A few days ago I blogged about how the Conservatives are using the so-called “levelling up” funding which is theoretically intended to boost education performance in poorer areas of England. However The Tories are using the money to give a funding boost to Conservative held constituencies in a bid to boost their own electoral chances. boosting the life chances of kids from poorer areas be damned. It now turns out that this Conservative government is doing exactly the same thing with the “Levelling up” funding for capital projects which was recently extended to Scotland and Wales in a blatant attempt to undermine the devolution settlement and by-pass the Scottish Parliament. Governor General Alister Jack even had the unmitigated gall to describe this naked power grab as “real devolution”.
And now to the complete surprise of absolutely no one at all, least of all to those Scottish Conservatives who are currently feigning outrage over the waste of public money on the botched investigation into Alex Salmond, it has come to light that the Conservatives are being even more blatantly partisan in how the UK Treasury allocates fund intended for capital projects.
According to an investigation carried out by the Guardian newspaper, there are 93 English districts which receive a share of the £4.8 billion funding. Of these 31 areas have been included amongst the recipients despite the fact that they are not ranked among the top third most deprived areas as assessed by average deprivation score. 26 out of these 31 areas are Conservative held constituencies four areas of England have been assessed by the UK Treasury as in the top tier of beneficiaries from the “levelling up funding” despite ranking according to average deprivation score as some of the least deprived areas of England. All of these districts are represented by Conservative MPs. They include the Yorkshire constituency of Richmond, which is ranked amongst the top fifth most prosperous areas in England and which is represented in the Westminster Parliament by a certain Rishi Sunak, who entirely coincidentally just happens to be the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the man who is in charge of the British Government Treasury entrusted with allocating funds which are ostensibly targeted at the poorest parts of the UK in order to help them make up the gap between them and more prosperous areas like Richmond.
The Tories are shamelessly abusing public money which is supposed to help districts with the greatest need in order to widen the gap between rich and poor which already blights the UK. That’s because the Conservative definition of the greatest need begins and ends with the greatest need of the Conservative party.
There are as yet no details of how the money is being spent in Scotland, but in Wales Plaid Cymru’s Saville Roberts has said she cannot understand why Gwynedd, in north-west Wales, and a part of her Dwyfor Meirionnydd constituency,has been assessed by the UK Treasury as an area in the lowest tier for help, even though the EU funding which this fund is supposed to replace had prioritised Gwynedd as being one of the least developed areas in Europe.
It’s a safe bet that the Tories will use this taxpayer money in order to boost their own electoral chances in Scotland. They don’t care if the gap between the richest and the poorest widens, despite the fact that the UK is already regarded as one of the most unequal states in Europe. According to figures from the OECD, at the UK has among the highest levels of income inequality in the European Union (as measured by the Gini coefficient), among developed nations, only the USA has greater income inequality. The top fifth of the UK population has 40% of the total income. the bottom fifth of the UK population must make do with just 8% of the income.
Wealth inequality in the UK is even more stark than income inequality. The Office of National Statistics found that in 2016 the richest 10% of households possess 44% of the wealth.Meanwhile the poorest 50% of households own just 9% of all wealth. Wealth is also very unevenly distributed geographically across the UK. The wealth of the median household in the South East of England is more than twice that of the median household in the North West of England.
Inequality is getting worse under the Conservatives. It’s going to get a whole lot worse before this sorry bunch of corrupt pork-barrel rollers are voted out of office by the people of England. And sadly there’s no certainty that’s going to happen even at the next Westminster General election four long years away. The most recent UK wide opinion poll of Westminster voting intention showed that the Conservatives have increased their lead over the Labour party by 4%. The next UK General election will be held after changes have been made to the boundaries and numbers of Commons constituencies. These changes will reduce the number of Scottish MPs by two, those of Wales by eight while England will gain ten MPs most of whom will represent new seats in the South East and South West of England, areas where the Conservatives traditionally do well. The changes will reduce the voices of Scotland and Wales in the Commons to the benefit of England and are expected to make it even harder for Labour to unseat the Tories and overtake them as the largest party. In the meantime the Conservatives will continue to wreck devolution in order to increase inequality and their own power.
The already faint hopes of the significant constitutional reform that is so desperately needed in the UK have now pretty much been extinguished, despite the impotent wittering from the Labour branch office in Scotland about proposals for federalism. That’s nothing more than a desperate attempt to forestall Scottish independence, but is without substance, meaning or any prospects at all of ever coming to fruition. The future of the UK for the next decade or more is an increasingly centralised and unequal state where power, wealth and influence are concentrated ever more in London and the South East of England and in the hands of the Conservatives and their allies. The Holyrood election in May is Scotland’s last chance to ensure that it has a way out.
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