Burnham welcomes levelling up funding outlined for Greater Manchester

Elliot Chappell

Andy Burnham has welcomed the funding outlined for Greater Manchester in the government’s levelling up white paper, acknowledging that it “may not be new money” but saying the minister has put forward “some positive proposals”.

Following a statement from Michael Gove on levelling up this afternoon, in which he said the government is committed to “turbocharging the potential” of the whole country, the Labour mayor said the levelling up white paper was “good as far as it goes for Greater Manchester”.

The government unveiled its white paper this morning. Labour has criticised the plan for not pledging any new money for its flagship policy. Shadow Levelling Up, Communities and Housing Secretary Lisa Nandy said it offered “more of the same“.

Burnham told Sky News this afternoon: “I can see why Lisa Nandy says what she says. I’m looking at it from a slightly different perspective, which is just what is in this for Greater Manchester. And there are some positive proposals in here.

“The government is offering us a trailblazer negotiation to deepen and strengthen the devolution agreement, in effect giving us more power here to do more for ourselves so of course I’m going to welcome that.

“We’ve also got some money for innovation – it may not be new money, but it is certainly money that we will be able to use to bolster research development here… It’s good as far as it goes for Greater Manchester but obviously if you’re looking at it from a national perspective, Lisa Nandy might come at it a different way.”

Gove told MPs during his statement today that levelling up is about “repairing the social fabric of our broken heartlands”. He promised an increase of “at least a third” in public investment outside of London and the South East of England.

“Levelling up has got to be real and they should start with transport infrastructure because, actually, you would travel around the North of England and think you were in a different country to London and the South East,” Burnham said.

“The North of England spoke with one voice on rail. Labour and Conservative politicians alike came together… and said, look, this is the plan that we want and they just ignored that. They came back with a cut-price plan.”

He told viewers this afternoon that Michael Gove appears “very committed to devolution” but that not all parts of the government are “buying in in the same way behind him”, adding: “I particularly don’t think the Treasury is buying in.”

“We have said we want London-style public transport and London-level fares here in Greater Manchester and the white paper talks that talk, which is encouraging. It says London-style transport for cities outside of London by 2030,” he said.

“But in a different part of the government forest you have the government cutting back the bus funding that it has supposedly made available to improve services. So there’s a kind of mismatch between what one bit of government is saying and what is actually going on in another. And that’s a recipe for broken promises.”

Also responding to the levelling up statement this afternoon, Jamie Driscoll likened the attempt to “control things from the centre” to a football player attempting to score from the centre circle: “It’s impressive, but it usually fails.”

“The government position to expand the mayoral combined authority for the North East is good news – we’re all the same conurbation. And it puts transport funding on the table,” the Labour North of Tyne mayor said.

But he added: “The 12 missions in the levelling up paper are sound. Who doesn’t want to close life expectancy differences, who doesn’t want better educational outcomes? But everybody knows you’re going to have to write a cheque if you want that to happen. Otherwise we’ll be having the same debate next year.”

Analysis of the £4.7bn allocated under the levelling up agenda to date shows has revealed that some of England’s poorest areas are receiving much less support than their more affluent counterparts. A further £1.8bn is still to be announced.

Ministers have argued that the 400-page document published today and the flagship policies of the government will “change the economic model” of the country. Director of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership Henri Murison, however, said the paper only “offers a few sweeties” to “make up for” long-term neglect.

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