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Government announces 'Levelling Up' money for Sheffield – but it's not new money

A recently-revealed share of £13 million for the city will actually come out of money already announced in October.

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Benjamin Elliott on Unsplash.

The government has announced that Sheffield will be one of the first places to benefit from so-called 'Levelling Up' (LU) funding – but the money is not new money.

The regeneration money for 20 locations, of which Sheffield is the first to be announced, will come out of a £1.5 billion fund announced at the Budget in October.

A government press release from Sunday described the regeneration programme as "new" without clarifying that the money for it had already been announced.

Of the £1.5 billion Brownfield Fund, which aims to regenerate disused inner-city sites, Sheffield has been allocated £13 million. By comparison, refurbishing the old John Lewis building is estimated to cost between £20m and £70m.

"Funding for Levelling Up pales in comparison with local government austerity cuts," Arianna Giovannini, interim director of thinktank IPPR North, told Now Then.

"The 2021 allocation of the LU fund is an investment of just £32 per person in the north – this is hardly enough to shift the dial on the deep regional inequalities that affect the north, and places like Sheffield."

"It also compares with a £413 per person drop in the north in annual council service spending as a result of austerity over the past decade," she continued, referencing IPPR North's recent report on Levelling Up.

Repeatedly announcing the same funding has been a media strategy of Boris Johnson's government, as it tries to convince constituents in so-called 'red wall' seats that it's serious about reducing regional inequality.

Since the lead-up to the 2019 general election the Conservatives have frequently promised to build "40 new hospitals" – but this includes refurbishments to existing hospital buildings that were already underway in 2019.

In May 2020, transport minister Grant Shapps announced a £2bn investment in cycling and bus travel. But again this was not new money – it came out of a £5 billion fund already announced in February 2020.

The SNP and Liberal Democrats have both criticised the announcement of the Brownfield Fund, while Labour's Lisa Nandy said she didn't think Tory MPs would be reassured "when the supposed new pot of gold contains not a penny of new money."

Giovannini told us that the small amounts of money wasn't the only problem with the government's proposed replacements for European Union programmes which aimed to reduce regional inequality.

"It’s important to note that new funding linked to Levelling Up (the UK Shared Prosperity Fund and the LU Fund) is short term, while EU funding worked on a seven-year cycle," she said.

"This is important because it impacts the ability of local leaders, such as councils and combined authorities, to make long-term investment plans on key areas such as transport and skills."

by Sam Gregory (he/him)
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