Chancellor Rishi Sunak has confirmed that the first round of the £4.8bn Levelling Up Fund will be available to local areas to help tackle regional inequalities.
Mr Sunak’s Budget aims to deliver on the Conservative’s 2019 manifesto commitment to invest more in northern constituencies, with the aim of closing the economic gap between the north and south.
In today’s Budget, Mr Sunak emphasised the importance of ‘redrawing our economic map’ and changing the country’s economic geography.
He confirmed that the first round of the Levelling Up Fund, which was announced in last year's Spending Review, will be available for local areas to submit bids for the first round of funding starting in 2021-22.
The Treasury will make £4bn available for England and £800m for communities in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
In his foreword to the Levelling Up Fund Prospectus, Mr Sunak wrote: 'While the fund is open to every local area, it is especially intended to support investment in places where it can make the biggest difference to everyday life, including ex-industrial areas, deprived towns and coastal communities.
‘It is also designed to help local areas select genuine local priorities for investment by putting local stakeholder support, including the local MP where they want to be involved, at the heart of its mission.'
Mr Sunak’s promise of a multi-million-pound fund to tackle regional inequality has been criticised by the think tank IPPR North as being too much of a centralised fix, which forces combined and local authorities to go to the Government ‘cap in hand’.
Writing in The MJ yesterday, IPPR North’s director Sarah Longlands explained that the north-south divide had been exacerbated by a decade of austerity and the pandemic.
She warned: ‘The reality is that while these announcements may be eye-catching, it will be the profits of institutional investors that will be levelled up rather than the people who live in these areas.'