6th March 2021
The Tory promise to ‘level up’ the country was never more than hollow rhetoric designed to shore up votes in constituencies Labour surrendered at the last General Election. The Tories are only ever interested in levelling up the bank balances of their friends and backers, in order to keep their grip on the reins of power and keep the balance in the political establishment.
The levelling up confidence trick is underpinned by a £4.8bn Levelling Up Fund, allegedly designed to assist regions struggling to adjust to post industrial underinvestment and austerity, ironically key planks of Tories regional policy for decades. The fund is designed in three tiers, prioritising those areas which require the greatest assistance. Local authorities across England will be invited to apply to the fund, which will be competitive, in order of priority.
The outcomes for unsuccessful bids, in areas deemed to be in need of assistance, is the kind of conundrum only the Tories could dream up. Still, consistency has never been a Tory strong point as any analysis of the 93 areas in the top tier eligible to bid to be levelled up illustrates.
Of the areas designated tier 1 there are 31 which are not in the top third most deprived places by indices of deprivation. Of this 31 there are 26 which have Tory MPs across the whole area while the others have at least one Tory MP.
Four places in tier 1 are in the bottom third of English regions by deprivation, that is not deprived at all, including Richmondshire in North Yorkshire, which is not only in the top fifth of most prosperous places in England but is represented by Rishi Sunak MP, currently Chancellor of the Exchequer. Perhaps the people of Richmondshire are feeling deprived relative to Knightsbridge and need to be levelled up within their privileged social sphere?
It gets better. The Tories also have a scam going called the towns fund, for which Sunak announced an extra £1bn in the budget. This week saw 45 towns added to the list, of which 39 have a Tory MP. Any sign of a pattern emerging here?
Boris Johnson has responded in his usual comprehensive manner stating,
“I’ve asked about this and I’m told that the criteria was entirely objective – it takes in data on poverty, employment and so on.”
Sunak has followed up with the assertion that assessments were “based on an index of economic need, which is transparently published.” What is transparent is the Tories desperate need to find ways to distract the public from their catastrophic handling of the pandemic by pretending that they care about the areas of highest deprivation and vulnerable communities. It really will not wash.
Not content with handing out contracts worth billions to friends and neighbours to deliver dodgy PPE or run failing test and trace systems as part of the pandemic, the Tories now claim that they cannot afford more than a 1% pay rise for nurses and medical staff. This is on top of the pay freeze for other pubic sector workers, many of whom have also worked through the pandemic to ensure the delivery of essential services and care to communities.
Quite righty though, it is the cavalier treatment of NHS staff that is drawing public ire and showing the Tories in their true colours. Warm words at the height of the crisis and polite applause outside 10, Downing St are looking exactly like the shallow gestures they always were.
It is ironic that the NHS Pay Review Body claims that
“Covid-19 has placed a huge strain on both public and NHS finances. The economic outlook for 2021/22 remains uncertain and pay awards must be both fair and affordable.”
If only the same were true of the government’s contract procurement process!
The treatment of NHS staff only adds to the national scandal that is the government’s handling of the pandemic. Is it any wonder that nurses are now talking of strike action? NHS staff have been taken to the limit, literally putting their lives on the line, over the past year. They deserve better and it is the Tories who must now be taken to the limit and, without ceremony, dropped over the edge.