A North East MP has slammed the process used to award Levelling Up funding by the UK government after a town in his constituency failed for the second time to receive money for much-needed development.

"It stinks," said Stockton North MP Alex Cunningham on Thursday (19 January) as he took part in an Urgent Question debate in the House of Commons. The government was responding to questions about Levelling Up funding after it emerged that Rishi Sunak's Richmond constituency, a generally affluent, rural area, had received £19m of funding from the pot, while places like Billingham were left empty handed.

In a statement released after the debate, Mr Cunningham added: "Billingham is fit to burst with potential but once again its bid for “Levelling Up” money has been rejected by Tory Ministers. Yet bids for the much more affluent areas like Richmond, the Prime Minister’s constituency no less, reap the benefits of investment.

Read more: Levelling up cash 'favours south over the north' 

"The whole thing stinks. The Tories like to talk a good talk on levelling up, but this and the fact the North East as a whole received £108 million compared to £210 million for the South East – is yet more proof that 'Levelling Up' is a sham."

The Tees Valley as a whole was awarded £17m through the Tees Valley Combined Authority's bid, which Mr Cunningham welcomed.

The Northern Echo: Redeveloping Billingham's Western Precinct was at the heart of the town's Levelling Up bidRedeveloping Billingham's Western Precinct was at the heart of the town's Levelling Up bid

"As welcome as this funding is," he said, "this whole bidding process shows that we need seriously rethink how we do things, move away from a system that pits community against community for small pots of money."

Labour's Shadow Secretary for Levelling Up, Lisa Nandy, also lamented the process and called it a "Hunger Games-style contest" - after the dystopian book and subsequent film series where representatives from different communities are forced to fight each other to the death in order to survive.

"The levelling up fund is in chaos, beset by delays and allegations of favouritism – 15 months after the first round of allocations, just 5% of the money has made it to the communities who were promised it," she said.

Tees Valley's Conservative Mayor Ben Houchen said: "This funding caps off another great day for Teesside, Darlington and Hartlepool. Our transport vision is a vital part of allowing people the access they ened to well-paid quality jobs and education - and this money will play a key role in making that vision a reality."

Regarding the most recent allocation of funding, Andy McDonald, MP for Middlesbrough, said: "To learn that Middlesbrough’s bids to the Levelling Up Fund to invest in our town centre iconic buildings of House of Fraser and The Crown have been turned down, is yet another kick in the teeth.  

"This comes just 24 hours after the announcement by Marks and Spencer that our Linthorpe Road store is to close after more than a hundred years. 

"After 13 years of austerity, town centres like Middlesbrough are in desperate need of support if they are to survive and thrive."

After Billingham's failed bid for development cash last year, Mr Cunningham said: "It would appear the Government are just making political decisions these days, which is very sad because the need for funding in Billingham is considerable. 


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"We have a town centre that desperately needs investment. The council have an ambition to make something happen but the Government seems to have turned its head against us."

Rishi Sunak, who was Chancellor at the time, said "There is lots going on in Teesside which is good for everyone in the broader area."