The government’s levelling up ambition has been called into question after deprived communities missed out on funding and a failure to appoint anticipated ‘directors’.

Levelling up minister and Bishop Auckland MP Dehenna Davison was grilled by a cross-party committee of MPs on the funds available and how effectively resources are directed to those areas most in need.

Questions on the competitive bidding process, funding allocations, and the government’s aims were all put to the County Durham MP who appeared in front of the committee on Monday.

Members sought clarity on what had to be done for a bid to be successful, with Tory MP Mary Robinson likening the bidding process to the dark arts.

Ms Davison replied: “For levelling up round two, we have published a pretty detailed technical note about how decision making has been made. We've done our utmost to be incredibly transparent about that process and how those decisions have been made.”

However, the bidding process has proved expensive for many authorities who have employed external consultants to boost their cases, with a suggestion that larger organisations would have greater power and funds. Around 500 bids in total were submitted to the government.

The Northern Echo: Durham County Council bidded for investment to improve Newton Aycliffe town centre but was rejected Durham County Council bidded for investment to improve Newton Aycliffe town centre but was rejected (Image: Sarah Caldecott)

“We are trying to move away from competitive funds because I think we recognise how burdensome they can be for local authorities, for members of parliament who are campaigning on those bids, and both in terms of time and in terms of cash,” Ms Davison added. “We are exploring this at the moment to reduce the use of competitive funding but also simplified overall funding landscape as well.”

The levelling up minister was also asked to clarify if there is any truth behind the claims made by culture minister Michelle Donelan that areas successful in the first round of bids could not be successful in round two.

Ms Davison said: “It was determined that in order to get the best sort of geographical spread, which was a major consideration in the original perspectives, that this probably would be the best route to go down.”

She also hopes there will be an opportunity to inform authorities that they would be excluded from funding before they submit a bid.

Government plans to appoint a series of regional levelling up directors have been put on hold and may be abandoned altogether, the committee heard, with the recruitment process now the subject of an internal review.

The proposal to appoint 12 regional levelling up directors – nine for England and one each for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland – was contained in Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove’s white paper published last February.

The posts – with an annual salary of £120,000 to £144,000 – were advertised in April, attracting more than 500 applications, but nine months on, the Government has yet to announce any appointments.

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The Northern Echo: Michael Gove, secretary of state for levelling up, visits Darlington College in 2021Michael Gove, secretary of state for levelling up, visits Darlington College in 2021 (Image: Chris Booth)

Labour MP for Blackburn, Kate Hollern, said: “If we’re talking about really levelling up its improving health, job outcomes, education, creating good well-paid jobs. If the money is not going to the areas that need it most, how are we actually going to level up?”

Dehenna Davison, who will stand down before the May 2024 election, said the levelling up agenda is “absolutely front and central at the heart of government”.

“I've been trying to bang the drum and reiterate that point ever since I got appointed but we're never going to level up a country if we don't you know fully address the productivity gap,” she said.