Johnson’s levelling up plan lacks definition and planning, say MPs

Boris Johnson’s plan to “level up” depressed areas of the UK to close the gap with London and the south-east risks becoming an “everything and nothing policy” that lacks definition, coordination and planning, according to an all-party group of MPs.

In a report on progress towards boosting regional health and economic activity, MPs said the government needed to come forward with coherent proposals with more detail about the outcomes communities could expect from a levelling-up agenda and how success will be measured.

The Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (Beis) committee said that while it understood the pressure on ministers during the pandemic, it was alarmed at the slow progress towards developing the economic policy, raising “concerns that the levelling up agenda will fail to deliver meaningful change for people across the country”.

The business minister, Kwasi Kwarteng, signalled that a white paper is due in the autumn, setting out how the government will push ahead with extra spending and investment to close income gaps across the UK.

Boris Johnson pledged to raise the level of income in the regions during his bid to be Conservative party leader in 2019, and included a commitment in the Conservative manifesto to “levelling up every part of the UK – not just investing in our great towns and cities, as well as rural and coastal areas, but giving them far more control of how that investment is made”.

Speaking in Coventry earlier this month, Johnson said he wanted to end the idea that “Whitehall knows best” and set out a vision for locally accountable mayors across England who would be “the yeast that lifts the whole mattress of dough, the magic sauce, the ketchup of catchup”.

His speech was criticised as providing “nothing new” by thinktanks, including the Institute for Fiscal Studies and IPPR North, which said it was time for “deeds not words”.

The Beis committee report said the government was unclear about whether the agenda extended to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland or just covered the regions of England. There was also a lack of coordination between departments as they developed initiatives directed at poorer regions.

“The current available documents show a wide-ranging and disjointed programme of random policies from an obesity strategy, an increase in police officers, to funding on A-roads and the creation of freeports,” the report said.

“Although these policies are all very interesting and welcome, it is difficult to see how they all tie together under one overarching strategy. The cohesion of the whole has not been well described to identify how these fit together.

“If the government is serious about levelling up and for it to be a substantive strategy rather than merely a slogan, it must spell out a coherent plan as a matter of urgency,” it added.

Darren Jones, the committee’s chair, said ministers failed to show what problems they wanted to cure when they gave evidence.

“For levelling up to be more than a political soundbite, it’s crucial the government’s white paper sets out what levelling up is, what the policy priorities are, and how Whitehall will work with local and regional government to deliver meaningful change for people and communities across the country," hy het gesê.

The report found that disparities in income levels could be found within regions as well as between regions, which it said demanded a more sophisticated and nuanced response.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development said in 2016 that the UK had the sixth highest regional economic disparities among 30 member countries with comparable data, the report said.

In 2019, London accounted for 22.7% of UK national income (GDP), with the south-east adding another 14.8%, giving them a combined GDP of 37.5% covering 26.8% of the UK population.

Egter, in a league table of all English regions, London had the largest percentage of people in relative poverty and only the fourth highest average level of disposable income in 2019 once housing costs were taken into account.

Arbeid, which has pledged to spend £30bn on green projects mostly in the regions, said the report highlighted “the hollowness of government commitments to tackling the inequalities our country faces”.

The shadow business minister, Ed Miliband, gesê: “The Conservatives are not serious either in real devolution of powers and decision-making or a real commitment to end the austerity that has devastated services and communities across the country.”

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