Rishi Sunak admitted to taking money from deprived urban areas to give to other parts of the country.
The former Chancellor, a candidate for Prime Minister, made the claim last month when speaking to Conservative Party members in Tunbridge Wells, Kent.
In footage obtained by The New Statesman, Sunak said, “I was able to start changing funding formulas to make sure areas like this got the funding they deserved.
“We inherited a bunch of formulas from the Labor Party which pushed all the funding into deprived urban areas and which had to be reversed. I started the work of undoing that.
Tunbridge Wells has a Conservative majority of 14,645 and has been party-held since the constituency was created in 1974.
A Guardian analysis in February found that under Boris Johnson’s ‘leveling up’ scheme, some of England’s wealthiest areas, including areas represented by government ministers, received 10 times more money per capita than the poorest.
The analysis brought together for the first time the four main leveling funds. The Future High Streets Fund, Community Renewal Fund and Towns Fund have been fully allocated, while the Leveling Fund has allocated £1.4bn, with a further £1.8bn yet to be announced . So far, a total of £4.7 billion has been allocated in England to the four schemes.
It is not clear from the video which funding formula or leveling fund Sunak is referring to.
Labour’s Lisa Nandy, the shadow leveling secretary, said: ‘This is outrageous. Rishi Sunak openly brags about setting the rules for funneling taxpayers’ money to wealthy conservative counties.
“It’s our money. It should be spent fairly and where it’s needed most – not used as a bribe for Conservative members. Talk about showing your true colors.
Sunak’s fellow conservatives were split over the footage. Foreign Secretary Zac Goldsmith said: ‘It’s one of the weirdest – and stupidest – things I’ve ever heard from a politician.
Jake Berry, the chairman of the Tory MPs’ Northern Research Group, said that in public Sunak “says he wants to level the north, but here he brags about trying to divert vital investment from areas disadvantaged”.
“He’s saying one thing and doing another — from raising taxes to trying to block funding for our armed forces and now going up,” said Berry, a supporter of Liz Truss.
But Sunak’s supporters rallied behind him, with Conservative Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen saying Johnson led the party to election victory by pledging to invest in areas ‘that have been ignored at the expense of cities urban”.
The Public Accounts Committee, Parliament’s spending watchdog, has criticized the lack of rules on the Cities Fund. The leveling fund is supposed to create economic growth, but without clarity of what that means and without measures of success.
Responding to Sunak’s words, Meg Hillier, the chairwoman of the cross-party PAC, told the Guardian: “This is evidence of a deliberate decision to shift public spending priorities depending on who you know.
“The pork-barrel policy is unfair to taxpayers, and areas that don’t receive funding can’t even begin to qualify for money in a no-rules game.”
Sunak is reportedly trailing Truss in the race to succeed Johnson as prime minister, as party members start voting. But there is still a month of campaigning left, the result of which will be announced on September 5.
Both candidates will appear at another husting event on Friday night, this time in Eastbourne, where they will take questions from Tory members.
Sunak’s campaign did not dispute the video, but argued that he had moved money from inner cities to towns and poorer rural areas.
A source said: “The leveling is not just about inner cities, it is also about towns and rural areas across the country that also need help. This is what he changed in the Green Book and he will follow as Prime Minister.
They added: “As he traveled across the country, he saw non-metro areas that needed better bus services, faster broadband, or high quality schools. This is what he will offer as Prime Minister.
The government came under fire last year over the terms of the £4.8billion leveling fund, after it emerged dozens of Tory regions had been put first for assistance, despite their relative wealth.
Ministers responded to the backlash saying they “had none of the political influence” suggested and had left the project in the hands of officials.
In 2020 Robert Jenrick, then Communities Secretary, admitted that he and a deputy minister had approved payments to towns in each other’s constituencies from another government fund for deprived areas.