Politics latest: Was more money given to Tory areas amid £2bn … – Sky News

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Rishi Sunak is focusing on levelling up today, with a new round of funding for areas across the UK announced; as the nurses’ strike enters its second day, a former cabinet minister doubles down on his criticism of them using foodbanks.
Nicola Sturgeon will be giving an address at the Business for Scotland annual dinner this evening and it is understood she will not hold back on her views of the UK government following ministers’ decision to block the Scottish government’s Gender Recognition Reform Bill.
Scotland’s first minister is expected to say that the actions of the UK government this week mean “a new and more dangerous phase of devolution” has been entered.
The Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill was passed by the Scottish parliament in December but in January, the government in Westminster announced it was blocking the bill from Royal Assent, the final stage of any new bill.
It is the first time Westminster has used the power since devolution nearly 25 years ago.
The bill means the age someone can legally change their gender in Scotland would be lowered to 16 from 18, there would no longer be a need for a medical diagnosis of gender dysphoria and someone would only have to live in their acquired gender for three months – reduced from two years.
Westminster is objecting to the bill on the grounds that it would have a “significant impact” on equalities matters in Scotland, England and Wales.
Giving the keynote address, it is thought Ms Sturgeon will say: “The Tories have broken cover. 
“The stealth attacks have been joined by a full-frontal assault – the decision of the Tory government to strike down a law clearly within devolved competence which was passed overwhelmingly in the Scottish parliament, and which was supported by MSPs from all parties.
“Through his actions the UK government secretary of state for Scotland is demonstrating he is sadly, not interested in working in partnership. 
“He’s decided to act like a governor-general: treating the Scottish parliament as a subordinate body and deciding which democratic decisions and laws to veto.”
She is expected to declare that “Westminster is undermining the Scottish parliament, and Westminster is undermining the Scottish economy”.
She will reportedly continue: “Westminster control means the worst of both worlds – a weaker Scottish Parliament and a weaker economy.”
It is thought Ms Sturgeon will conclude: “So the question is with all our resources and talent: ‘why not Scotland?'”
Rishi Sunak has been speaking again on his tour of the North after announcing the recipients of the second round of levelling up funding.
He insisted it was a “great day for the North” after being accused of handing more money to London and the South East.
“If you look at the funding per head, the place that’s doing the best in the whole country is the North, with almost twice as much funding as London and the South East,” he said.
The PM has also been accused of favouring areas held by Conservative MPs but he said: “If you look at the overall funding around half has gone to places that don’t have a Conservative MP.”
His own constituency of Richmond, Yorkshire, has been given £19 million but he insisted it was for Catterick Garrison which is “home to our largest army base” and is for the thousands of personnel there to have access to “appropriate and suitable” amenities.
Mr Sunak bashed back suggestions it was chosen over much more deprived areas such as South Shields and Billingham as he confirmed there will be a third round of funding they can apply for.
The British and Irish governments held a conference today to talk about the two countries’ relations under the Good Friday Agreement.
They have agreed to meet again in the Spring.
During today’s meeting, they discussed:
Sky’s economics and data editor Ed Conway caught up with the former prime minister and asked him why he and not Rishi Sunak is at Davos.

As Rishi Sunak relaunches levelling up again today, Labour’s attack suggests that dishing out cash for local projects can’t make up for a decade of cuts imposed on struggling councils.
It’s a simple critique that covers a complex story of what has happened under successive Conservative governments.
Over many years small shifts have led to a huge change in how money is allocated across the country.
Councils once dominated the local government landscape and were the main funnel through which cash flowed from Westminster into communities.
But things began to change under austerity – as they became first in line for cuts.
They were also the target of changes to the terms on which they received cash, including the removal of deprivation as a dominant determinant of funding allocation – a change that favoured Conservative councils. And it wasn’t just money that was moved, power was also redistributed.
Firstly to metro mayors, who have been handed varying levels of local influence depending on how willing they are to do deals with the government.
Maybe unsurprisingly, it appears that Conservative mayors, like Ben Houchen in Teesside and Andy Street in the West Midlands are looked on more favourably than their Labour counterparts. 
 And there are new pots of money available, like the Levelling Up fund, created specifically to bypass local bureaucracy and deliver on the government’s manifesto promises. 
 It’s a system designed, presumably, so that at election time Conservative MPs can point to the projects that they have delivered, and why shouldn’t they? 
 The concern though is about transparency, with the clarity of the local authority funding formula replaced by a more opaque system more open to accusations of pork barrel politics.
The latest levelling up funding round for example, has provided more money to the Prime Minister’s own leafy constituency of Richmond in Yorkshire than to the nearby ex-industrial town of Barnsley – a largely Labour area. 
 As a campaigning tactic it’s more influential that any leaflet, delivering a powerful subliminal message to voters – keep us in office and we’ll keep improving your area. 
 And proponents of the changes argue that councils can be bloated and inefficient and streamlining the process can only be a good thing. 
What is undoubtedly the case is that it has become increasingly politicised and allows the government much more freedom to decide who gets what. 

