‘Is that it?’ – inflamed reactions to levelling up leaves North wanting


‘Is that it?’ – inflamed reactions to levelling up leaves North wanting

Northern regions have been left wanting after the much-awaited levelling up white paper was released, with a scattergun of slogans and hollow promises.

The long-awaited  paper was one of the big initiatives which spurred the coup of ‘red wall’ seats turning blue in 2019, but is looking more like a coup de grâce for a government in freefall.

The 400-page paper was released on Wednesday, with an isolated Levelling Up secretary Michael Gove presenting it to the House of Commons alone, with the PM and many ministerial colleagues leaving before the announcement at the conclusion of PMQ’s.

In the document, which includes three pages dedicated to the history of Ancient Rome, 12 “big missions” are outlined, the first of which would start with tackling regional inequalities by 2030.

Mr Gove did not undersell the announcement, saying it would “change the economic model” of the UK for good.

Amongst these 12 “big missions” are aims for better-connected transport, more pay for workers, improved education, a reduction in violent crime and even increased life expectancy.

The paper also includes a devolution deal for every region that wants one – giving the potential for more money and power to local areas.

Gove’s opposite number – Lisa Nandy – who visited Grimsby last week to discuss Levelling Up to local business leaders, was unsurprisingly in uproar about this white paper, questioning the minister: “Is that it?

“We’ve had two and a half years of big promises and big talk from the government, and what we’ve just been handed this morning seems to boil down to a bunch of recycled money and repackaged announcements,” she added.

“I think for most people around the country this is deeply, deeply disappointing. No new money, no new powers.”

In Grimsby, fewer than one in five children go to university, compared with one in three children from London.

Mr Gove outlined how the plans would be important to Grimsby and North East Lincolnshire, saying: “One of the things that we’re clear about in the white paper is the importance of making sure that FE is aligned to the needs of local employers.

“And in Grimsby and indeed in North East Lincolnshire there is a chance now as part of the renewables revolution led by the business secretary to make sure that new jobs, investment and FE and a recognition of the link between the two can ensure that in Grimsby you can stay local but go far.”

Henri Murison, director of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership, wasn’t as negative about the white paper, but was still left questioning whether it was worth the build up and wait, telling The Independent:

“The hard case is there will be less money for research and development in the north of England post-Brexit than there was under Theresa May before we left the EU. That is a fact. The Shared Prosperity Fund [designed to replace EU funding] leaves the region with less money coming in than before.

“So this white paper offers a few sweeties to make up for that – like the innovation accelerator scheme in Greater Manchester which is great for that area – but a lot of areas, like West Yorkshire, haven’t been given those sweeties. They’ve been ignored in anything other than general terms. ‘So what’s happening is they are seeing a real cut in funding. They’re not being levelled up, they’re being left further behind. They’re getting shafted,” he added.