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Rishi Sunak was under fire on Friday night after telling Conservative members that he had diverted government money from “deprived urban areas” to wealthier countryside towns.
A leaked video showed him saying that during his time in the Treasury he had overturned spending formulas inherited from Labour to make sure that more cash went to rural communities.
The remarks, which he made during a private hustings event in Tunbridge Wells last Friday, will prove awkward as the country faces a cost of living crisis.
On Friday night Mr Sunak defended himself, telling The Telegraph that the furore was “very, very straightforward to clear up” and there was “not a problem at all” if the public examined his record in government.
In the video, published by the New Statesman magazine, Mr Sunak was seen standing on a lawn addressing Tory members who were sitting in chairs around him:
A leaked video shows the former chancellor saying that Labour “shoved all the funding into deprived urban areas” and that “needed to be undone”.https://t.co/yy69gSGetx
— The New Statesman (@NewStatesman) August 5, 2022
“I managed to start changing the funding formulas to make sure that areas like this are getting the funding that they deserve because we inherited a bunch of formulas from the Labour Party that shoved all the funding into deprived urban areas,” he told them.
“That needed to be undone, I started the work of undoing that,” he added, before saying he had overseen increases to local government funding.
Mr Sunak, when pressed that he appeared in the footage to be arguing more money should be spent in wealthy areas such as Tunbridge Wells, said: “People come to that event from all over the county of Kent. It’s not that they’re all from Tunbridge Wells and I think that again. That’s slightly wrong to focus on that.”
Challenged again that the video did not present a favourable impression of him to voters, he said: “If people want to clip a very short part and not have the overall explanation, there’s not a lot I can do about that.”
The average house price in Tunbridge Wells, Kent, was £528,459 at the end of last year, compared with a national average of £271,000.
Mr Sunak also raised the issue of centralised funding formulas during a televised Tory hustings in Exeter last week, saying they “don’t work properly” for rural areas.
He pointed out that “very small village primary schools” are punished by Whitehall spending targets because they are deemed to be not as efficient as larger ones in towns and cities.
The former chancellor said that he had already started to change how money was allocated for social care and transport to make sure more goes to the countryside.
“We need to make sure that the voice of rural Britain is heard loudly and clearly down in Westminster,” he told Tory members to applause.
Lisa Nandy, the shadow levelling up secretary, expressed anger at his latest remarks:
It’s scandalous that Rishi Sunak funnelled public money away from deprived areas and gave it to affluent Tory shires.
The Levelling Up Secretary needs to urgently investigate what changes were made to funding formulas and what justified the changes.
✍️ My letter to @GregClarkMP pic.twitter.com/wQHV7ESHPi
— Lisa Nandy (@lisanandy) August 5, 2022
Mr Sunak previously faced criticism over the allocation of levelling up cash, which Labour claimed was deliberately being funnelled towards Conservative areas.
His own constituency of Richmond in North Yorkshire was prioritised for extra funds despite being relatively wealthy. He was not involved in that decision.
It separately emerged that 40 out of the 45 areas given a share of a £1 billion towns fund were represented by Tory MPs.
However, in a damning report, the Commons public accounts select committee expressed concerns that the distribution of the £3.6 billion levelling up pot was politically motivated.
MPs said they were “not convinced by the rationales for selecting some towns and not others” and that the allocations were made on the basis of “vague” criteria.
‘Truss complacent about SNP’
The former chancellor said that “we can’t just bury our heads in the sand and pretend” the SNP does not exist after Ms Truss said earlier this week Ms Sturgeon was an “attention seeker” it was best to ignore.
Speaking to The Telegraph ahead of his first visit to Scotland on Saturday in his Tory leadership campaign, he said he wanted to “take Nicola Sturgeon on” and pledged to highlight her record in government at the Commons despatch box.
He ruled out allowing another separation vote for as long as he was prime minister and warned Ms Sturgeon she faced a public backlash over her plan to “hijack” the next general election and turn it into a “de facto” independence referendum.