Government unveils levelling up mission

Regional devolution a key part of levelling-up, but Labour says plans contain no new money.

The government has finally unveiled its long-awaited levelling up white paper, outlining 12 “bold missions” to shift focus and resources to Britain’s forgotten communities.

The largely aspirational strategy, unveiled by levelling up secretary Michael Gove, will take until 2030 to achieve and aims to improve services including housing, broadband and transport, plus a potentially major shift in power to the English regions.

Many of the 12 missions are existing government policies, with funds already allocated to them, but Gove says they will be enshrined in law for the first time.

Although broadly welcoming the aims of the white paper, the infrastructure and consultancy sector has given a decidedly mixed response to today’s plans, with concerns raised on policy and financial clarity and an alarming lack of space given to climate change.

Industry wise, the 12 key aspirations include a 40% public investment increase in research and development, improved local public transport connectivity, nationwide gigabit-capable broadband and 4G coverage, with 5G coverage for the majority of the population, key changes to regional housing funding, and what ministers are describing as the biggest shift of power from Whitehall to local leaders in modern times.

However, Labour said that the plans contained no new money and little fresh thinking, with shadow levelling up secretary Lisa Nandy accusing Gove of “rehashing” plans for his white paper, “some of which are so old they were actually originally made by Gordon Brown when he was the Labour prime minister back in 2008”.

A key change in housing will see the current ‘80/20 rule’ scrapped. The rule which leads to 80% of government funding for housing supply being directed at ‘maximum affordability areas’ - in practice, London and the south east - will be scrapped, with much of the £1.8bn brownfield funding instead being diverted to transforming brownfield sites in the north and the Midlands. The metro mayors will be allocated £120m of this funding.

The proposals could also see a potentially huge shift of power from Whitehall to local leaders throughout the English regions. The government says it recognises that if it tries to level up the UK alone it will fail – a clear recognition of strong local leadership by mayors including Andy Street (West Midlands), Ben Houchen (Tees Valley) and Andy Burnham (Greater Manchester), with the government keen to replicate this success across England.

As a result, the government has invited the first nine areas to agree new county deals to begin negotiations for a new mayoral system. The nine areas will be Cornwall, Derbyshire & Derby, Devon, Plymouth and Torbay, Durham, Hull & East Yorkshire, Leicestershire, Norfolk, Nottinghamshire & Nottingham and Suffolk.

The white paper also announces negotiations for a new mayoral combined authority deal for York and North Yorkshire and expanded mayoral combined authority deals for the north east, as well as negotiations for ‘trailblazer’ devolution deals with the West Midlands and Greater Manchester to extend their powers, with these deals acting as blueprints for other mayoral combined authorities to follow. By 2030, say ministers, every part of England that wishes to have a ‘London-style’ devolution deal will have one.

Levelling up secretary Michael Gove said: “Not everyone shares equally in the UK’s success. For decades, too many communities have been overlooked and undervalued. As some areas have flourished, others have been left in a cycle of decline. The UK has been like a jet firing on only one engine. Levelling up and this white paper is about ending this historic injustice and calling time on the postcode lottery. This will not be an easy task and it won’t happen overnight, but our 12 new national levelling up missions will drive real change in towns and cities across the UK, so that where you live will no longer determine how far you can go.”

Reacting to the proposals, Lisa Nandy, Labour’s shadow secretary of state for levelling up, said: “This is deeply, deeply disappointing. There is no new money, no new powers. For all the slogans, when it comes to delivering, all we get is a government out of ideas and out of energy. We deserve so much more ambition than this. Ministers have had two-and-a-half years to get this right and all we’ve been given is more slogans and strategies, with few new ideas.”

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