Conservative leader of Folkestone and Hythe District Council has defended the government’s decision to grant many local authorities in the south of England funding for community projects in the latest wave of the Levelling Up Fund grants.
Ministers have been criticised by Labour for allocating projects in the South East almost twice as much as those in the North East.
Speaking to Sky News’ political correspondent Joe Pike, David Monk said it is “absolutely right” that not all areas in the south of the country are incredibly wealthy.
“So often people think that because you live in the South East of England you are well off, that’s just not the case,” Mr Monk said.
He added that “bringing skills and getting rid of deprivation” is “a country-wide problem”.
Mr Monk argued that “there is as much deprivation around in the South East as anywhere else in the country”, citing seaside towns as an example.
“It doesn’t matter where you are in the country, if you’ve got deprivation you’ve got to do something about it.”
The Tory council leader also admitted that the £19m his council has been awarded to rejuvenate the town centre could help the Conservative Party’s case at the upcoming local elections in May.
Asked whether the money would benefit Conservative councillors in the lead up to the polls, Mr Monk replied: “Oh absolutely. Yes! 
“We’ve got elections coming up in May and I shall make a great deal of the fact we’ve managed to attract this money in.”
Mr Monk said his councillors “will get an electoral benefit out of getting this money and change”. adding: ” Why wouldn’t we? 
“We’ve got a Conservative-run council, a Conservative MP, we’ve got a Conservative government – and now we’ve got a nice lot of money with which we can say thank you very much.”
Rishi Sunak has apologised for making a “brief error of judgement'” after being caught on video not wearing a seatbelt.
A Downing Street spokesperson said: “That was a brief error of judgement. The PM removed his seatbelt to film a small clip. He fully accepts this was a mistake and apologises about it.”
“The prime minister believes everyone should wear a seatbelt,” the spokesman added.
No belt could be seen covering the PM’s shoulder as he promoted his levelling-up funding in the clip filmed for Instagram on Thursday.
Fines of up to £500 can be issued for failing to wear a seatbelt when one is available.
A member of the public asked Rishi Sunak for “20 quid for my heating bill” as the prime minister visited Morecambe.
Mr Sunak has been in the seaside resort as part of an announcement of the latest levelling up funding from the government. 
He was joined by Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove for the visit to the Lancashire town to see the proposed site of the Eden Project North.
The project will receive £50m of funding. 
Mr Sunak hailed the “huge buzz” in the town after meeting those involved with the project and students.
One passer-by shouted at him: “Lend us 20 quid for my heating bill, Rishi.”
It was unclear if the PM heard this. 
A “best and final offer” which includes a pay rise of 9% over two years has been made by train operating companies to RMT members, the Rail Deliver Group has announced.
It’s in a bid to end the wave of industrial action on the railways.
Andy Street, the Conservative mayor of the West Midlands, has criticised the way that levelling up funds are allocated.
He is the most prominent Tory to have criticised the way money has been handed out.
Mr Street said: “Fundamentally this episode is just another example as to why Whitehall’s bidding and begging bowl culture is broken, and the sooner we can decentralise and move to proper fiscal devolution the better. 
“The centralised system of London civil servants making local decisions is flawed, and I cannot understand why the levelling up funding money was not devolved for local decision-makers to decide on what’s best for their areas.”
Mr Street welcomed funding for the West Midlands areas of Rowley Regis and Willenhall, but said he was “concerned” that past “successes” like the Commonwealth Games and the Coventry City of Culture were used as “a reason to reject the majority of the region’s bids”.
He added that he would “forensically lobby ministers in our ongoing negotiations to secure the big-ticket items that will transform the West Midlands in the months and years ahead”.
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