Controversy over Towns Fund giving £25m to Norwich branded as ‘unfortunate’, by city council

Norwich City Centre, City Hall exterior Pictures: BRITTANY WOODMAN

Norwich City Centre, City Hall exterior Pictures: BRITTANY WOODMAN - Credit: Archant

Criticism of a £3.6bn fund which awarded Norwich a £25m sum for regeneration as having “political bias” has been blasted by a city councillor as “unfortunate”.

The government’s multi-billion Towns Fund awarded Norwich the money to create a digital hub and technology factory, to revamp the city’s historic halls and prompt investment in East Anglia.

But the scheme, which also sees Great Yarmouth, King’s Lynn and Lowestoft in the running for cash, has been labelled “politically motivated in a scathing report by the House of Commons’ cross-party public accounts committee.

READ MORE: Controversy around scheme which awarded Norwich £25m

The committee said a lack of transparency “fuelled accusations of political bias in the selection process” of the scheme.

And speaking during a meeting of the city council, held on Wednesday, November 11, Liberal Democrat group leader James Wright described the scheme which predated the Covid-19 crisis, as “a tremendous success for the council”.

He said: “There’s clearly been a lot of hard work that’s gone in.

READ MORE: Revealed: The 12 towns more deprived than Norwich that lost out on £25m boosts

“I say that because I think it’s slightly unfortunate that there’s press stories today talking about the public accounts committee’s view on that political bias that’s gone into awarding this money.

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“I think it’s very important to say that Norwich has received this funding on the merits of the application that it’s put in and the hard work that’s gone in.

“It isn’t, as the committee have suggested, certainly in our case, on the back of some sort of political bias.”

City council leader Alan Waters said: “That’s a very valuable point.”

READ MORE: Government says Norwich, Great Yarmouth, King’s Lynn and Lowestoft in frame for up to £25m boosts

He added: “For the purposes of seeking the money we were not unhappy that it is a towns fund - although in reality in the case of Norwich it is a city fund.”

Last year, 101 towns were invited to bid for up to £25m for economic and productivity growth but following the general election last year there were accusations from the Labour Party that the government had prioritised marginal electoral seats over areas where the cash was needed.

Shadow communities secretary Steve Reed said there were “now serious concerns ministers may have allocated funding for political gain at the 2019 election”.

But a government spokesman said more affluent towns were ruled out and the most deprived favoured, adding: “We are confident the process we took was comprehensive, robust and fair.”

READ MORE: Why has Norwich been classed as a town by the government?

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