Robert Jenrick admits approving funds for town in Jake Berry’s constituency
Rajeev Syal www.theguardian.com
Robert Jenrick has admitted that he and a junior minister approved payments to towns in each other’s constituencies from a government fund earmarked for deprived areas.
The communities secretary confirmed that communities minister Jake Berry gave the go-ahead for Jenrick’s Newark constituency to be selected for a £25m fund award even though it was 270th on the list of the UK’s most deprived areas.
Jenrick said he signed off the decision for money to be allocated to Darwen, a town in Berry’s Rossendale and Darwen constituency.
On Sunday, Jenrick insisted there was a “robust and fair” methodology behind the government’s towns fund and dismissed as “completely baseless” allegations that he had any involvement in Newark’s selection.
Last year, Jenrick announced details of a £3.6bn towns fund to be shared between 101 left-behind areas.
Under the scheme, select towns were able to bid for up to £25m each from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government.
Jenrick and Berry, his junior minister, were allegedly responsible for choosing 61 of the towns.
At a hustings during the election last year, Jenrick told voters: “I helped to secure a £25m town deal which I hope will improve the public realm and make the town centre a more attractive place to spend time in.”
After the election, Jenrick sat on a board convened by Newark and Sherwood district council that petitioned his own department for the maximum amount available of £25m.
Jenrick told the BBC’s The Andrew Marr Show: “If the question you’re coming to is was I involved in selecting my own community, absolutely not. Ministers do not get involved in their own constituencies. That decision was made by another minister in my department.”
Asked which minister made the decision, Jenrick replied: “It was made by Jake Berry.”
When Marr pointed out that a town in Berry’s constituency also received money from the fund, Jenrick confirmed that he was the individual to have given that decision the go-ahead.
Earlier this year, Jenrick rebuffed calls for his resignation after he ensured a controversial housing development was agreed before a levy was introduced that would have cost its backer millions.
Documents showed that the former porn baron and Conservative party donor Richard Desmond urged Jenrick to approve his Westferry Printworks development in east London before a new community infrastructure levy was introduced, a move which, it is believed, would have saved Desmond £50m.
Desmond had given the Conservatives £12,000 two weeks after the scheme for 1,500 homes was approved, and the housing secretary had sat next to him at a fundraising event.
Jenrick denied any wrongdoing but expressed regrets for sitting next to Desmond and exchanging messages with him.
Labour is demanding an inquiry into the way money was allocated from the towns fund.
The shadow communities secretary, Steve Reed, has written to Simon Case, the head of the civil service, requesting a cabinet office investigation.