“The Conservatives have been accused of short-changing the poorest communities in favour of comparatively affluent towns to boost their election prospects.
The government promised that the multibillion-pound towns fund would “unleash the full economic potential of more than 100 places and level up communities throughout the country”.
However, 32 towns on the list fall outside the 300 worst-off in England according to rankings from the Office for National Statistics.
Analysis by The Times reveals the extent to which money has been directed towards wealthier areas that are marginal Conservative-held or target seats.
Among the least deprived locations given priority are Stocksbridge in South Yorkshire, where Angela Smith, who won the seat for Labour in 2017, is standing aside after 14 years, and Loughborough, where the Conservatives are defending a majority of 4,000.
Others include Brighouse, Kidsgrove, Cheadle, Worcester and Crawley, which all sit in constituencies that returned Tory MPs with majorities of less than 5,000 at the 2017 election.
Newark, which is ranked 298th in terms of deprivation, is in the constituency being contested by Robert Jenrick, the housing secretary. The list also features Darwen, the Lancashire constituency that Jake Berry, the northern powerhouse minister, is defending.
Andrew Gwynne, the shadow communities secretary, said: “This raises serious questions about the role that ministers and advisers played in robbing some of the poorest towns in the country to funnel cash into Tory target seats in a scramble for votes.
“The towns fund is an insult to communities across the country that have been forced to bear the greatest burden of austerity.”
Will Jennings, professor of public policy and researcher for the Centre of Towns think tank, said more transparency was urgently needed to justify why some of these towns had been included while places such as Tipton, Bootle and Sheerness had not.
The towns fund has also been criticised for failing to fulfil promises made in the Conservatives’ 2017 manifesto, which pledged to replace £30 billion of structural fund money from the EU with a “United Kingdom shared prosperity fund, specifically designed to reduce inequalities between communities”.
Lisa Nandy, Labour’s candidate in Wigan, said: “We were promised real investment, including billions through a shared prosperity fund. Instead we’ve seen money pushed towards marginal towns during an election campaign.”
Analysis of the towns fund was carried out using Office for National Statistics data on income deprivation, one of the key measures ministers were asked to consider when finalising the recipients. This showed that more than half the 100 towns (55) voted Tory in 2017, yet more than three quarters (85) of the 10 per cent of most deprived towns backed Labour at the last election.
The data revealed that the 100 areas chosen to receive funds had an average parliamentary majority of just over 6,000. This compares with an average majority of almost 11,000 in England’s 10 per cent most deprived towns.
Towns Fund money is going to 23 towns with populations below 25,000, the most widely used classification of a small town. One, Tory-voting Millom, in Cumbria, has just 5,887 people.”
Source: Times (pay wall)