An inquiry by parliament’s spending watchdog into how ministers distributed £3.6bn to assist disadvantaged cities has raised severe considerations that funding choices have been politically biased.

The cross-party public accounts committee stated it was “not satisfied by the rationales for choosing some cities and never others” when the towns fund was distributed by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Native Authorities, (MHCLG) final yr.

Justifications provided by ministers for choosing particular person cities have been “imprecise and primarily based on sweeping assumptions” and raised considerations over the selections being politically motivated, the committee stated.

The extremely crucial report comes after the communities secretary, Robert Jenrick, earlier this yr denied having any function in deciding on his constituency, Newark, for a £25m grant beneath the scheme, regardless of having boasted about it throughout final yr’s basic election.

Jenrick stated the award had been signed off by the then communities minister Jake Berry, whereas he had accredited a grant for Darwen in Berry’s constituency.

Meg Hillier, chair of the committee, stated the system gave “each look of getting been politically motivated”.

“MHCLG should be open and clear concerning the choices it made handy out these billions of kilos of taxpayers’ cash, and what it expects to ship,” she stated.

The scheme was initially launched “at tempo” in July 2019 to assist struggling cities throughout England.

Officers within the division then drew up a ranked precedence checklist of 541 cities primarily based on want and potential for improvement for ministers to pick out from.

Whereas the highest 40 “excessive precedence” places have been all confirmed, ministers then picked one other 61 “medium and low precedence” communities from throughout the remainder of the checklist together with one ranked simply 536th.

Though the division was presupposed to file the “rationale” for selecting some cities and never others, the committee stated it was “not satisfied” by a number of the causes given. “The choice course of was not neutral,” they concluded.

The committee additionally complained that the explanations given by the division for not publishing extra details about the choice course of have been “weak and unconvincing”.

It stated considerations had been heightened by press statements which wrongly claimed the Nationwide Audit Workplace had concluded that its procedures have been “strong”.

Whereas the division’s everlasting secretary, Jeremy Pocklington, stated he was happy the necessities of “propriety and regularity” had been met, the committee stated it was “disillusioned” {that a} abstract of his evaluation remained unpublished.

“This lack of transparency has fuelled accusations of political bias within the choice course of, and has risked the civil service’s status for integrity and impartiality,” it stated.

The MHCLG responded to the report with an announcement rejecting the primary conclusions. A spokesperson stated: “We fully disagree with the committee’s criticism of the city fund choice course of, which was complete, strong and honest.

“The cities fund will assist degree up the nation, creating jobs and constructing stronger and extra resilient native economies.”

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