High Court gives go-ahead for judicial review challenge over ‘Levelling Up Fund”

The High Court has granted the Good Law Project permission for its legal challenge against three Whitehall departments over the multi-billion pound “Levelling Up Fund”.

The case is being brought against the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Secretary of State for Transport.

In March 2021 the defendants allocated every local authority to one of three categories for the purposes of the Fund.

The GLP is seeking to challenge the lawfulness of the allocation decisions and the methodology that the defendants stated they had used to determine those allocations.

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The grounds of challenge are:

  1. The allocation decisions and methodology breached s.149 of the Equality Act.
  2. The defendants breached the common law duty of transparency and good administration by failing, in breach of their own commitments, to make publicly available data said to be used for the purposes of the allocation decisions;
  3. The allocation decisions and methodology were irrational and/or in breach of the duty to have regard to relevant considerations and disregard irrelevant considerations.

Mr Justice Bourne said he was satisfied that the claimant had standing and that its grounds were arguable, “subject to the observation that the existence of a free-standing principle of a duty of transparency (or good administration) upon which a judicial review challenge can be founded is at best debatable”.

The judge said, however, that it was appropriate for these issues about transparency to be explored at the substantive hearing along with the other grounds.

The GLP said: “The huge £4.8bn fund pretends to be the centrepiece of a levelling up agenda – but we think it’s just a way to funnel money into constituencies of political benefit to the Conservative Party.”

It added that of the 14 cases it had issued since the start of 2020, the High Court had granted permission in 11 at the first time of asking.

“Judges clearly agree that the Government is acting in ways that deserve closer scrutiny, and they see the importance of the cases we bring," the GLP claimed.

In April, when the GLP sent a pre-action letter in relation to the Fund, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government said: “The £4.8 billion Levelling Up Fund is open to all places in Great Britain and will play a vital role in helping to support and regenerate communities. 

“The published methodology makes clear the metrics used to identify places judged to be most in need. 

“It would not be appropriate to comment on potential legal action.”

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