Levelling Up Britain, Hunger Games Style

In America they call it Pork Barrel Politics. Here you could call it vote-rigging. The levelling up fund, the last vestige of Boris Johnson’s disgraced regime, is being used as a Tory pre-election bribe, a blatant party political inducement, and they’re doing it in plain sight. Labour’s Chris Bryant called it out saying: “The Levelling Up Fund is fundamentally corrupt because it is discretionary and competitive. It doesn’t allocate on the basis of need. It is politically biased because Tory MPs are secretly briefed about it and funds are allocated by party affiliation.”

There will be no money for Glasgow, Birmingham, Manchester or Liverpool, but they are giving £19 million to leafy Richmond in Yorkshire, which by coincidence is Rishi Sunak’s own constituency.

Lisa Nandy described the allocations system as a “Hunger Games-style contest” that pitted communities against one another and where Whitehall ministers picked winners and losers from the funding bids. The levelling up fund is in chaos, beset by delays and allegations of favouritism – 15 months after the first round of allocations, just 5% of the money has made it to the communities who were promised it,” she said. “It takes an extraordinary arrogance to expect us to be grateful for a partial refund on the money they have stripped out of our communities, which has decimated vital local services like childcare, buses and social care.”

It does indeed.

The whole process is one which has created a ‘begging bowl’ culture, in which regions and communities that have billions of funds slashed over years are then asked to compete for replacement funds at a far reduced level. The driving force behind the idea is, you’ll remember, supposed to make up for the cut of more than 20% in local government spending during a decade of austerity.

Dianna Abbott MP said: “I welcome the £19 million grant from central government to Hackney as part of the levelling up fund. But this is a tiny fraction of the cuts imposed by Tory governments since 2010. There is nothing praiseworthy or progressive about Tory local government funding.”

But it’s worse than a funding slight of hand, it’s actually redistributive from poor communities to the wealthy.

Leader of Glasgow City Council, Susan Aitken has said: “We’ve been analysing today’s so-called Levelling Up outcomes. In short, it’s nothing of the sort. It takes money away from deprived urban areas to give to wealthy towns. It blatantly targets resources away from some of the most socially and economically challenged communities …The value of Levelling Up projects in Scotland is £348m of which Glasgow has been awarded 3.7%. Based on our population share it should have been 3 times that. Based on the proportion of people living in Scotland’s most deprived communities it should be 15 times as much.”

This fraud has to be put in the context of the post-Brexit settlement (that’s a euphemism) and the ongoing Westminster power grab.

As Paul Kavanagh has written: “In Scotland, just £177m of Levelling Up funding is being distributed. This money will be spent on devolved issues with no input from the Scottish Parliament. Under the EU’s 2014-2020 budget, Scotland was allocated up to €944m (£827.6m) in structural funding. These funds were controlled by the Scottish Parliament.”

When the funds were announced on Thursday MPs and council leaders called the handouts a “slap in the face” and a “disgraceful sham”. Labour and SNP MPs who lost-out voiced frustration at an urgent question in Westminster this week, saying Tory areas were having “mouths stuffed with gold” and saying the process “stinks”.

The farce of the ‘levelling up’ experience exposes not just the corruption at the heart of Westminster politics, nor the blatant impact on democracy that spirals out as a consequence of Brexit, but the structural inequality within England’s north-south divide as well.

As the columnist Simon Jenkins has put it: “The true gulf between local and national investment in infrastructure in Britain is obscene. Levelling up’s £2.1bn for 2023 compares with about £5bn a year spent by the Treasury on just one Johnson vanity project, the £100bn HS2 railway. How can Sunak possibly tell nurses and teachers he is short of money? HS2’s sole merit is to offer more capacity for home counties commuters into London’s Euston station.”

“In any other country these would be routine spending projects decided quietly by local politicians and officials” he writes, stating the blindingly obvious, he concludes: “It is laughable that a London official should decide if Cleethorpes needs a new seafront or Shetland a new ferry.”

I mean, sure Simon. But have you just realised that? It’s at the heart of the logic behind the call for Scottish independence that people should make decisions as close as possible to where those decisions have impact. Following this logic the argument for decentralisation within Scotland, both now and after independence is overwhelming.

The Conservatives are morally bankrupt and deeply cynical. But more than that, they don’t care.

Whether it’s levelling up or trickling down, nothing changes.

If the latest round of corruption, like an open sewer, has been an epiphany to some – ‘Yes look! – Britain is structurally and grotesquely unequal – and the wealth flows south to where the power is!’ Why this should be a revelation to anyone id not clear, but apparently it is.

But here’s the thing. Scotland has an escape clause, or at least in theory we do. But urban England, outside the Home Counties and London, do not. How do we make common cause with Rustbelt England? If we can share the analysis that decisions should be made by the people they effect, that Britain is massively over-centralised and regionally and nationally unequal, then what flows from that is not just Scottish independence but an uprising within England against corruption and misrule.

The state of deprivation across Britain has reached epic scale, and the scale of the task to repair communities and restore a viable economy is incomprehensible. But at least in staging such a naked and flagrant exercise in corruption the Conservatives have done us all a favour and exposed not just their own moral vacuum but the reality that Britain is inexcusably and irretrievably divided.




Comments (9)

Join the Discussion

Your email address will not be published.

