Comment - Why it's time to shame the Chancellor into a U-turn over his treatment of Sheffield and the North

Sheffield was badly treated in the Budget and, as the fallout continues, City Region mayor Dan Jarvis is demanding answers.

By David Walsh
Friday, 5th March 2021, 2:00 pm

There is so much information to download on the day that it takes a little while to get the bigger picture.

But now we can see a clear and very worrying pattern emerging.

Two areas locally are receiving Towns Fund cash and one has just turned Tory, Stocksbridge.

Richmond in North Yorkshire is set to receive Levelling Up money.

In fact, 40 of 45 places sharing £1bn are represented by Conservative MPs. It is an astonishing figure that prompted Sheffield’s TUC boss to launch a stinging attack on ‘pork barrel dole-outs’ to Tory constituencies.

As if this wasn’t bad enough, the Chancellor’s much-vaunted Levelling Up Fund places Sheffield in a lower category than leafy Richmondshire in North Yorkshire. It is just a coincidence this is his constituency.

But it makes a mockery of the fund which, as the name clearly states, is intended to help poorer places close the gap.

It seems the Chancellor paid no heed to the Public Accounts Committee, which in November criticised an earlier round of the £3.6bn Towns Fund as ‘opaque‘ and ‘not impartial’.

The scheme came in for criticism after a number of areas in marginal seats in the last General Election were chosen for investment despite scoring a low rating on criteria set by the government.

Rarely can there have been such a run of blatant favouritism. It is very hard to shake the impression that these decisions are about political advantage - rewarding newly and tempting ‘nearly’ Tory areas - with huge handouts.

The government is supposed to represent us all. Indeed it was this government that introduced the phrase ‘levelling up,’ acknowledging the need to do something about the yawning North-South divide.

Sadly, more than a year after it was coined, we are still waiting for a policy or a long-term commitment to act. And northern towns must continue to compete with each other for national pots of money.

Dan Jarvis is right to demand an explanation before the Levelling Up Fund properly gets going in the hope that a shame-faced Chancellor will look again at his dreadful and discriminatory decisions.