Government falsely claimed report into ‘towns fund’ scandal vindicated them

It didn't. And now they're facing further accusations of gerrymandering.

A cross-party committee of MPs has accused Robert Jenrick’s department (HCLG) of falsely claiming that a previous report into the ‘towns fund’ scandal vindicated them.

Jenrick has been accused of ‘gerrymandering’ by steering taxpayers’ money towards towns in marginal constituencies and away from those in Labour and Tory safe seats ahead of the 2019 election.

In response to these concerns, the National Audit Office watchdog published a report in July 2020 setting out how the towns were selected.

Left Foot Forward’s analysis shows that towns in seats the Tories were hoping to win were favoured while safe seats like Salford, Blackburn and Barnstaple were overlooked.

The NAO’s report did not draw any conclusions as it was a “factual analysis” and “did not evaluate the selection process”.

Despite this, HCLG told the media that the NAO’s report “shows that the government put in place a robust process to identify towns”.

Now a new report by the cross-party Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has rubbished this claim, accusing HCLG of “misrepresenting” the NAO’s report.

This new report does evaluate the selection process and finds “the selection process was not impartial”. It says: “Ministers chose most of the towns from a large group deemed eligible…the selection process gave Ministers discretion to choose which individual towns would be eligible to bid”.

When questioned on the PAC’s report today, Jenrick told the BBC that the committee’s findings were “political”. The PAC is chaired by Labour MP Meg Hillier but most of its members are Conservative MPs.

In June, Jenrick faced calls to resign after he intervened to help Tory-funding businessman avoid paying tax to a deprived local council.

Joe Lo is a co-editor of Left Foot Forward

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