Sunday 11 October 2020 / 9:29 AM Local Government / Steve Reed

Labour calls for Cabinet Office Inquiry into Robert Jenrick over Towns Fund Scandal

Labour has written to the Cabinet Secretary requesting a full Cabinet Office investigation into the conduct of Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick relating to the Towns Fund scandal. Reports in The Times allege Jenrick channelled taxpayer money to his own bid for re-election, then tried to cover up his role lobbying his own department just days before a damning report was released.

Shadow Communities Secretary Steve Reed MP has demanded Jenrick appear before Parliament on Monday to explain his conduct.

Labour believes Mr Jenrick has a number of serious questions still to answer:

  • Whose decision was it to select Newark for funding?
  • Did officials advise against selecting Newark?
  • What towns missed out on funding so that Newark could be included?
  • If Robert Jenrick did not select Newark, did he ask Jake Berry to select Newark?
  • Did Robert Jenrick select Darwen, a town in Mr Berry’s Rossendale and Darwen constituency?
  • On what criteria was Newark selected, given that civil servants ranked it far below other deprived towns?
  • Why did Robert Jenrick join a board of local councillors to petition his own Department?
  • Why did Mr Jenrick remove himself from the board days before a damning report by the National Audit Office outlined the process by which towns were selected?

Revelations in the Times show that:

  • Jenrick tried to cover up his role in funnelling £25m of public money from his department to a town in his constituency against advice from his officials then boasted about it during the 2019 General Election campaign.
  • Jenrick and former Housing Minister Jake Berry ignored civil servants to plough millions into marginal constituencies before the 2019 General Election as part of the £3.6 billion Towns Fund, through which they selected 61 of 101 left-behind towns to bid for up to £25 million of public money for regeneration.
  • 60 of the areas they selected were in Conservative-held seats or Tory targets. The average majority in those towns was just 3,000.
  • Despite civil servants ranking it as only the 270th most deprived area in the country, the ministers chose Newark, in the constituency that Mr Jenrick represents. They also chose Darwen, a town in Mr Berry’s constituency.

Mr Jenrick then told his local newspaper that the money was the “biggest investment in Newark in a very long time” and that it was an opportunity to “future-proof” the town. He speculated that the money could be used to restore the 12th-century castle’s gatehouse.

At a hustings during the election last year, he told voters: “I helped to secure a £25 million town deal which I hope will improve the public realm and make the town centre a more attractive place to spend time in.”

After the election Mr Jenrick sat on a board convened by Newark and Sherwood district council that petitioned his own department for the maximum amount available of £25 million. Throughout the first half of this year, Mr Jenrick attended the board meetings either in person or was represented by his constituency secretary.

However, in July, just days before the National Audit Office (NAO) released a damning report detailing the process by which Mr Jenrick’s department selected the 101 towns, Mr Jenrick and his delegates stopped turning up to the meetings and his name was cleared from the register of board members.

Steve Reed MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, said:

“Hot on the heels of the Westferry scandal, Robert Jenrick yet again has serious questions to answer about allegations that he used the Towns Fund to channel public money to help Conservative Party candidates ahead of the General Election.

“Mr Jenrick has made an unfortunate habit of overruling officials’ advice to get his own way, just as he did during the Westferry cash-for-favours scandal. Now he has done the same with this blatant example of pork-barrel politics, with public money making its way to help his own re-election campaign.

“Misuse of public funds is a very serious abuse of public trust. Robert Jenrick must come to the House urgently to make a statement on how this money was awarded and submit himself to a full Cabinet Office investigation.”

 

Text of Steve Reed Letter to Cabinet Secretary:

Simon Case, Cabinet Secretary

By email

10th October 2020

Dear Simon,

I write to you in light of the article published in today’s Times about the role that the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government played in the allocation of the £3.6 billion Towns Fund.

The Times highlights that the Secretary of State and his then Ministerial colleague Jake Berry MP were responsible for choosing the 61 towns selected beyond and that both Ministers’ seats were chosen to benefit from this fund.

According to The Times, the Secretary of State then told his local paper that the money was the “biggest investment in Newark in a very long time”, that it was an opportunity to “future-proof” the town and that he made light of this in his campaign during the 2019 general election.

At a hustings during the election last year, he told voters: “I helped to secure a £25 million town deal which I hope will improve the public realm and make the town centre a more attractive place to spend time in.”

After the election it appears that the Secretary of State for six months sat on a board convened by the Newark and Sherwood District Council, the body that put forward plans to his Department on how the Towns Fund money might be spent. Shortly after the National Audit Office released a report into the allocation of the Towns Fund by the National Audit Office, the Secretary of State stopped attending and his name was removed from the list of board members.

The fair allocation of public funds is a crucial aspect of the role of a Minister and there must be no suggestion that funding is being allocated for political benefit in the manner suggested by The Times.

I believe that the circumstances as outlines both in The Times and the National Audit Office report merit a full Cabinet Office investigation and would be grateful if you could confirm that this will take place.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Yours sincerely,

Steve Reed OBE MP

Member of Parliament for Croydon North and Shadow Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government