A town’s MP has accused his local council of "dragging its feet" on projects in response to a damning report criticising the Government over its levelling up achievements.

The Public Accounts Committee concluded just over ten per cent of overall funding made available as part of the flagship policy has been spent and is actually ‘making a difference on the ground’.

The report identified "astonishing delays" across the country, which North East Labour MPs say is evidence that levelling up is just an "empty political slogan".

But Peter Gibson, Tory MP for Darlington, said the Labour-controlled council was delaying the progress for political gain.

He said: “From the towns fund, pothole repairs, and a range of other funding, I am coming to the conclusion that it’s sadly Labour controlled local authorities that are dragging their feet on projects.

“We desperately need to see Northgate Tower demolished and we’ve got the money for it but the Labour council in Darlington has failed to bring the planning permission forward, and don’t get me started on their failure to fix the roads despite additional funding.

“It’s shameful to see investment delayed for Labour’s political gain.

“They need to crack on and start delivering.”

The Northern Echo: Peter Gibson Peter Gibson (Image: Contributor)When Mr Gibson was elected in 2019, as huge swathes of so-called ‘red wall’ seats turned blue, former Prime Minister Boris Johnson was pledging to address the economic disparity across the north-south divide.

Mr Gibson said the region’s Conservative MPs had helped produce "record investment" which has "restored pride" and "presented new opportunities such as the economic campus in Darlington".

But Chris McEwan, Darlington Borough Council’s deputy leader has hit back, saying: “Frankly, I’m appalled at the Conservative Peter Gibson MP’s comments.

“He knows full well that his Government has been underfunding road maintenance for years.

“Yes, the Government has given us £2.8m this year to fund all our road maintenance, including potholes.

“But, as Peter Gibson knows, because of Government underfunding we actually need £12m for the next seven years to bring our roads back up to scratch.

“Fund us properly Peter, and we’ll do the work to repair our roads.”

He suggested Mr Gibson had forgotten that the Conservative Government has reduced the council’s annual spending power by £46m - a third of the budget.

The Northern Echo: Chris McEwanChris McEwan (Image: Contributor)Cllr McEwan, who is hoping to replace Lord Ben Houchen as the Tees Valley Mayor in this year’s elections, added: “Cutting our budget has consequences – and a backlog in road maintenance is just one of those consequences.

“With Northgate House as Peter also knows, the owner is unwilling to sell, and the council is having to go through a Compulsory Purchase Order process – that takes time.

“Perhaps, rather than trying to score political points Peter could help by getting his Government to streamline the Compulsory Purchase Order process.”

The Public Accounts Committee said the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC), which is the lead department for the three existing dedicated funding streams, "could not provide any examples of what had been delivered so far".

Many projects are said to have been plagued by delays despite being approved on the understanding they were ‘shovel-ready’.

When asked about delays to delivery, DLUHC cited a combination of ‘project specific issues’, the pandemic and inflation as the causes of lower than expected levels of levelling up spending.

Simon Clarke, Conservative MP for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland, was also the Secretary of State of Levelling up when Liz Truss was Prime Minister.

He said: "It is profoundly misleading to paint levelling up as a failure on the same day we're celebrating the announcement of £4 billion in construction contracts for Teesside, the biggest investment since ICI came to our region. 

“Teesside is seeing colossal job-creating investment in steelmaking, carbon capture, offshore wind and new nuclear - the great new jobs that are the only lasting solution to make us all better off.

"We also have visible, tangible progress with tens of millions of pounds worth of Government-funded works already underway in Guisborough and Middlesbrough, and - most clearly - nearing completion in Loftus.

"In Loftus, we have already seen how the millions in investment have transformed the High Street, completely renovated the library and continue to attract further investment, entirely thanks to Levelling Up. 

"This isn't abstract - these are real projects creating real jobs and opportunities for our communities. 

"The Government remains committed to addressing regional disparities, and it's crucial that reports on such significant policy platforms consider the full spectrum of progress made across the country.”

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The Northern Echo: Dehenna Davison Dehenna Davison (Image: Contributor)Bishop Auckland MP Dehenna Davison spent a year as the Levelling Up Minister until she resigned in September.

She said: “Completing transformational infrastructure projects inevitably takes time.

“We cannot level up the country and reverse generations-long inequality overnight.

“I was conscious of timescales so ensured we changed a lot of processes to reduce the bureaucracy on local authorities to help them complete projects faster.

“Of course we all want to see quick progress, but already there are tangible changes starting to take shape locally, such as the new building at Locomotion which is due to open this year and bring in even more tourists for the bicentenary of the railway in 2025.

“Repairs to the Whorlton Bridge are finally underway after years of closure which have caused mayhem for local families.

“Surveys have been carried out for the Toft Hill Bypass and that project is well underway - a project that was first touted over 60 years ago, and yet it is a Conservative MP and Conservative Government who are finally getting it done.”

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The committee report highlighted the latest data for September 2023 which showed that of the £10.47 billion in total funding that must be used by 2025/26, local authorities, who are the recipients in most cases, had received £3.7 billion and spent £1.24 billion.

North Durham MP Kevan Jones said: “This report exposes the myth of ‘levelling up’ showing that it is just an empty political slogan and that the Conservatives have written off County Durham.

“Just six per cent of all levelling up funding was allocated to the North East and only one project was successful in the whole of County Durham. 

“In the last 14 years, local council taxpayers have been forced to pay more to get less because of the ‘begging bowl’ culture the Conservatives have imposed to get much-needed funding from central government.”

The Northern Echo:

The Northern Echo:  Alex Cunningham Alex Cunningham (Image: Contributor)Stockton North MP Alex Cunningham said the report was ‘no surprise’ and that the Government’s ‘levelling up’ pledge was doomed to failure from the start.

He said: “It has been partisan in nature with funds handed out often for political instead of reasons of need.

“Local government has been starved of funds of nearly 14 years and the Government seem to think that a few handouts here and there will repair the damage done by austerity and their disastrous policies. 

“That they have failed to deliver on so much of the programme they have announced to great fanfare on multiple occasions beggars belief.

“Our communities need so much more and our councils need to be able to plan services without spending millions of pounds competing against each other for financial crumbs from the Government.”