In a message to Daily Express readers last night, Boris Johnson said his blueprint for levelling-up the nation will give people a “greater say” over their lives and ensure “no one is left behind or overlooked.” And he insisted that he was certain his “big mission” to deliver change across the UK will succeed. He spoke out after the Government published a 300-page “white paper” policy document detailing 12 new legally-enforced targets.
They are to improve income, job prospects, health and wellbeing by the end of the decade.
Mr Johnson said: “Seeing your children get an excellent education and succeed in life; being able to use a reliable bus service; not being a victim of anti-social behaviour – these are all things that shouldn’t be decided based on where you live.
“That’s why my Government is uniting and levelling up the country. It’s a big mission.
“We won’t solve everything overnight. But Express readers should know that it’s my central priority and I am certain that the plans we have set out will transform our country.”
Published by the Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities, the white paper proposes an overhaul of education, transport, local government and broadband coverage.
It aims to give a stronger voice to communities by giving every English region the chance of an elected mayor. Senior Cabinet Minister Michael Gove said it would allow them to “take back control” of their destiny.
In his Commons statement, the Housing Secretary predicted the blueprint will “turbocharge” growth in regions other than London and the South East.
He even raised the prospect of the House of Lords being relocated out of London to help the levelling-up drive. But Labour was scathing about the plans and questioned its lack of substance.
Mr Gove told MPs: “After two long Covid years, we need to get this country moving at top speed again. We know that while talent is spread equally across the UK, opportunity is not.”
He claimed unlocking the full potential of the “left-behind” regions and communities could boost the economy by billions of pounds a year.
He added: “So how do we achieve success? Firstly, by backing business, the private sector, investing, innovating, taking risks and opening new markets.
“We’ll support them every step of the way, by cutting through the red tape.”
Mr Gove sought to calm the fears of Tory MPs worried that the emphasis on regenerating towns and cities in the North could take resources away from the party’s south heartlands.
He said: “By regenerating the great cities and towns across the North we can relieve the pressure on green fields and public services in the South.”
Mr Gove announced 20 urban regeneration projects across the North and Midlands and promised to “put British workers first in a global race for investment.”
Shadow levelling-up secretary Lisa Nandy responded with a withering assessment.
She said: “Seriously, is this it? The sum total of our ambition for our coastal and industrial towns, our villages and our great cities, is a history on the rise of the Roman Empire and ministers scurrying around Whitehall shuffling the deckchairs, cobbling together a shopping list of recycled policies and fiddling the figures.
“He talks about 12 missions, this is 12 admissions of failure. He’s given us more of the same. This was meant to be the Prime Minister’s defining mission of government. I’m not surprised he was too embarrassed to come here and defend it himself.”
In contrast, West Yorkshire’s Labour mayor Tracy Brabin said she was “very happy” to work with the Government on the proposals but warned of “a job of work” to deliver on promises.
The strategy received a mixed response from business, pressure groups and think tanks.
John O’Connell, chief executive of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said: “Devolving decisions and letting towns prosper would be welcome, but wasting cash on obesity campaigns and cultural quangos is more of the same patronising policy ideas which mollycoddle the public and end up costing the very people they’re trying to help a fortune in taxes.”
But Will Tanner, director of the centre-Right think tank Onward, was impressed, saying: “Today Michael Gove fires the starting gun on a regeneration revolution.”
Comment by Ben Houchen
When Michael Gove became the Secretary of State for Levelling Up his first visit was to the former Redcar steelworks to see the huge progress we’re making in breathing new life into the site following its devastating closure in 2015.
Having seen us transforming the site, the man trusted to deliver levelling up for Boris Johnson said: “If you want to see what levelling up looks like, come to Teesside.”
I am incredibly proud of what we have been able to achieve across Teesside, Darlington and Hartlepool since I became the region’s first elected mayor in 2017.
We’ve secured the UK’s biggest and first to be operational freeport, centred on the former Redcar steel works that’s now been renamed Teesworks. This will deliver 18,000 good-quality jobs over the next five years – putting more money in the pockets of local workers and pumping billions of pounds into the local economy.
We were able to land the relocation of senior civil servants from the Treasury to a new economic campus in Darlington. More than 1,500 senior Whitehall roles will be moving to the town and I’m pleased that recruitment to fill a large number of these jobs with local people has already begun.
And when it comes to improving local transport, I have £310million from the Government to invest into our bus services, train stations and rail services.
This is what levelling up looks like.
• Ben Houchen is Mayor of Tees Valley