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Rishi Sunak to reform anti-Northern spending bias

 The government has confirmed it will make a major reform to the way it assesses the value for money of big spending projects.

It plans to remove a longstanding bias that has affected funding for northern England and other regions.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak said the changes, to be unveiled at next week's Spending Review, were part of the government's "levelling up" agenda.

The move was welcomed by a group of Tory MPs in northern England.

Mr Sunak said the changes would allow those "in all corners of the UK to get their fair share of our future prosperity".

Part of what will change is the Treasury's Green Book - a set of rules it uses to determine the value generated by government schemes.

It will mean - as the first portions of £600bn in planned public investment are delivered - the process of ranking transport, energy, schools or hospital investment will be widened beyond a narrow definition of benefit compared to cost.

Those calculations, the Treasury now acknowledges, have inherently favoured the government investing continuously in the South East of England and London.

That's because the values of economic return are influenced by existing high property prices in those regions.

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For example, a transport link between London and Reading would always have ranked as better value for money for the taxpayer than linking two northern cities.

The new process will update the equation to prioritise investments with regional impact, which will help Mr Sunak's levelling up plan and the government's green objectives.

Jake Berry, chair of the Northern Research Group of Conservative MPs and former Northern Powerhouse minister, welcomed the announcement.

"It was one of the most frustrating things I found, when I was Northern Powerhouse minister, was you would sort of come against this calculation that always preferred Reading over Rossendale," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

Mr Berry, who is MP for Rossendale and Darwen, said his group had been calling for the chancellor not to reform the spending formula, but to "chuck it into the shredding machine" and "start prioritising northern investment".

"I think we've got a long way towards that today," he added.

Asked what investment should be prioritised, Mr Berry said fast delivery of smaller infrastructure projects, like local bypasses or improvement to bus services, would "make a much bigger difference" to people's everyday lives than long-term projects like HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail.

"But of course we need to do both," he added.

The Chancellor's planned changes will form part of the long-delayed National Infrastructure Strategy, to be published alongside the Spending Review.

Some £1.6bn will also be allocated to tackle potholes on local roads in the next financial year.

The infrastructure strategy will cover flagship programmes such as fibre broadband, flood defences, and major transport schemes.

The Spending Review will also see the launch of the UK Shared Prosperity Fund, under which money previously allocated to poorer regions by the European Union will now be spent by the UK government.

A UK Investment Bank will also replace the functions of the European Investment Bank, after the end of the Brexit transition period.

The government hopes to be able to use more private sector capital, and to align the bank's investments more closely with UK economic strategy, for example on climate change.

Environmental campaigners are anxious to see if the chancellor's plans support the prime minister's ambitious 10-point plan to protect the climate, published this week.

They sense the UK is poised for a seismic shift in the way it tackles the climate crisis - and Mr Sunak's speech will be a key test, BBC environment analyst Roger Harrabin said.

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The chancellor also confirmed the Treasury will move some staff to a new base in the north of England next year, as part of a shift of 22,000 civil servant roles out of London and the South East.

The location of the new headquarters will be announced "in the coming weeks".

Labour's shadow chancellor Anneliese Dodds called for Mr Sunak's Spending Review to "set the country on the right path".

"Communities up and down the country don't want to hear more empty rhetoric from this government," she said.

"The Conservatives have been in power for ten long years, but their track record is a litany of failure and broken promises."


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