, said: “We cannot rebuild Britain with a Hunger Games-style system that pits communities against each other and forces them to go cap in hand to Whitehall for permission to do what they know will work for them. .”

She highlighted the pledge to make a “take back control” bill – borrowing the phrase from the 2016 Brexit campaign – the centrepiece of Labor’s first king’s speech, if it wins power at the next election.

Nandy said the bill would lead to “the biggest ever transfer of power from Westminster to the British people, giving every community the tools and backing to make their full contribution”.

A spokesperson for the leveling up department said the government was committed to simplifying funding pots and vowed to set out a plan shortly.

They added: “There was significant interest in the first round of the leveling up fund and all bids were subject to a rigorous assessment process. As we did with round one, unsuccessful applicants from round two will receive full feedback to help strengthen bids in the future. Tunbridge Wells has received £1m from the UK shared prosperity fund and will benefit from the £7.5m allocation for Kent as a whole.”

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