  1. Squigglypen says:

    No wonder these chinless wonders from Eton and inbred aristocrats laugh up their sleeves at us…. Let ‘them’ eat cake..AND fight for it… ( that would be us..the bewildered herd.)
    There is only ONE levelling up…….UDI. ‘Oh! whit a panic wid be in their breasties’…if we did( apologies to Burns)
    PS: Where did all this money that Riki is giving away come from? There isn’t enough to give the RMT..NHS. etc decent wage rises..
    PPS: But I do hope we have enough dosh for Charlie Chimps silken pantaloons re the coronation…maybe we could donate our foodbanks so Charlie Chimp gets the best silk to cover his fat lazy a**e.

    For Scotland!

  2. Tom Ultuous says:

    Just for starters, £2.1 billion equates to £31 per UK capita. Even if it was spread out equally, in what way does being handed a one-off payment of £31 equate to “levelling up”?

    1. Axel P Kulit says:

      2.1 Billion is less than 0.3% of government expenditure and probably less than the rounding error in calculating the latter. It’s like someone on £100k salary finding a 1p coin in their back pocket. giving it to a beggar and praising their own generosity

  3. Bill says:

    The corruption of the levelling up scheme has been exposed. But much more significantly and much more frightingly is what is going on underneath. The Guardian had a report from a lady who survived the Holocaust and recognised in a number of Tories, but especially Braverman the type of behaviour last seen in the Thirties in Germany. The vilification of certain people. The encouragement of hate speech directed at others. Was the incarceration of ‘ illegal immigrants’ in the old RAF base at Marston the creation of a concentration camp? Is this bribery an attempt to ensure re-election, in order to carry on the the evil right wing policies that become more sinister as time goes on?
    People at Braverman’s meeting cheered the idea that the RNLI should not rescue those in peril on the seas, if they could be illegal immigrants. It has been reported that on social media, trolls have attacked a family with two disabled children and suggested that they be put down. Where did this come from? Where did we hear of this before?

    The ‘levelling up’ bribery is a strategy that if successful would lead to the full fascist agenda. I know that in Scotland there are many who are not angels, but I do not have a sense of a society as far gone to the right as that of England. We need to resist and fight against these developments. Scottish Independence would allow us to escape from such a society, but do we really want to abandon those currently being targeted?

    Perhaps a change in approach is required. Dump the House of Lords, replaced with an elected second chamber. Proportional representation and an end to first past the post in Westminster elections. A written Constitution and a Bill of Rights for Britain. Then an amicable parting of the ways and a Scotland free from the Westminster yoke, but in a healthy relationship with the other parts of the UK. Ultimately of course the creation of a Scottish Republic.

    Perhaps the exposure of this corrupt policy of the Tories may galvanise the population to demand the necessary changes to the society that we currently share


    1. Alasdair Macdobald says:

      I was shocked by the applause when Braverman replied to the holocaust survivor.

      In August, I cycled around Kent, including passing Manston Aerodrome. Sadly, I saw so many union flags in houses and hotels, that it seemed clear that in that part of England, there is significant grassroots support for being nasty to foreigners. It was a dispiriting sight to see warships in the Channel as I looked from the cliff top at Folkestone.

      Of course, I met compassionate people on my travels – the majority – but the level of xenophobic jingoism was concerning.

      With the dispiriting noises coming from Starmer and other Labour politicians, it seems clear to me that the focus groups so beloved of Blairites are indicating that anti immigrant, anti Europe, anti-‘scrounged’, rhetoric is what is required to win popular support, especially in the north and Midlands.

      After a short while of New Labour government at the turn of the century, when people were becoming uneasy about the continuing rhetoric and the lack of reversal of the most iniquitous Thatcherite policies and the continuation of ‘light touch’, City friendly economics, Blair said in an interview that some people should have believed what he had been saying. And then, we had five foreign wars, and the financial collapse and a government that was extremely relaxed about people becoming filthy rich.

  4. Jake Solo says:

    Rustbelt England is much more English Nationalist than it is socialist. Who flipped Tory easy as pie to get Johnson and Brexit? Who would do it again in a heartbeat? The Tories were pushing at an open door there.

    The whole “Solidarity with Sunderland” guff is unionist talk and was exposed as cant and fantasy a long time ago. Good luck finding common cause against the Tories with people who vote for them at the drop of a hat.

    Where does this idea come from? Are there feelers coming up from the Rustbelt and over the border? Or is it just squeamishness about serious thoughts of independence surfacing again?

    We’re going to have to cut those people loose to save ourselves. It’s their own adult choices they suffer from. Grow up and deal with that.

  5. Liz Summerfield says:

    The Sunday Times is an anti-Scottish tory rag which I get every week on the principle of “know thine enemy”. There’s an article in today’s edition pointing out that the areas which have received the most are either tory voting already, or marginal constituencies Sunak wants to bribe so that he doesn’t lose the next election.

  6. Wul says:

    Excellent article.

    Worth noting too that that the bidding process itself costs local authorities money they desperately need. £24 million spent/wasted so far in preparing complicated bids.

    Begging to have a chance of a tiny fraction of our own money back. Are we daft?

Help keep our journalism independent

We don’t take any advertising, we don’t hide behind a pay wall and we don’t keep harassing you for crowd-funding. We’re entirely dependent on our readers to support us.

Subscribe to regular bella in your inbox

Don’t miss a single article. Enter your email address on our subscribe page by clicking the button below. It is completely free and you can easily unsubscribe at any time.