West Midlands mayor rebukes civil servants over Levelling Up Fund

Conservative stalwart Andy Street slams “Whitehall’s bidding and begging bowl culture” after region misses out in £2.1bn round
Andy Street. Photo: Twitter

By Jim Dunton

20 Jan 2023

The Conservative mayor of the West Midlands Combined Authority has blamed civil servants for the region’s failure to secure more support in the latest round of allocations from the government’s Levelling Up Fund.

Andy Street, who is up for re-election next year, attacked officials rather than ministers for the methodology underpinning the distribution of £2.1bn to some 111 successful projects yesterday.

The programme, which aims to boost so-called “left behind” parts of the UK, had already attracted criticism for funding projects in London and the south-east in its latest round. Members of parliament’s Public Accounts Committee, meanwhile, continue to express concerns about the processes by which funding bids are determined.

In a terse statement yesterday, Street said he believed some West Midlands projects had been overlooked because of recent successes with high-profile events such as the Commonwealth Games and Coventry’s City of Culture status.

“Fundamentally, this episode is just another example as to why Whitehall’s bidding and begging bowl culture is broken and the sooner we can decentralise and move to proper fiscal devolution the better,” Street said.

“The centralised system of London civil servants making local decisions is flawed, and I cannot understand why the levelling-up funding money was not devolved for local decision makers to decide on what’s best for their areas.”

Street acknowledged that funding secured for projects in parts of the Black Country was welcome. However, no bids in Birmingham or Coventry were successful and Street suggested that the evaluation and approval process for bids may not have been a level playing field.

“I am particularly concerned that the government may have viewed our past successes – not least the Commonwealth Games and Coventry City of Culture in recent years – as a reason to reject the majority of the region’s bids,” he said.

“The West Midlands is currently in high-profile negotiations with government over some major multi-billion-pound schemes – namely our Trailblazer Devolution Deal and Midlands Rail Hub – but I cannot accept that should be a reason to preclude us from winning money from some of our most deprived areas.

“We have won substantial funding from government – more than £4.5bn since 2017 – and used that to bring in billions more in private investment. It would be astonishing if this success had counted against us.”

Elsewhere in the West Midlands, Conservative MP Michael Fabricant blamed officials at Conservative-run Lichfield District Council for the area’s failure to secure funding for a new leisure centre in the latest Levelling Up Fund allocations.

“I am very disappointed,” he said. “I am told that flaws in the application meant it did not even reach the minister’s desk for consideration – it was ruled out as not meeting the required criteria by the civil service.  Consequently, ministers did not even get to consider the bid.

“As with the levelling up first round, ministers have offered to provide face to face training to council officers in how to make a successful bid and I hope this will be taken up this time.”

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