Jury out on levelling up

With political instability and an energy crisis raging, can levelling up Britain get any priority from the government?Jim takes a comprehensive look at the White Paper as a new row blows up between the Prime Minister and Greater Manchester's mayor over clean air fines.

Jim Hancock

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THE GERMAN WAY

Since unification, the German government has spent two trillion euros on levelling up the old East Germany with the western part of the country.

To deal with the problems of another country with major regional disparities, the UK, Michael Gove is having to make do with the cash announced in last year’s spending review. It is a tidy sum for the Levelling Up Secretary but lacks the scale and commitment needed for the task.

Furthermore, the German government have worked through their powerful lander, or regional governments, dealing with politicians who know the local needs. In 2010 the Coalition government here scrapped the Regional Development Agencies and Assemblies which were well placed to tackle many of the problems that 12 years on remain to be tackled.

FOUL AIR

The White Paper was published on the very day that the row between Greater Manchester and the government over the conurbations clean air zone exploded.

The government set Greater Manchester a legal directive to deal with dangerously polluted streets that exist all over the county. The Mayor in attempting to comply, was set to introduce big fines for buses, lorries and taxis that emit illegal fumes in May. Following a storm of protest, he wants more talks with the government. They should be lively because the Prime Minister has called Burnham’s plan “completely unworkable.”

To paraphrase Theresa May this week, did Johnson not understand his own directive to Greater Manchester? Did he not read it?

It is another classic example of the Prime Minister looking for an easy headline to bash the Labour mayor and try and prevent a few more envelopes being delivered to Sir Graham Brady from Greater Manchester Tory MPs.

But in the context of levelling up, it suggests that the programme is not going to have an easy path to implementation because the government want more mayors and most of them are likely to be Labour.

LANCS AND CHESHIRE.

As Downtown’s Managing Director Frank McKenna has pointed out it is striking how, despite the clean air row, it is Greater Manchester that is mentioned for new deals whilst the White Paper is silent on devolution to Lancashire and Cheshire. They may be able to get “county deals” without a mayor but will need to show the Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove that they are serious

SO, WHAT DO WE HAVE?

The Levelling Up White Paper is ambitious in its scope with twelve “missions” to improve everything from school standards and broadband reception to housing and football fields.

To achieve these missions is going to require government departments to work together, something that is notoriously difficult. Gove does have an interdepartmental remit. He will need to use it

There are measurable targets so we can have some idea if progress is being made.

There is a pledge to get London centric bodies to look outwards to the regions and scrap some of the formula for grants that have always favoured the southeast, particularly on transport.

A STORMY BAPTISM

This is the major effort by the Tory government to hold on to the northern supporters it gained in 2019. However, the White Paper is being launched with a huge cost of living crisis breaking and the future of the Prime Minister by no means assured.

Levelling Up is going to have to fight hard for attention and prioritisation in the coming months.

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