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Rishi Sunak’s speech on urban funding ‘misunderstood’, says ex-Tory minister | Rishi Sunak

Written by Javed Iqbal

Former minister Andrew Mitchell has defended Rishi Sunakand claimed his comments about taking money from disadvantaged urban areas and diverting it to more prosperous towns such as Tunbridge Wells were “misunderstood”.

The former chancellor caused outrage after he made the concession while speaking to members of the Conservative Party in the affluent Kent town on Friday.

“I succeeded in starting to change the funding formulas to make sure areas like this get the funding they deserved,” Sunak said in videotaped comments.

“We inherited a lot of formulas from Labor that pushed all the funding into deprived urban areas that needed to be undone. I started work to undo that.”

Tunbridge Wells has a Tory majority of 14,645 and has been held by Conservatives since 1974, when the circle was formed.

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

“I think it’s been misunderstood because, firstly, when Rishi was in government, he produced significant amounts as finance minister to help smooth the agenda and to meet funding needs specifically in red brick 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. “Sutton Coldfield is actually one of the most wealthy.”

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

“Now I’m not saying for a second that the needs aren’t far greater elsewhere, but we’re not going to be able to rejuvenate our high street infrastructure, the downtown infrastructure, which has suffered so badly from economic change over the last 10 years,” he said.

“We won’t be able to do it without something, admittedly less, but some government taxpayer support and what Rishi said, I think, was that he had tweaked the rules to make sure that both the red wall and the worse pitches can receive it help they need, but also where it is needed on a wider front, which of course affects the red wall seats, such funds can be made available.”

But some of his colleagues were less sympathetic to Sunak as he tries to make amends with his leadership rival, the 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’ve ever heard from a politician”, while Jake Berry, the chairman of the Northern Research Group of Tory MPs, said that in public Sunak “claims he wants to plan up north, but here he’s bragging about trying to divert vital investment away from vulnerable areas”.

The Truss supporter added: “He says one thing and does another – from raising taxes to trying to block the funding of our armed forces and now rising.”

Lisa Nandy, Labour’s shadow secretary, said his admission was “scandalous”.

“It is public money. It must be distributed fairly and used where it is most needed – not used as a bribe to Tory MPs,” added Nandy, who has written to Communities Secretary Greg Clark, MP for Tunbridge Wells, urging him to investigate.

But on Friday night, at the Tory leadership parties in Eastbourne, Sunak doubled down on his comments from Tunbridge Wells.

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

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Javed Iqbal

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