Sunday 11 October 2020 / 10:51 AM Local Government / Steve Reed

Labour demands investigation after Jenrick’s “nothing to see here” response to funding revelations

Questioned on Sophy Ridge on Sunday about the alleged misuse of taxpayers’ money, Robert Jenrick claimed that there was “nothing to see here” and said he’d be “happy to answer any more [questions] that might arise.” The Housing Secretary admitted on the Marr show that Jake Berry selected his constituency to receive the funds and he in turn selected Jake Berry’s, prompting Labour to call for the release of all correspondence between the Ministers about the Towns Fund.

Responding, Labour’s Shadow Communities Secretary Steve Reed said: “If Robert Jenrick has nothing to hide, he should submit himself to a full investigation to clear up this murky affair.”

Labour wrote to the Cabinet Secretary on Saturday to call for a full Cabinet Office investigation into the conduct of Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick relating to the Towns Fund scandal. Allegations in The Times suggest 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.

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

  • Did officials advise against selecting Newark?
  • What towns missed out on funding so that Newark could be included?
  • 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?
  • What conversations were had been Robert Jenrick and Jake Berry, about which constituencies should receive money?
  • Will the department release all correspondence between Robert Jenrick and Jake Berry about the Towns Fund?

Steve Reed MP has called for Jenrick appear before Parliament on Monday to explain his conduct.

Labour’s Shadow Communities Secretary Steve Reed said: 

“Robert Jenrick must answer serious allegations that he used the Towns Fund to channel public money to help Conservative Party candidates ahead of the General Election. His admission that Jake Berry selected his constituency to receive funds, and that he in turn selected Jake Berry’s throws up further questions about what went on.

“If Robert Jenrick has nothing to hide, he should submit himself to a full investigation to clear up this murky affair. People deserve to know that taxpayers’ cash isn’t being misused by the Conservatives for their own gain.”

 

Labour’s letter to the cabinet secretary can be viewed here: Labour calls for Cabinet Office Inquiry into Robert Jenrick over Towns Fund Scandal – The Labour Party

 

Transcript from Sophy Ridge on Sunday

SR: I’m not sure if you managed to hear everything that Jonathan Reynolds was saying there, he says that they are murky allegations about this allocation of funding from a scheme run by your department –  the Towns Fund dishing out money to 101 deprived areas but Newark, in your constituency, was chosen even though it ranked as the 270th most deprived area in the country. What’s going on?

RJ: Well, Sophy, we’re in the middle of a national crisis and all the Labour Party could do is make up political point scoring stories which are completely baseless. My department officials have been very clear that we chose the towns for our £3.6 billion Towns Fund on a robust and fair methodology that’s there for everybody to see. We are not going to apologise for investing in communities that were left behind and undervalued by the Labour Party for many, many years. Many of those were won by the Conservative Party at the last general election but that is a reflection on the Labour Party, not upon the methodology by which we chose those towns. We are going to keep on supporting those communities, that is absolutely at the heart of the mission of this government.

SR: You talk about the methodology, but you can understand why does it seem a little bit strange. These towns were chosen just before the election, 61 of the towns selected by you to receive money were Conservative targets, even though other areas were ranked as more deprived by civil servants. So, was taxpayers’ money used to try and win votes?

RJ: No, with respect, Sophy, that’s not actually correct. The methodology was created long before the general election, it was actually created by the previous administration before Boris Johnson became Prime Minister. We chose the top 40 most deprived communities…

SR: Also many were Conservative target seats?

RJ: Well actually many of them were not Conservative target seats. The fact is many of those were Labour strongholds…

SR: Well 60 of the 61 were won by the Conservatives at the election, the other one was lost by 145 votes?

RJ: Well, as I say, I think that’s more a reflection on what happened to the Labour Party than it is on the Conservative Party’s policies. But we had a fair and robust methodology, it was decided by ministers and by civil servants, and it’s been set out in great length by the department. I think the Labour Party here is really trying to distract from the fact that they don’t like us to be making good on our promise to support these communities, to give them the investment that they need in infrastructure, in skills, in technology and in culture. And that investment, designed long before the pandemic, is even more important today because we want to help these communities to grow and recover from the very challenging economic circumstances that many of them are facing at the moment.

SR: So, just to be crystal clear, did you select Newark in your constituency to receive the money? And, if you didn’t, who did?

RJ: No, no. Sophy, we’ve been extremely clear. Ministers don’t make decisions about their own constituencies, that’s a long-standing position. They’re done by other ministers in the departments.

SR: Who is it then?

RJ: Well it was done by another minister in the department, Sophy.

SR: OK, thank you for that. Just finally on that, are you going to go to Parliament to explain yourself as Labour want?

RJ: We’re not going to get involved in party political point scoring. I’m afraid this is just a distraction tactic by the Labour Party. We’ve answered all the questions and happy to answer any more that might arise. But there really is nothing to see here.

 

Marr transcript

RJ: …places were chosen, again on the advice of civil servants, so that here was a broad range of places from market towns, like the one I represent, ex-agricultural towns, coastal towns, city centres and ex-mining and coalfield communities. And that process has been set out by civil servants in my department. If your question, which I think you’re coming to is – was I involved in selecting my own community?

AM: I’m coming to that.

RJ: Absolutely not. Ministers don’t get involved in their own constituencies, that decision was made by another minister in my department.

AM: Which minister, by the way?

RJ: It was made by Jake Berry, who then was…

AM: Who also got money for his constituency.

RJ: Well that was a decision made by another minister.

AM: You?

RJ: It was made by myself. But I think, to be honest…

AM: So, you decided that Jake Berry’s constituency got money, and Jake Berry decided that your constituency got money?

RJ: Andrew, with respect, this is perfectly normal. Ministers do not get involved in making decisions for their own constituencies, but neither should their constituencies be victims of the fact that they happen to be a minister. This has been set out very clearly by the NAO. And what is really happening here is this is a distraction tactic by the Labour Party who don’t like the fact we are making good on our manifesto pledge to actually invest in places which they neglected for far too long.