Controversy around scheme which awarded Norwich £25m
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A £3.6bn fund, which awarded Norwich £25m for regeneration projects, has been criticised for a lack of transparency which has fuelled fears of “political bias”, MPs have found.
The cross-party Commons Public Accounts Committee said the process for selecting communities to benefit from the Towns Fund was “not impartial” and risked undermining the integrity of the Civil Service.
Norwich was awarded £25m through the scheme, to help create a Digital Hub and Digi-Tech Factory, for a revamp of The Halls and to kickstart investment in East Norwich.King’s Lynn, Great Yarmouth and Lowestoft are also in the running to receive funding.
But, in a scathing report, the public accounts committee said ministers in the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) picked towns on the basis of “scant” evidence and “sweeping assumptions”.
Committee chair Meg Hillier said the system gave “every appearance of having been politically motivated”.
Communities secretary Robert Jenrick earlier this year denied having any role in selecting his constituency, Newark, for a £25m grant.
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Mr Jenrick, said the award had been signed off by the then communities minister Jake Berry, while he had approved a grant for Darwen in Mr Berry’s constituency.
Officials in the MHCLG had drawn up a ranked priority list of 541 towns based on need and potential for development for ministers to select from.
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While the top 40 “high priority” locations were confirmed, ministers picked another 61 “medium and low priority” communities from the rest of the list.
Although they were supposed to record their “rationale”, the committee said it was “not convinced” by some of the reasons given and the selection process was “not impartial”.
The committee said a lack of transparency “fuelled accusations of political bias in the selection process”.
An MHCLG spokesman said: “We completely disagree with the committee’s criticism of the Town Fund selection process, which was comprehensive, robust and fair.
“The Towns Fund will help level up the country, creating jobs and building stronger and more resilient local economies.”