Rishi Sunak’s National Service plan for teenagers will take money from poorest areas

The Tories have been accused of nicking levelling up cash for poorer areas to fund Rishi Sunak’s controversial National Service plans.

Some of the UK’s poorest areas would lose out on tens of millions of pounds earmarked for community safety and high street regeneration due to the PM’s plans to force 18-year-olds to do military service or compulsory volunteering. The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) predicted areas like Merthyr Tydfil, in South Wales, Cornwall and the Tees Valley had the most to lose if the controversial Tory pledge goes ahead.

The Conservatives want to close the Government’s flagship UK Shared Prosperity Fund (UKSPF) by 2028 – a key plank of their levelling up agenda – and use £1.5 billion for the National Service plan. But the IFS said it could result in wealthier areas across southern England receiving “a substantial increase in net funding” at the expense of poorer parts of the country.

Wales could lose £275 million per year, Cornwall £72 million, the North East and Tees Valley mayoral areas a combined £46 million even after accounting for the potential ‘National Service’ spending on local young people, it said. The UKSPF is worth £6 or less per person in areas of southern England including Oxfordshire, Windsor and Maidenhead, Medway in Kent and Brighton and Hove.

But it is worth £145 per person in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, rising to £246 in Blaenau Gwent in South Wales and £273 in Merthyr Tydfil.

David Phillips, IFS associate director, said: “The Conservatives’ plan to wind up the UKSPF and use the resources instead to help pay for a new national service scheme would represent a major shift in how funding is allocated across the country. Rather than being targeted at poorer areas and aimed at levelling up, the funding would be spread across the country based on where 18-year-olds are undertaking their military or community service.

“The scheme may therefore create opportunities for young people across the UK but would mean hundreds of millions less in funding for community and economic development in Wales, Cornwall and the North and Midlands of England.”

Mr Sunak was confronted over why he was taking levelling up cash from these areas on a visit to Cornwall. He told reporters in Penzance: “I am absolutely committed to levelling up in Cornwall and you can see our track record.”

He pointed to investment in high streets, hospitals and transport infrastructure in Cornwall, and added: “Those are all examples of the investment that is going into levelling up here in Cornwall and that will always continue under a Conservative government led by me.”

Mr Sunak has previously said: “This modern form of National Service will mean that young people get the skills and the opportunities that they need which is going to serve them very well in life.”