A POLITICAL row over emergency coronavirus funding to local authorities has emerged following claims the North-East was missing out to councils in the more affluent Home Counties.

North Durham MP Kevan Jones and Durham County Council leader Simon Henig said the criteria for two tranches of £1.6 billion was changed to favour authorities in the south by basing them solely on population and not on need.

But Tory MPs in the region have hit back accusing the Labour Party politicians of being ‘disingenuous’, arguing the tranches were always going to be calculated differently.

Richard Holden, North-West Durham, Dehenna Davison, Bishop Auckland, and Paul Howell, Sedgefield, said, when looked as a whole, County Durham has got 25 per cent more than Surrey.

In a statement, the three Conservatives said: “The council leader and North Durham MP are both well-aware that the two tranches were to be taken together to cover social care more heavily in the first and population more heavily in the second.

“To separate them is nonsense, disingenuous, and smacks of the pathetic politicisation of the coronavirus crisis that residents of County Durham detest.

“This is an example of a highly politicised local authority leadership making political statements that are nothing more than distortions of the truth.

“As new MPs, we are continuing to engage as much as possible on a positive basis with Durham County Council. We are the ones in Westminster being listened to as we argue for more funding.

“It is a sad state of affairs when our efforts to do so are constantly undermined by the local Labour leadership twisting the truth of the situation to their own narrow political ends, especially during the global Coronavirus pandemic.

“We can only hope that the Labour council leadership change their ways and choose to work with us in future for the good of County Durham.”

The three MPs point out when taken together, tranche one and tranche two provided over £33 million of funding to Durham County Council, which equates to over £65 per head, while residents of Surrey, received just over £52 per head.

Kevan Jones said he believes the criteria was changed following complaints by district councils in Tory shires, which still have two tiers of local government.

He points out one of the staunchest critics of the funding model is the County Councils Network whose chairman, David Williams, is the Conservative leader of Hertfordshire County Council.

In a statement last month Coun Williams said: “We are disappointed that our member councils have seen a disproportionate change in their share of allocations compared to the previous £1.6bn.”

Mr Jones has also responded to the accusation concerns over council funding were being raised for party political reasons.

He said: “I would make the point that the decision to change the formula to disadvantage County Durham was a political decision and taken for political reasons to help Conservative district councils in the south.

“I asked the Conservative members to join me in lobbying the Government for change, and I would do so again.

“However, until they understand that need must be a determinant in the allocation of resources, they will be letting down the constituents they represent.

“This disappointed me but, hopefully upon reflection, they may wish to alter their position and engage with Conservative councillors in local government who understand the issue.”

Councillor Simon Henig, of Durham County Council, said the comments made by the Conservative MPs were ‘unfair’ and urged them to work with the council to secure any future funding allocations on a “needs” basis.

He said: “Ironically, the comments in relation to “per head” funding allocations demonstrate a lack of understanding of the arguments which we have been making to government over many years about funding distributions being fair and based on “need”.

“To distribute funding without taking account of need simply moves money from more deprived areas to wealthier areas of the country.”

“This is simply not fair to County Durham or the North-East.”

The Northern Echo has asked the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government for documents to support the claim the criteria to determine the two tranches was always going to be different.

The Government department has not sent any evidence, but has issued an official statement on the matter.

A spokesperson said: “The two tranches of funding were allocated in different ways because they address different needs, but they should be considered together as the true picture of the unprecedented additional funding package provided.

“Overall we considered a range of issues including social care pressures, population and loss of income through services such as parking and leisure facilities.

“This is the fairest possible way to allocate the funding, of which Durham County Council has received a total of £33.15 million.”