Robert Jenrick has conceded that he and a junior minister approved payments for each other’s constituencies from a government fund meant for the country’s most deprived areas.
The Housing secretary confirmed that Communities minister Jake Berry gave the green-light for Jenrick’s Newark constituency to receive £25m from the Towns Fund – even though it placed 270th on the list of the UK’s most deprived areas, meaning it was not a priority for funding.
Jenrick said he signed off the decision for money to be allocated to Darwen, a town in Berry’s Rossendale and Darwen constituency.
On Sunday, speaking on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show, Jenrick dismissed allegations that he had any involvement in Newark’s (his own constituency) selection as “completely baseless”.
Last year, Jenrick announced details of a £3.6bn towns fund that would be shared among 101 ‘left-behind’ areas – under the scheme, select towns could bid for up to £25m each from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG).
Jenrick and Berry allegedly choose 61 of the towns between them.
At a hustings during the general election in December last year, Jenrick told voters: “I helped to secure a £25m town deal, which I hope will improve the public realm and make the town centre a more attractive place to spend time in.”
After the election, Jenrick sat on a board convened by Newark and Sherwood district council that petitioned his own department for the maximum amount available of £25m.
“If the question you’re coming to is was I involved in selecting my own community, absolutely not,” Jenrick stated on the The Andrew Marr Show.
“Ministers do not get involved in their own constituencies – that decision was made by another minister in my department.”
Marr then responded by asking who was it that made the decision. Jenrick replied: “It was made by Jake Berry.”
And When Marr pointed out that a town in Berry’s constituency also received money from the fund, Jenrick confirmed that it was who signed off that decision.
More scrutiny for Jenrick
Earlier this year, Jenrick shot down calls for his resignation after he ensured a controversial housing development was agreed before the introduction of a levy that would have cost its backer millions.
Documents showed that the former pornographer and Conservative party donor Richard Desmond urged Jenrick to approve his Westferry Printworks development in east London before a new community infrastructure levy was introduced.
It is believed the move saved Desmond £50m.
Desmond had donated £12,000 to the Conservative party two weeks after the 1,500-home scheme was approved, and Jenrick had sat next to him at a fundraising event.
Jenrick denied any wrongdoing, but said he regretted sitting next to Desmond and exchanging messages with him.
Labour is now calling for an inquiry into the way money was allocated from the Towns Fund.
Shadow Communities secretary Steve Reed has formally requested a cabinet office investigation.
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