One of the most ambitious government projects of modern times to increase prosperity across the country and level up between regions was launched today by Michael Gove.
In his trademark exuberant style, Gove presented the White Paper in the Commons, which included “12 big missions” the government wants to achieve by 2030, to “change the economic model” of the United Kingdom, improve the lives of those living in left-behind communities and “make opportunity more equal”. Some £150bn of fresh spending across all departments was earmarked in last year’s Spending Review to help fund some of the levelling up proposals.
So, what exactly is included in Downing Street’s plans? And does it live up to all the hype?
At the heart of the plan are the 12 missions which will be enshrined in law. Some are written in sweeping terms, such as supporting “well-being”, eradicating illiteracy, increasing “pride of place” and improving health inequalities and life expectancy in poorer regions by helping reduce obesity and other illnesses which are so prevalent in these areas.
Other proposals are far more specific. Public investment in research outside the South-East of England will increase by 40 per cent, and the number of people living in “non-decent rented homes” will be cut by half.
The document also promises the “biggest shift of power from Whitehall to local leaders in modern times”, allowing every part of England to access “London-style” powers with “a mayor if they wish to”. In more colourful language, Gove wants to see a Medici-style rennaissance of the regions, helping bring better education, improved skills and jobs to the forgotten towns of the north and downtrodden coastal towns.
Many of the missions are existing promises with funds already allocated to them, like bringing the country’s transport infrastructure “significantly closer” to London standards as seen in November’s Integrated Rail Plan (IRP).
Elsewhere in the report, the government appears to be scaling back some of its ambitions. For instance, access to gigabit-capable broadband for the “large majority” of households was expected to be in place by 2025, not 2030.
Labour’s Lisa Nandy was quick to pan Gove’s plan, accusing him and the government of attempting to regenerate the UK “on the cheap” with “rehashed, recycled money”.
Erica Roscoe from the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) think tank has asked where the billions to address regional inequality will come from: “The missing piece of the jigsaw puzzle right now, is how government is going to set about achieving and funding those targets.”
Yet Northern Tory MPs – who had previously spoken out against levelling-up U-turns such as the scaling-back of HS2 – felt positive about what they had heard. Jake Berry, Chairman of the Northern Research Group (NRG), said it was a “brilliant start” and that action must be taken immediately. Several regional Labour mayors also gave their support to many of the proposals.
Levelling-up presents an opportunity for the PM to reboot his leadership. He will be hoping the long-awaited report will shift the focus away from the Metropolitan Police’s investigation into the Partygate scandal and on to what he believes is the guiding aim of his premiership.
But with the new energy price cap set to be announced tomorrow, Johnson will have to tackle the cost-of-living crisis first before he gets to put levelling up into action.