ANNOUNCED to great fanfare by Prime Minister Boris Johnson in November 2020, the ‘levelling up’ fund was supposed to “transform the UK by spreading opportunity and prosperity to all parts of it”.

Yet the result in County Durham has been anything but transformational.

To receive funding, local councils have had to bid for money in three rounds. In the county, the first of these rounds resulted in a successful bid to improve transport and culture in Bishop Auckland – the then Levelling Up Minister’s constituency – in October 2021.

In the second funding round, Durham County Council put in bids for funding for five projects. At least £1.3m of local taxpayers’ money was spent on consultants and other activity to prepare the bids.

Once the bids were in, the Government changed the rules. This meant that if a council had been successful in the first round, further bids could not be considered in the second round.

This in itself was scandalous.

Local councils were then told that disqualified second round bids would be considered in the third and final round.

But on Monday, without any consultation and with no opportunity to adjust or reconfirm bids, the Government announced the allocation of funding in the final round.

Despite funding for “high-tech fish and chips” in Devon and a new food hall and gardens in Gloucester, not one penny was given to County Durham. As a result, Durham County Council spent over a million pounds and received nothing to show for it, through no fault of their own.

This is despite Durham County Council having to save £262m a year as a result of central government funding cuts.

Not to mention County Durham’s loss of European structural funding, which was worth £155m between 2014 and 2020.

Throughout the entire process, just £20m was granted to the county, and that was in the first round to Bishop Auckland. Even then, this is capital funding, money to be spent on infrastructure projects for the future. It is not funding that can help run day-to-day public services now.

It is perhaps worth noting that after round two, it was calculated that constituencies with a Conservative MP received over £19-a-head more than those in similarly deprived non-Conservative constituencies.

In the last 13 years since David Cameron was installed as prime minister, local council taxpayers have been forced to pay more to get less. Our county has been reduced to what even Conservatives have described as a “begging bowl culture” pin order to get much-needed funding from central government.

With all the funding for this particular headline-grabbing scheme now allocated, it is clearer than ever that ‘levelling up’ was nothing more than a cheap slogan and that the Conservatives have written off County Durham.

  • Kevan Jones is the Labour MP for North Durham