The Johnson government on Wednesday staked its future on a pledge to “shift wealth and power decisively to working people”, as ministers set out their signature domestic policy to “level up” the UK’s left-behind areas.
Unveiling a white paper, Michael Gove, leveling up secretary, said he had adequate funds to meet 12 goals to narrow regional inequalities across the country, despite no new government money being announced.
Labor strongly criticized Gove’s document containing the targets, saying it showed the government had run “out of ideas”.
Boris Johnson has turned to turn his 2019 election slogan to “level up” the UK into meaningful reform after his government was consumed by efforts to tackle the coronavirus crisis.
But the leveling up white paper’s 12 policy “missions” should help so-called red wall constituencies in northern England and the Midlands that the Conservatives seized off Labor in 2019, as well as other areas.
The paper pledged to create nine new county mayors in England by 2030 to drive efforts for boosting economic growth, increase state-funded research and development outside the south-east, improve digital connectivity, reduce serious and violent crime, and boost life expectations.
Gove told MPs: “While talent is spreading equally across the UK, the opportunity is not. Our economy has been like a jet propelled by only one engine. Now we need to fire up every resource we have. And the economic prize from leveling up is potentially enormous. ”
He added the government’s leveling up agenda was not only about devolution and investment, saying: “Economic opportunity spreads more equally across the country is at the heart of leveling up. But it’s also about community, it’s about repairing the social fabric of our broken heartlands. “
But Lisa Nandy, shadow leveling up secretary, responded to the white paper by asking, “Is this it?” She said the document, which has been delayed several times, represented “a government in freefall – out of ideas, out of energy”.
She accused the government of being responsible over the past 12 years for “turbocharging the decline of our communities, cutting off choices and chances for a generation of young people” through cuts to local services.
The white paper was welcomed by Conservative MPs. Damian Green, former deputy prime minister and a moderate Tory, described it as a “one-nation document”. John Redwood, the rightwing former minister, praised its focus on individual aspiration.
Torsten Bell, chief executive of the Resolution Foundation, a think-tank, praised how the government would report on progress against its leveling up goals because it would create pressure in Whitehall to reach them.
But he said it was unclear if the government architecture was in place to turn an agenda into action. “Leveling up is not being run out of the heart of government – the Treasury or Number 10 – which creates the risk that there is no ongoing political engagement necessary to ensure it is prioritized,” he added.
Carys Roberts, executive director of the IPPR, another think-tank, welcomed the government’s white paper but said a detailed plan and cash were needed to deliver it.
“Leveling up isn’t new,” she added. “Many governments have tried and failed before. The sums already committed fall far short of what has been ripped out of communities during a decade of austerity – and of what other countries have shown shown needed to narrow their regional divides. ”