“Is this it?”: Labour says levelling up white paper offers “more of the same”

Elliot Chappell
© UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor

Lisa Nandy has argued that the Tories are “in freefall, out of ideas, out of energy” in response to a statement from Michael Gove on the government’s levelling up white paper, which she said offered only “more of the same”.

Addressing parliament this afternoon, after Gove claimed that levelling up is about “repairing the social fabric of our broken heartlands”, the Shadow Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Secretary asked the minister: “Is this it?”

She told MPs: “The system is completely broken, and he’s given us more of the same. This was meant to be the Prime Minister’s defining mission of government. I’m not surprised he was too embarrassed to come here and defend it himself.

“They tell us to wait till 2030. But where have they been for the last 12 years? I’ll tell him where. In Whitehall, turbocharging the decline of our communities. Cutting off choices and chances for a generation of young people.”

The government published the levelling up white paper today. Ministers have said the “12 missions” announced by Gove this afternoon, all targets for 2030, are aimed at ending what Boris Johnson has described as the “outrage” of regional inequality across the UK.

“He talks about 12 missions. This is 12 admissions of failure. Let’s take one of them: only two thirds of children leave primary school with the basic skills to get on. Forgive me if I’m missed something but wasn’t he the Education Secretary for four years?” Nandy asked Gove.

“What about this? They want to tackle crime but on their watch fewer than one in ten crimes are solved, and nearly all rapes go unprosecuted. Anyone would think he hadn’t been in charge of the justice department.”

She noted the government has scrapped rail promises in its levelling up agenda for the North and has halved the funding for bus services. The Labour frontbencher also asked the minister where the “digital Britain we were promised” is.

“Imagine what we could achieve if we had a government with an ambition for Britain that matched the ambition of the people in it. We could build good jobs in every community, there’s a global race to create these jobs,” Nandy said.

“We will bring them here so that young people in our coastal and industrial towns can power us through the next generation like their parents and grandparents powered us through the last. In every community in this country, people know we can do so much better than this.”

Gove told MPs during his statement that the government is committed to “turbocharging the potential” of the whole country. He promised an increase of “at least a third” in public investment outside of London and the South East of England.

“He talks about London-style regeneration. Not every part of the country wants to be the same. We have our own identities, we’re proud of our places. We believe in our communities and our people – and we deserve a government that backs us. But they’ve given more to fraudsters than they’ve given to the North,” Nandy said.

For every £13 they’ve taken off us, they’ve given us £1 back. We get a partial refund and they expect us to be grateful. It’s not their money, it’s ours. We want it back.”

Gove also argued that the government has a “clear” housing mission giving renters a “secure path to greater home ownership”, pledging to drive an increase in first-time buyers and “deliver a focus on tough standards in rented homes”.

“We need faster growth, quicker public services and higher wages and we need to allow overlooked and undervalued communities to take back control of their destiny,” the Secretary of State told parliament this afternoon.

“Because we know that while talent is spread equally across the UK, opportunity is not. Our country is an unparalleled success story but not everyone shares it… For every local success, there is a story of scarring and stagnation elsewhere, and that’s got to change.”

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 will “change the economic model” of the country. But Northern Powerhouse Partnership director Henri Murison said the paper only “offers a few sweeties” to “make up for” long-term neglect.

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