Gove sets out ‘levelling up’ plans to reshape UK economy and society

Michael Gove said the measures would support ‘overlooked and undervalued’ parts of the country.

02 February 2022

Michael Gove promised to reshape British economy and society under the Government’s “levelling up” agenda, but was criticised for a lack of ambition by Labour while a senior Tory hit out at his “socialist” plans.

The Levelling Up Secretary based his plan around 12 national “missions” covering areas including economy, housing, education, transport and culture with targets for dramatic improvements by 2030.

But Labour pointed to the Tories’ record in office since 2010 “turbocharging the decline of our communities”.

Setting out the contents of a much-anticipated White Paper, Mr Gove told MPs it would “make opportunity more equal and to shift wealth and power decisively towards working people and their families”.

“We need to allow overlooked and undervalued communities to take back control of their destiny,” he said.

“Because we know that, while talent is spread equally across the United Kingdom, opportunity is not.”

Boris Johnson made “levelling up” a key theme of his 2019 election campaign, but the Covid-19 pandemic and the hit it caused to the nation’s finances have complicated efforts to develop the strategy.

Funding for schemes announced in the plan comes from allocations previously set out in the spending review, rather than new pots of cash.

Mr Gove said boosting business activity in poorer areas towards the national average would dramatically improve the UK’s economy by “tens of billions of pounds each year”.

But the measures were also about “repairing the social fabric of our broken heartlands”, with 20 new urban regeneration projects, starting in Wolverhampton and Sheffield but extending across the Midlands and northern England, with £1.8 billion in new housing projects.

The plans also involve devolving powers from Whitehall to England’s cities and regions, enabling them to “take back control”.

Measures highlighted by Mr Gove included:

– More than £100 million for “innovation accelerators” in the West Midlands, Glasgow and Greater Manchester.

– Some £5 billion of investment in bus services and “active travel”.

– A new, digital  “national academy” to provide “high quality online teaching” to all pupils in the country.

– Priority for “British firms and British jobs” in Government procurement activity.

Shadow levelling up secretary Lisa Nandy said the plan amounted to “ministers scurrying around Whitehall shuffling the deckchairs, cobbling together a shopping list of recycled policies and fiddling the figures”.

She told Mr Gove: “Only two thirds of children leave primary school with the basic skills to get on.

“Forgive me if I’m missed something but wasn’t he the education secretary for four years?”

Meanwhile Tory former minister Steve Baker hit out at the “socialist” plans.

“We should be using our 80-seat majority to implement Conservative policies, not policies that wouldn’t look out of place in Labour’s manifesto,” he said.

But the Northern Research Group of Tory MPs said: “We are happy that not only has the Government set out a bold timescale in which to deliver levelling up by 2030, but that the Government has also embraced many of the ideas set out by the Northern Research Group, including attracting foreign direct investment devolution and driving up educational skills and standards.”

POLITICS LevellingUp
(PA Graphics)

In all, the White Paper includes 12 national “missions” to be achieved by 2030 to be enshrined in a flagship Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill.

They include a promise that public investment in research and development outside the “greater South East” of England will increase by at least 40%; more than 90% of children will leave England’s primary schools meeting the expected standards in reading, writing and maths and the gap in healthy life expectancy between will have narrowed between the highest and lowest areas.

Institute for Fiscal Studies director Paul Johnson said some of the targets were “highly unlikely to be met”, there was “little detail on how most of them will be met, and less detail on available funding”.

He added: “Meeting the core ambition of simultaneously improving education and skill levels and availability of high paying jobs in poorer regions will prove extremely challenging.

“Without that, levelling up will not happen.

“It will require the level of focus that has gone into this White Paper being developed and maintained over decades.”

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