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Labour’s progressive review covers a complex story of what happened under successive Conservative governments

As Rishi Sunak comes up again today, Labour’s attack suggests that handing out cash for local projects cannot make up for a decade of cuts imposed on struggling councils.

It’s a simple criticism that covers a complex story of what happened under successive Conservative governments.

Over many years, small changes have led to a huge change in the way money is allocated across the country.

Councils used to dominate the local government landscape and were the main funnel through which cash flowed from Westminster to communities.

But things began to change under austerity – when they became first in line for cuts.

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They were also the target of changes to the terms on which they received cash, including the removal of deprivation as a dominant determinant in the allocation of funding – a change which favored Conservative councils. And not only the money was transferred, the power was also redistributed.

First to metro mayors, who received different levels of local influence depending on their willingness to make deals with the government.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Conservative mayors, such as Ben Hoochen on Teesside and Andy Street in the West Midlands, appear to be viewed more favorably than their Labor counterparts.

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And there are new pots of money available, such as the Leveling Up Fund, created specifically to bypass local bureaucracy and deliver on the government’s manifesto promises.

It’s a system designed, apparently, so that at election time conservative MPs can vote on the projects they passed, and why not?

However, the concern is about transparency, with the clarity of the local authority funding formula being replaced by a more opaque system that is more open to accusations of pork barrel politics.

The latest round of funding, for example, provided more money to the Prime Minister’s own successful constituency of Richmond in Yorkshire than to the nearby ex-industrial town of Barnsley – a predominantly Labor area.

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As a campaign tactic, it’s more impactful than any leaflet, sending a powerful subliminal message to voters – keep us on the job and we’ll keep improving your area.

And supporters of the changes claim that councils can be bloated and ineffective and streamlining the process can only be a good thing.

What is undoubtedly the case is that it has become more and more political and allows the government much more freedom to decide who gets what.


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