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Opinion

The UK Government’s levelling up plan is a pile of piffle – its instincts is to centralise power, not give it away

02 Feb 2022 4 minute read
Boris Johnson. Picture by No 10 Downing Street (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).

Ifan Morgan Jones

The UK Government is one of the most over-centralised democratic nations on earth. It’s over-centralised politically, culturally and financially.

If this Levelling Up paper is to be welcomed it’s as a recognition of that fact. Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove speaks of the “historic injustice” that  “as some areas have flourished, others have been left in a cycle of decline”.

But in terms of dealing with the problem, he’s bringing a pea shooter to a bazooka fight. There is nothing in 350 pages of re-heated jargon that is going to overturn decades of drawing more and more power into Westminster and Whitehall.

There’s no new funding here and the overall budget of £2.6bn to be spent on the Shared Prosperity Fund is trifling in UK-wide context. That’s under half what the UK Government overspent on PPE in England during the pandemic.

It would take trillions to bring about any serious ‘levelling up’ of the UK outside of London, especially in those post-industrial communities that have suffered the greatest neglect.

But more than that, it will take a complete change of mindset. That’s particularly true of this government whose ‘muscular unionism’ has seen more, not less, power drawn to the centre.

It’s ironic that while the paper talks of a historic devolution of power within England, it also intends to completely bypass the Welsh and Scottish governments when handing out local funding.

This is portrayed as giving greater power to local councils and MPs. But crucially, of course, they are not the people deciding whether they get the money or not.

Real devolution of power would be to give them the money and let them decide what they want to do with it. Asking them to beg for money then have someone in Whitehall make the decision about whether they get it or not isn’t putting power in the hands of local communities.

Bypass

Ultimately, the only thing that will ‘level up’ the country is a determination by Westminster and Whitehall to let go of the reins of power.

That would involve giving the regions of England and the nations of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland money based on a fair means-tested system and allowing them, without constant interference, to decide how it is spent.

Only by trusting in that local expertise would we, over decades, see at least an attempt to return to some kind of economic parity across the country.

This isn’t that plan. It’s an attempt to meet a manifesto commitment by hosing us down with jargon until everyone is too confused and bored to argue back.

That this document seems to have been rushed out as part of an attempt to distract attention from Prime Minister’s Boris Johnson’s political troubles is also telling.

The nations and regions of the UK aren’t just judged to be less important than Westminster, but even the career of one man.

‘Levelling Up’ is this government’s ‘Big Society’ – a slogan much repeated to sound embracing and fill empty space on the radio and in articles but which will, I suspect, end up having very little practical impact.

For a real indication of the direction of travel we should look instead towards the upcoming Brexit Freedoms Bill.

This bill would allow No 10 to “shortcut” the scrapping of EU regulations without primary legislation.

In other words, it would allow the UK Government to bypass even Westminster – let alone devolved governments – when it wants to make changes.

I predict that there will be no 350 pages of waffle when it comes to implementing that change. Which shows us what this UK Government’s political instincts really are.


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Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
7 months ago

You mentioned by-pass, we could do with a bit of levelling up here at home…south to north !

Last edited 7 months ago by Mab Meirion
I.Humphrys
I.Humphrys
7 months ago
Reply to  Mab Meirion

If it’s too expensive, we could start using tolls to pay for it. Next doors lot could therefore help us get our N – S dual carriageway? To aid this, we will also have to reinstate the bridge tolls. This is not pie in the sky. Take a look at Britain Is Doomed: Jeremy Clarkson.

Last edited 7 months ago by I.Humphrys
Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
7 months ago
Reply to  I.Humphrys

Interesting, but I was speaking primarily of investment in tarmac in this case. It is perverse to deny others the opportunity to make the best of a community’s assets and energy. Like Traws and its ‘on off’ power station the aerodrome has been an empty promise…common land that has been enclosed, kidnapped even or a toy given without the permission to play with it…in Llanbedr’s case now it is our own side that is being the playground bully. As for the boy racer I might risk it…I like the idea that those who holiday here contribute one way or the… Read more »

Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
7 months ago
Reply to  Mab Meirion

My cleverer half has just pointed out that Levelling Up could start with Ministerial Positions…Talk about bias…between North and South…

Steve Duggan
Steve Duggan
7 months ago

Let’s face it, Westminster is never going to change, it has been set in its ways since the centralisation imposed by the Normans. It wants the political control as this leads to complete financial control, which means more money for those at the top. More devolution, whether to the other nation of the UK or other parts of England means less control, eventual powerful compitition and smaller profits. The only ways to stop this is revolution (not advocated here) or independence (and that includes for parts of northern England and Cornwall). As a result of this stubborness to relinquish control… Read more »

Eric llaw
Eric llaw
7 months ago
Reply to  Steve Duggan

Totally agree it us the only way we will get fully functioning hospitals in Powys and not have to rely on those in England.

Kerry Davies
Kerry Davies
7 months ago

Some say that the Levelling Up Programme is a straight cut’n’paste of a less well funded Gordon Brown’s industrial strategy that George Osborne killed off with his unnecessary and damaging “austerity”.
Twelve years later, no change from Tories.

Y Cymro
Y Cymro
7 months ago

The English Tories are rabid centrists. Criminality is their forte. Lying comes natural. They don’t build bridges but erect walls like Edward the 1st did with his Iron Ring ethic cleansing & strangulation of Wales. England is the Conservatives main priority. And the demoting and demeaning of Wales whilst perpetuating the false idea that this so-called United Kingdom is a “Union of Equals” when it is not. The British Union is a facade and Wales its prisoner. Recently the Conservatives leveling up announcement has meant Wales Senedd undemocratically bypassed by Whitehall with areas in Wales, largely Tory voting constituencies, receiving… Read more »

I.Humphrys
I.Humphrys
7 months ago
Reply to  Y Cymro

Some of your comments should be on our pamphlets.

Mandi A
Mandi A
7 months ago
Reply to  I.Humphrys

Yes, less appointing directors and more get on with the job in hand. We know the narrative. The only bit that is missing is the “1000 years” fascist trope, although Boris came pretty close today with his Medicis and Roman Empires. Levelling Up, economic regeneration, post-war reconstruction, all the same stuff for generations of people. Levelling Up can’t happen without a radical shake-up of the organisational structures and decision-making processes. ‘Silos’ we used to call them, little power grabs. When there is cross-departmental cooperation, data sharing and a focus on the person not the systems, we might start to see… Read more »

Last edited 7 months ago by Mandi A
Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
7 months ago
Reply to  Mandi A

It does look as if NHS privatisation is being driven by ‘Doctors for Profit’, just remember what Nye said about them…

Peter Cuthbert
Peter Cuthbert
7 months ago
Reply to  Y Cymro

Just a thought, but a Party whose political philosopy is based on the writings of Ayn Rand is NOT centrist. However I agree with the rest of your thoughts.

hdavies15
hdavies15
7 months ago

Just a thought – When a man has difficulty with the concepts of truth and lies it is also possible that he can’t differentiate between up and down !.

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