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Tuesday, April 06, 2021

Challenging 'Pork Barrel' politics

The good news this morning is that the government is facing a legal challenge over claims it funnelled cash to Tory areas with its "levelling-up" fund.

The Independent reports that The leafy market town constituencies of Rishi Sunak and Robert Jenrick are among areas to benefit from an unusual funding formula that critics accused of amounting to "pork parallel politics":

Now legal campaigners from the the Good Law Project are will take the government to court contending that the design of the £4.8bn Levelling Up Fund is unlawful.

They cite an investigation by the National Audit Office, which found that the government's list of targets for the cash had been published without supporting information to explain why they had been chosen.

he House of Commons' cross party Public Accounts Committee had also said the lack of transparency had left to concerns of "political bias" in the allocation of funds.

Forty out of the first 45 schemes to be approved in March had at least one Conservative MP.

In a letter of claim sent last week, the campaigners argue that the project is unlawful on four counts.

They say ministers appear to have breached their duty under the equality act to carry out an equalities impact assessment, breached their common law duty of transparency, acted irrationally because of flaws in their methodology, and that “decisions were tainted by irrelevant considerations/improper purpose, namely the electoral advantage (or potential electoral advantage) of the Conservative party”.

Jolyon Maugham, the barrister who founded the campaign group, said: "If you think that it's coincidence that Tory marginals are huge beneficiaries I have a fine bridge to sell you. To ensure the Tories don't use public money for party purposes, the Good Law Project is suing."

The campaigners cite Chris Hanretty, Professor of Politics at Royal Holloway, University of London, who looked at the funding formula and evidence presented by the National Audit Office and government.

"On the basis of the data collated by the ministry and published by the NAO, there is robust evidence that ministers chose towns so as to benefit the Conservatives in marginal Westminster seats," he wrote.

"Choosing towns to benefit a particular party goes against the seven principles of public life (the ‘Nolan principles’), and in particular the obligation to 'take decisions impartially, fairly and on merit, using the best evidence and without discrimination or bias'."

Is this another example of the Nolan principles of public life being subverted for party political ends? But let us be clear allegations like these do not just relate to the Tories.

In Neath Port Talbot the then-Labour Leader stepped aside when a recording was released, allegedly of him, stating public money and resources have been diverted to wards to assist candidates from his party. An investigation is now underway to uncover the facts.
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