A controversial scheme which saw several towns in Notts made eligible to bid for up to £25 million for improvements shortly before the last election has been criticised by a Parliamentary watchdog.
The scheme was overseen by Newark MP and Secretary of State Robert Jenrick, whose own constituency has been put forward to potentially receive a share of the funding.
Elsewhere in Nottinghamshire, towns including Stapleford, Sutton in Ashfield and Mansfield are also still in the running to receive a share of the funding, while Arnold and Carlton will receive nothing.
At the time, leading Labour figures in Nottinghamshire said the funding bids had been distributed politically, to towns where the Conservatives thought they had a chance of winning an election which turned out to be weeks away.
Later, Mr Jenrick conceded that he and a junior minister had approved bids for towns in each other’s constituencies.
Now, the cross-party public affairs committee has said the towns were effectively picked by ministers, despite being identified as being low priority.
It also said the reasons provided by Mr Jenrick’s department for why the towns had been picked were ‘weak and unconvincing’.
The Government has said it ‘completely disagrees’ with criticism of the way the process was handled.
The independent committee’s report states: “The £3.6 billion Towns Fund was introduced at pace by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (the Department) in summer 2019. It relied upon Ministers selecting which towns would receive funding from a ranked list prepared by officials.
“The Department claims it had good reasons for this approach, but we are not convinced by the rationales for selecting some towns and not others.
“The justification offered by ministers for selecting individual towns are vague and based on sweeping assumptions. In some cases, towns were chosen by ministers despite being identified by officials as the very lowest priority (for example, one town selected ranked 535th out of 541 towns).
“The Department has also not been open about the process it followed and it did not disclose the reasoning for selecting or excluding towns.
“This lack of transparency has fuelled accusations of political bias in the selection process, and has risked the Civil Service’s reputation for integrity and impartiality.”
A spokesman for the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government said: ““We completely disagree with the committee’s criticism of the Town Fund selection process, which was comprehensive, robust and fair.
“The Towns Fund will help level up the country, creating jobs and building stronger and more resilient local economies.”