CHANGES to the way funding is allocated to help councils during the coronavirus pandemic mean cash to areas with high pockets of deprivation in the North-East have been cut by more than a fifth, while more affluent areas in the Home Counties are seeing huge benefits.

The Government now bases its calculation on the population served by local authorities, but initially also took into account poverty levels and need.

The first national handout saw County Durham receive £18,588,256, which fell to £14,565,697 in the second tranche of allocations, over £4 million, or 21.6 per cent, less.

Several councils such as Sunderland, Newcastle, Gateshead, South Tyneside, North Tyneside and Northumberland have also received reduced allocations.

Conversely, Surrey received more than £8 million extra, bringing its latest handout to £33,661,062, a rise of 31.8 per cent.

Councillor Simon Henig, leader of Durham County Council and chairman of the Association of North East Councils (ANEC), said: “We have written to the Prime Minister outlining our concerns around the financial pressures that we are facing and have asked that the Government agree to more funding to cover all Covid-19 related pressures.

“We have also stressed that funding must take full account of the needs in local areas as well as considering longer-term pressures.

“We want to ensure that local communities and businesses in the North-East are not disadvantaged through these allocations and ANEC has asked for discussions with Government over these issues.”

The Northern Echo:

Kevan Jones MP

Kevan Jones, MP for North Durham, has written to Local Government Secretary Robert Jenrick, and called on the county’s three new Tory MPs to support his call for a reversal of the change.

In his letter, Mr Jones said: “The data which has been produced throughout this pandemic indicates that the areas most affected have been those with high levels of deprivation and with high numbers of vulnerable people.

“Therefore, can I ask why it is that the Government has chosen to change the formula by which resources are allocated, away from those who need it most.”

Mr Jones said Boris Johnson had pledged to ‘level up the playing field’ when he was elected in December.

He said: “Clearly, the Tories are reverting to type and rewarding their traditional areas rather than areas of need such as the North-East.

“I look forward to the new Tory Mps joining me in lobbying the Government to change this.”

The Northern Echo:

Clockwise from top left, Dehenna Davison, Peter Gibson, Jacob Young, Ian Levy, Paul Howell, Richard Holden and Matt Vickers

It is understood three new North-East Conservative MPs, Dehenna Davison, Richard Holden and Paul Howell had a meeting about the matter on Tuesday.

After they issued a statement and responded directly to Mr Jones call.

They said: “Getting sustained good funding for our county is one of our top priorities and that’s why we are constantly engaging with all the major stakeholders.

“We have weekly meetings with senior council leadership and, as a group of of MPs, fight County Durham’s corner with ministers to make the case for our area.

“Labour MPs seeking to make a name for themselves by conducting megaphone diplomacy on baseless hypotheticals don’t help anyone.

“We three Conservatives will continue to work constructively behind the scenes to actually deliver for the people of County Durham.”

Health inequalities already mean the North-East is more at risk from Covid-19 and has a higher infection rate than the rest of the country with a disproportionate number of deaths in many areas.

Middlesbrough, which has a death rate of double the national average, saw its funding cuts by the Government by more than £1.3 million.

Middlesbrough Mayor Andy Preston said: “We’re doing our bit to fight this awful disease, but we can only do that if Government give us a fair deal that will enable us to turn the tide and move into recovery while caring for vulnerable people and especially our children.”

A spokesman for The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government said  the per capita allocation for the second tranche is a 'fair and balanced' response to the national effort in tacking coronavirus; and there is 'no evidence to suggest that deprivation drives extra Covid-19 costs'.

He said: "Council workers are the unsung heroes as we tackle this pandemic and by providing councils with an unprecedented £3.2 billion in the fairest way possible we’re working with them to tackle the immediate pressures they have told us they’re facing.

“Durham County Council will receive £33.75 million of this to deal with the pressures of coronavirus, while its core spending power rose by £30.97 million this financial year even before additional emergency funding was announced."

The spokesman said the funding package recognises the additional costs and pressures on finances councils are facing as a result of the current crisis.

He said the second £1.6 billion funding has been allocated based on population to ensure a fair split of funding to local councils and their residents at this difficult time.

He added: "The Government will continue to work closely with councils as the pandemic progresses."