Rishi Sunak’s speech on funding urban areas ‘misunderstood’, says former Tory minister | Rishi Sunak

Former minister Andrew Mitchell has defended Rishi Sunak, saying his comments about taking money from deprived urban areas and redirecting it to more prosperous towns such as Tunbridge Wells were “misunderstood”.

The former Chancellor sparked outrage after making the admission during an interview with Conservative Party members in the affluent town of Kent on Friday.

“I was able to start changing the funding formulas to make sure areas like this got the funding they deserved,” Sunak said in comments captured on video.

“We inherited a bunch of formulas from the Labor Party which pushed all the funding into deprived urban areas and which had to be reversed. I started the work of undoing that.

Tunbridge Wells has a Conservative majority of 14,645 and has been Conservative-held since 1974 when the constituency was formed.

Mitchell, who is a supporter of Sunak’s Conservative leadership bid, claimed it was a misunderstanding and that Sunak was actually talking about the red wall.

“I think it was misunderstood because, first of all, Rishi, when he was in government, produced significant sums as Chancellor of the Exchequer to help with the leveling agenda and to meet funding needs specifically in red wall seats in our poorest areas, but also in areas like mine, which are not part of the red wall and are not one of the poorest areas in the country” , the Conservative MP for Sutton Coldfield told Times Radio on Saturday. “Indeed, Sutton Coldfield is one of the richest.”

While Mitchell admitted the needs are “much greater elsewhere”, he said taxpayer support will be needed to rejuvenate main streets and town centres.

“Now, I’m not saying for a moment that the needs aren’t much greater elsewhere, but we won’t be able to rejuvenate our main street infrastructure, downtown infrastructure, which has suffered so badly from economic changes over the past few years. last years. 10 years,” he said.

“We won’t be able to do this without some, admittedly smaller, but some taxpayer support from the government and what Rishi was saying I think was that he had adapted the rules to ensure that the red wall and the seats the poorest can receive the help they need, but also where it is needed on a wider front, which of course affects the red wall seats, such funding can be made available.

But some of his colleagues were not so sympathetic to Sunak as he tries to catch up with his leadership rival, Foreign Secretary Liz Truss.

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Zac Goldsmith, the Foreign Secretary, said his comments were “one of the strangest – and stupidest – things I have ever heard from a politician”, while Jake Berry, chairman of the Northern Research Group of Tory MPs, said in public Sunak “says he wants to level the north, but here he brags about trying to channel vital investment away from deprived areas”.

The Truss supporter added: ‘He says one thing and does another – from raising taxes to trying to block funding for our armed forces and now going up.’

Lisa Nandy, Labour’s shadow leveling secretary, said her admission was “outrageous”.

“This is public money. It should be distributed fairly and spent where it is most needed – and not used as a bribe for Conservative members,” added Nandy, who wrote to the Secretary of communities Greg Clark, MP for Tunbridge Wells, urging him to investigate.

But on Friday night, during the Tory leadership race in Eastbourne, Sunak doubled down on his comments about Tunbridge Wells.

“I want to level up everywhere. And as you may have seen in a video clip online, I don’t think it’s just about our very large urban cities, I think it’s about investing in leveling small towns, rural communities, coastal communities like the ones here in the southeast,” he said to applause.

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