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Friday, February 23, 2024

County Durham’s pursuit of judicial review for £1.2m levelling up fund setback

Councillors have agreed to consider seeking a judicial review of the government’s levelling up funding process after County Durham spent £1.2m on five failed bids.

Cabinet members on Durham County Council will now discuss whether to take action against the government following the local authority’s failures in rounds two and three of the bidding process.

Durham County Council wrote to the Government in November, asking for the £1.2m it spent on preparing and submitting bids for the Levelling Up Fund to be repaid.

The local authority was only told after the announcement that County Durham had been “removed as a priority one status area” before Round Three was decided.

The Department for Levelling Up said bids earmarked for funding were chosen from a pool of bids that were unsuccessful in the second round, avoiding the competitive bidding process seen previously

However, the council claims it was left in the dark regarding feedback from the second round and before the latest announcement.

And Labour members now doubt whether the money will be repaid. Cllr Kevin Shaw told a full council meeting: “I have no reason to believe this will be successful and the county council will be similarly ignored.”

Cllr Shaw said a judicial review is needed to expose the alleged failures with the process.

“This is a direct challenge to the government, exposing the process for the unfair charade that it was,” he added.

The Labour motion was backed by all political parties and seconded by Cllr Fraser Tinsley, who said residents’ money was wasted through no fault of the council.

He said: “Levelling up is a great concept – and I hope the next government can continue with it – but one of the real benefits of it is it’s positive.

“What the problem is that, as a council, we wasted £1.2m and that is our residents’ money. The way the government acted is just plain wrong, they’ve taken us for fools.

“We want our money back and the government’s incompetence to be shown up.”

The County Durham projects detailed plans to regenerate town centres, improve transport connectivity, and create new cultural attractions in Stanley; Horden; Newton Aycliffe; Willington, Crook and Tow Law; and Bowburn.

A rule change, later admitted by the government after Round Two was awarded, meant that any successful areas in Round One would not benefit in the next round. This particularly affected the County Durham bids after the Bishop Auckland constituency received funding in the first round.

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