Was Glastonbury given a push?
Questions have already been asked by MPs. How did the Secretary of State for Housing Communities and Local Government, Robert Jenrick, select the 101 towns to get a new towns deal? It matters. This could be worth up to £25m for each town selected.
A report published at the end of last month by the National Audit Office asks some difficult questions. The bottom line is the NAO want to know if the process was objective and transparent.
541 of the most needy communities in the country were ranked by a series of criteria. The idea was that the 100 most needy would qualify for the new towns deal. In the end the list was extended to 101.
Bridgwater, ranked 34 in the list of most needy towns clearly qualified. And along with Glastonbury was duly included – the only two Somerset towns to benefit.
But Glastonbury was not in the top 100. The town, in Junior Minister for Defence James Heappey’s constituency of Wells, was one of 12 outside the top 100 that were included. The official reason for including Glastonbury in the deal (it snuck in as number 100 on a list of 101) was given by the Ministry for Housing Communities and Local Government:
“The town scores relatively poorly in productivity, EU Exit exposure, and the Index of Multiple Deprivation income deprivation metrics. The nearest transport links for the town are Castle Cary railway which has no direct bus links to the town.”
It is hard to argue with that. But questions will be asked not least by MPs representing the 12 towns that missed out on the list.
Meanwhile Steve Reed MP and the shadow communities secretary, has cast doubts over the process. “There are now serious concerns that ministers may have allocated funding for political gain at the 2019 election, something which breaks strict rules on impartiality.”
You could hardly describe Bridgwater and West Somerset as a marginal constituency. But Wells, as recently as 2015 was a LibDem constituency. Although Mr Heappey had a majority of 7,500 in both the 2015 and 2017 elections, that grew to 9,991 in 2019. It is still a bit of a push to call it a marginal.
The Leveller® says: Good as any story with a hint of gerrymandering might be, this looks a little stretched. Great for the Westminster Village. Those who know the town of Glastonbury and not just the Festival will know it has some very deprived areas and is a worthy beneficiary of the Government’s cash.