Pork Barrel Politics

by Good Law Project

Pork Barrel Politics

by Good Law Project
Good Law Project
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Good Law Project's mission is to achieve change through the law. We use litigation to uphold democracy, protect the environment and ensure no one is left behind.
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Latest: Oct. 4, 2021

Court orders expedition of ‘pork barrelling’ claim

The High Court has granted our request to have our legal challenge to the so-called ‘Levelling Up Fund’ heard on an expedited basis. 

With reports from backbench Tory MPs th…

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In every corner of public life, the Tories are or look to be bending the resources of the state to their own private advantage.

The 2019 Towns Fund made unhappy reading for those who believe public money should not be used to promote Party interests. As a leading academic put it: “there is robust evidence that ministers chose towns so as to benefit the Conservatives in marginal Westminster seats”. And the Government majority Public Accounts Committee criticised the Government for transparency failures “which fuelled accusations of political bias in the selection process.”

The Budget confirmed ‘Towns Fund’ funding for 45 towns of which 40 are represented by at least one Conservative MP. And it introduced a new fund - misnamed the ‘Levelling Up Fund’ which plays the same trick again. But rather than using the Index of Multiple Deprivation or some other objective and transparent allocation measure, Government has invented a new, and troublingly opaque, set of criteria. Those criteria boost the funding prospects of wealthier towns represented by Tory MPs. And, once again, the Government has refused to give straight answers to straight questions about how they operate.

We have instructed Bindmans LLP and Shaheed Fatima QC, with Joseph Barrett and Hannah Slark, to take the first formal step in legal proceedings: the sending of a Pre-Action Protocol Letter. As that letter puts it:

The effect of the Defendant’s unlawful approach is that areas where the Conservative Party has been, or wishes to be, electorally successful feature very highly...

in areas prioritised for funding. 

You can read that letter here. It contends a failure to take account of equalities considerations, failures of transparency, the taking account of irrelevant considerations - and it reserves the right to contend, when Government comes clean about the evidence, that the criteria for the fund had an improper purpose.
Nothing less than democracy is at stake.

Everywhere you look the Tories are or look to be misusing the resources of the state to benefit their interests: vast public contracts to friends and donors, jobs for Party friends, using public money to pay for political advertising or focus groups, political appointments to key regulatory positions - and allocating resources to deliver financial benefit to those who vote Tory.

Do not be fooled. These are the building blocks for a one-party state. 

Details:
Good Law Project have instructed Bindmans LLP and Shaheed Fatima QC, Joseph Barrett and Hannah Slark, who are being paid at significantly below market rates.

10% of the sums raised will go to the Good Law Project to help it develop and support further litigation in the public interest. It is our policy only to raise sums that we reasonably anticipate could be spent on this litigation. If there is a surplus it will go to support and enable other litigation we bring.


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Update 3

Good Law Project

Oct. 4, 2021

Court orders expedition of ‘pork barrelling’ claim

The High Court has granted our request to have our legal challenge to the so-called ‘Levelling Up Fund’ heard on an expedited basis. 

With reports from backbench Tory MPs that access to public funding for local communities hinges on whether or not they toe the Downing Street line and ‘side with the Government’ on votes, the Levelling Up agenda is looking increasingly like a Tory Party parlour game. And, as always, it’s ordinary people from hard-up communities who are being dealt the worst hand. 

Government is certainly not doing anything to dispel the notion that these funds are vehicles to channel money into constituencies that benefit the Conservatives. When asked by journalists to release the advice of impartial civil servants in respect of the much-criticised Towns Fund, they refused. When asked by us to do the same in respect of the Levelling Up Fund, they obfuscated

We therefore welcome the Court’s decision to look into this mess quickly.

Put simply, if the Court was to find that the Government’s decision to prioritise places in Ministers’ constituencies like Richmondshire over places like Barnsley was unlawful, it is in the public interest to know that sooner so that the issue can be fixed, and the £4.8bn earmarked for the Levelling Up Fund can reach the communities that need it most.

Update 2

Good Law Project

Aug. 24, 2021

Good news: We're going to Court

The High Court has granted permission for our legal challenge to the “Levelling Up Fund”. The huge £4.8bn fund pretends to be the centrepiece of a levelling up agenda – but we think it’s just a way to funnel money into constituencies of political benefit to the Conservative Party

This permission decision means the Government will have to defend itself in Court. It’s the latest in a string of permission decisions that have gone in Good Law Project’s favour. Of the 14 cases we have issued since the start of 2020, the Court has granted permission in 11 at the first time of asking. Since 2010, official statistics show that this has only happened in 17% of all judicial reviews. Good Law Project’s success rate on the other hand is a staggering 78%. Judges clearly agree that the Government is acting in ways that deserve closer scrutiny, and they see the importance of the cases we bring.

Building a judicial review that makes it to Court is no easy feat. It takes weeks, often months, of painstaking effort to identify the right legal point and gather evidence and witness statements to build a powerful case. We can only do this work because of monthly donations from people like you. Your contributions help to pay for the salaries of our small team of in-house lawyers and paralegals, our computers, and our office space. They help to keep Good Law Project going.

We want to keep taking on impactful cases and we want to keep making it all the way to Court. With your help, we can. If you’re in a position to set up a regular donation, you can do so by clicking here.

Update 1

Good Law Project

June 8, 2021

We have filed our claim

The evidence Government is using public money to meet its own ends is hard to ignore. The latest on the Towns Fund makes for depressing reading, with 22 of 26 places that received funds in the latest tranche being represented by Conservative MPs. This was the very same Towns Fund that led to the Government being criticised by the Public Accounts Committee for its lack of transparency.

But we are taking action to try and hold Government to account. In April, we took the first step in legal proceedings against the Government’s new Levelling Up Fund. This huge £4.8bn fund pretends to be the centrepiece of a levelling up agenda - but we think it is just a way to funnel money into regions and towns of political benefit to the Conservative Party. 

We have now formally launched the claim. Our pre-action letter highlighted the Government’s failure to take account of equalities considerations when designing the Fund and the lack of transparency in the process. We also noted flaws in the methodology used to allocate money to particular places. The claim papers flesh these arguments out, and highlight the disconnect between the fund’s pretended objects and its real world practical effects.

But don’t just take our word for it. 

In sworn evidence, Prof Danny Dorling, Professor of Geography at Oxford, has noted that the effect of the methodology is to “give significant priority to areas represented by Conservative MPs or representatives, even in circumstances where those areas are on any objective view affluent, and subject to low levels of need”.

This Government is creating a system where it pits communities against each other to fight for funding, and where winning seems to rest on whether they are of strategic importance in future elections. The losers will be poorer communities that miss out. 

The Government’s response is due on 25 June. We will keep you updated.

We are being represented by Bindmans LLP along with a counsel team of Shaheed Fatima QC (Blackstone Chambers), Joe Barrett and Hannah Slarks (11 KBW). If you are in a position to support our action, you can donate here. 

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