THE distribution of levelling up money is a mess and rather than boosting our areas is leaving them demoralised and out of pocket.

County Durham has spent £1.3m on consultants, Darlington has spent £116,385, and yet both have failed to win grants from the levelling up pot. These are considerable sums of public money, to which should be added plenty of officer time, all for nowt.

Analysis of the last levelling up round of grants led to accusations of “grubby pork barrel politics” as it was revealed that constituencies with Conservative MPs gained £19.47 per head more than those without Conservative MPs.

The process, which is supposed to highlight government generosity to the regions, shows how tightly controlled the purse strings still are in London. The North East as a whole has received £55m in this round of funding, yet County Durham – one of the areas most of need of levelling up anywhere in the country – was after £100m and got nothing.

Because it has spent £1.3m on the bidding process, it is actually falling further behind.

Does it mean that only those areas that spend most on consultants win levelling up money? What kind of crazy system is this? What sort of government encourages local areas to gamble with their ratepayers’ money in the hope of winning big?

And what does it say about devolution when civil servants in a department in Whitehall make funding decisions without any consultation with those on the ground in the regions?

Levelling up was a great slogan when Boris Johnson coined it, and the arrival of the Treasury in Darlington must be acknowledged as a great step forward. However, many will now feel that the whole process has not just left a bitter taste in the mouth but has, in fact, delivered a kick in the teeth.

READ MORE ECHO COMMENT HEREThe Northern Echo: Levelling up