Damning report

‘No evidence’ of Gove’s Levelling Up being delivered

Michael Gove
Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove

Michael Gove’s Levelling Up agenda has been roundly criticised by a committee of MPs for failing to provide any compelling examples of what has been delivered.

The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) warns that councils have been able to spend just a fraction of the money provided through the programme and have beset by delays, rule changes and a lack of transparency.

Just over 10% of the funds provided to reduce inequality under one of the government’s flagship policies has actually been spent on making a difference, it says.

The committee’s report finds that, of £10.47bn in total funding from central government, which must be spent by 2026, local authorities have been able to spend only £1.24bn from the Government’s three funds as of September last year.

Furthermore, only £3.7bn had been given to local authorities out of the total allocation by the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) by December 2023.

The report finds that ‘shovel-ready’ projects were favoured, but not enough was done by the department to understand the readiness of such schemes and the challenges facing local authorities before funds were awarded.

This also means that the department has had to extend the deadline for successful bidders for earlier funds to spend their money.

Round 1 of Levelling Up Funding was awarded to ‘shovel-ready’ projects that were supposed to be completed and delivering for local people by March 2024 – but 60 out of 71 of these projects have had to extend to 2024-25, with further delays in other schemes likely.

The PAC’s inquiry also found a worrying lack of transparency in the DLUHC’s approach to awarding funds, with rules for accessing funding changing while bids were still being assessed, which was also not communicated in advance to councils.

MPs found that 55 councils had spent an average of £30,000 bidding for funds that they could not win because of government rule changes – squandering roughly £1.6m.

Dame Meg Hillier MP, chair of the committee, said: “The levels of delay that our report finds in one of the Government’s flagship policy platforms is absolutely astonishing.

“The vast majority of Levelling Up projects that were successful in early rounds of funding are now being delivered late, with further delays likely baked in.

“DLUHC appears to have been blinded by optimism in funding projects that were clearly anything but ‘shovel-ready’, at the expense of projects that could have made a real difference. We are further concerned, and surprised given the generational ambition of this agenda, that there appears to be no plan to evaluate success in the long-term.

“Our committee is here to scrutinise value for money in the delivery of Government policy. But in the case of Levelling Up, our report finds that the Government is struggling to even get the money out of the door to begin with.

“Government has not helped the situation by changing the rules for funding mid-process, wasting time and money and hindering transparency. We will now be seeking to keep a close eye on DLUHC’s progress in unclogging the funding system. Citizens deserve to begin to see the results of delivery on the ground.”

A spokesperson for the levelling up department said: “We’re proud that we’ve committed £15bn since 2019 to often-overlooked areas, agreeing historic devolution deals, and shifting power and money out of Westminster.

“This money is regenerating town centres, creating new infrastructure and helping to level up communities across the UK.

“Buildings do not go up overnight and these are multi-year programmes, so it is to be expected that the capital spend ramps up in later years. But we will continue to give expert support to councils to tackle any delivery blockers so we deliver these vital projects quickly.”

Angela Rayner,, Labour’s Shadow Levelling Up secretary, said: “The Conservatives have utterly abandoned any pretence of trying to achieve their mission to level up Britain.”

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