Birmingham has prepared a bid for £80 million in funding but no local councils are able to apply. Image: Birmingham City Council
The government’s flagship levelling-up agenda has stalled, Labour has said, as councils are still unable to apply for funding six weeks after the application website was supposed to go live.
Communities across the country have prepared bids to access millions in funding to regenerate services such as local libraries, theatres, arts centres and parks but the Conservative Party leadership contest means “government has ground to a halt”, said Lisa Nandy, Labour’s shadow levelling up secretary.
“If only they put the same effort into levelling up as they put into trying to advance their own careers,” Nandy added.
Boris Johnson vowed to “level up” swathes of the country which had been neglected by previous Conservative governments when he became prime minister in 2019. His administration imploded in a record-breaking wave of resignations last week after months of scandal and recrimination, however, including nearly all ministers in the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC).
Amid the chaos, Johnson sacked levelling up secretary and long-time rival Michael Gove. Greg Clark took over the department but has yet to make any public announcements about the second tranche of levelling up funding.
The online portal to apply for a share of almost £5 billion in funding was supposed to open on May 31 but a notice on the grovernment website currently says it will be available “as soon as possible”.
“While Tory leadership candidates parade around Westminster doing their best Margaret Thatcher impersonations, government has ground to a halt,” said Nandy.
“For over a decade the Conservatives have stripped money from our communities. Now they expect those same communities to wait even longer for just a partial refund. If only they put the same effort into levelling up as they put into trying to advance their own careers.
“We can no longer afford the chaos, distraction and self-indulgence of this Conservative Party. We need a fresh start with a Labour government that will deliver, and that will match the ambition that we have for ourselves and our communities.”
A DLUHC spokesperson said: “We reject these claims. The department is continuing its work to level up communities across the United Kingdom.
“We are working to open the online portal as soon as possible and it will remain open for two weeks to give applicants time to put their bids in.”
Some of the projects awaiting approval include:
A £20million project in Croydon to create public plazas for art, markets and cultural events
A £40million project in Rochdale for new housing, cycleways and a refurbished community centre with a gym and cinema
An £80million bid from Birmingham Council for a number of projects to rejuvenate some of the most deprived areas in the country with housing, culture and leisure facilities and “business incubation spaces”
A £20million bid in Halesowen, in the West Midlands, to improve footfall and business in the town centre and build a new campus for the local college
A £20million bid in Reading to refurbish the library and community centre
Another £20million bid from Billingham, in County Durham, to rejuvenate the town centre which is beset by “high vacancy rates and excess retail space”, according to councillors
Billlingham’s bid was rejected in the first round of funding in 2020, leading one councillor to accuse the government of “living in cloud cuckoo land” when a wealthier nearby area received funding instead.
Boris Johnson’s government was accused of giving levelling up funding to areas which had voted Conservative in the 2019 election and ignoring bids from areas which had voted labour.
Croydon’s Conservative mayor, Jason Perry, said: “I am determined to bring much needed investment to Croydon, starting with our bid for almost £20m of levelling up funding, which would firmly put the town centre regeneration back on track, making us a destination where people want to live, work and visit. With this funding, we plan to make necessary changes to reconnect, refresh, revitalise and regenerate key areas of our town centre – restoring a sense of local pride in Croydon.”
John Blundell, a Labour councillor in Rochdale and cabinet member for economy and regeneration, said: “This is a real opportunity for the government to demonstrate that it is serious about moving funding to where it is needed most and reversing the unfairness that has been baked into how we distribute resources as a country.
“The bids are part of the council’s plans to bring about a fairer society where no matter where you live you have the same quality of life and life chances. I hope that the bids for Heywood and Middleton, and Rochdale, are successful so that we can put our plans into action.”