Minister urged to come clean over Towns Fund cash amid claims of billions sent to Tory marginals
Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick (Image: AFP via Getty Images)
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A Tory minister faces calls to publish documents linked to a £3.6 billion pot to help struggling towns, over claims of political bias.
Shadow communities secretary Steve Reed said that if Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick refuses to publish the information showing how grants were allocated "the public can only conclude it is because they have something to hide".
It comes as Commons spending watchdog the Public Accounts Committee warned that a "lack of transparency" over how money has been awarded could "fuel accusations of political bias" and said it was "not convinced by the rationales for selecting some towns and not others".
Mr Jenrick said the the selection process was "clear and robust".
Labour has accused the Government of using the Towns Fund, originally launched in 2019, to aid its general election campaign last year.
Speaking in the Commons, Mr Reed said: "The Secretary of State is today accused of blocking funding from the £3.6 billion Towns Fund going to the most deprived towns for which it was intended, and instead funnelling it into Conservative Party marginal seats ahead of the general election, and to help his own re-election campaign.
"This is clearly not about levelling up so let's see if the Secretary of State will level with the British people about what really went on."
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Mr Reed asked if Mr Jenrick had discussed allocations with Downing Street or any Conservative Party employee, and asked for any correspondence to be published.
He added in the Commons: "Was the Secretary of State present when his junior minister made decisions about his constituency (Newark) and will he publish all minutes from that meeting in which they both chose 61 towns that would benefit from funding?"
Mr Jenrick accused Mr Reed of seeking to "sow discord where there is none", adding: "We followed a very clear and robust procedure. The permanent secretary of my department has made that very clear."
He said Mr Reed had been "highly misleading" in his remarks, and said of funding for his constituency: "Newark was the 16th most highly ranked town in the East Midlands to be a beneficiary of the fund and we supported 19 places in the East Midlands.
"There's absolutely no reason why a minister should disadvantage their constituency – we are all both ministers and constituency MPs, that's one of the great virtues of our political system – but it is right that those decisions are not taken by that particular minister."
The SNP's David Linden accused the Government of "cronyism and sleaze" over the matter.
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Mr Jenrick replied: "We followed a robust procedure that's been set out by the department, and my permanent secretary in giving evidence to the Public Accounts Committee made that abundantly clear."
Labour's Andrew Gwynne said there were worthy recipients in his constituency that would be worthy of Towns Fund money but instead it was given to Cheadle.
Mr Gwynne told MPs: "So what instead attracted him to Cheadle? Was it their employment rate at 3% below the North West average, was it their deprivation ranking decile 7 making it one of the North's least deprived areas?
"Was it their low shop vacancy rate? Was it his department's assessment ranking it 535th priority out of 541 towns? Or was it the Tory majority of just 2,366?"
Mr Jenrick replied: "We're working extremely well – perhaps not with (Mr Gwynne) – but we're working extremely well with other Labour councils and MPs throughout the North West to bring forward proposals. We've just heard from one in Cheshire."