Prime Minister’s plan to ‘level up’ outside south-east England ‘incoherent and inconsistent’ says MPs
The Prime Minister’s plan to ‘level up’ the UK outside the south-east of England is “incoherent and inconsistent”, MPs have warned.
It comes after Boris Johnson made a speech last week on his flagship policy in which he warned that the per capita GDP of Wales was lower than East Germany.
“Even before the pandemic began the UK had and has a more unbalanced economy than almost all our immediate biggest competitors in Europe and more unbalanced than pretty much every major developed country,” he said.
However, a committee of MPs said that his programme for tackling regional inequality in the UK was too vague and could “fail to deliver meaningful change for people across the country”.
The cross-party Commons Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy committee said it was “disappointed” at how little detail had been put forward to explain what levelling up actually meant.
The committee’s report said: “Despite this focus on levelling up as a central theme in Government discourse, there remains a distinct lack of clarity as to what the Government actually means by levelling up, and subsequently, how the success or otherwise of the Government’s policy aim of levelling up can be assessed and evaluated.”
It added: “To date, the Government has provided no overall strategy for the agenda or a vision for what a levelled-up UK might look like in the future.”
Darren Jones, chair of the BEIS Committee, said: “Last week, the Prime Minister flunked his opportunity to explain what levelling up is and instead revealed that the Government has failed miserably in translating a political soundbite into a deliverable programme of Government.
“Previous Governments, of all political stripes, have sought to tackle the regional inequalities which exist in our country.
“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.
“Levelling up was a major part of the Governments offer to the British people at the last election, but it appears every possible funding stream from government – be it about bus stops or football pitches is labelled as for levelling up.
“If levelling up is going to mean something above and beyond the normal day-to-day work of government, the Prime Minister needs to set out how he’s going to pay for it.
“Regional and local devolution in England is incoherent and inconsistent.
“If we are going to create a more equal economy for people across the country, the Government must explain how local councils, mayors, powerhouses, local enterprise partnerships and other organisations will be given the powers and capacity to deliver; and, crucially, what will happen in parts of the country that don’t have powerhouses or mayors.”
Delivering his ‘levelling up ‘speech last week, Boris Johnson said that previous governments had tended to invest in parts of the UK that were already successful.
“The tendency has been to hang around the goal mouth instead of being the playmaker,” he said.
“So you end up investing in areas where house prices are already high, where transport is already congested, and by turbocharging those areas, especially in London and the south-east, you drive prices even higher.
“And you force more and more people to move to the same expensive areas.”
Despite being accused by the Welsh Government of a hostile attitude to devolution, Boris Johnson said that the UK was also too politically centralised and needed more devolution.
He argued that England was too centralised and Whitehall was incapable of taking the right decisions to tackle the “glaring imbalances” across the country.
“This country is not only one of the most imbalanced economies in our neighbourhood, in the developed world, it is also one of the most centralised ones,” he said. “Those two defects are obviously connected.
“If you look at France and Germany, other European G7 economies, the level of productivity across their great cities is much more comparable.”
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