Levelling up will not detriment London and the South, Boris Johnson says

ITV News Political Editor Robert Peston reports from Coventry on the PM's levelling up agenda

Boris Johnson has insisted his levelling up agenda is "win win" and not a "jam-spreading operation" as he rejected claims the plan would be to the detriment of London and the South.

Speaking at the UK Battery Industrialisation Centre in Coventry, the prime minister said: "We don’t want to decapitate the tall poppies, we don’t think that you can make the poor parts of the country richer by making the rich parts of the country poorer."

Mr Johnson announced a range of measures aimed at stimulating growth including putting "rings of steel" around towns plagued by county lines drugs gangs, investing £50 million in football pitches and giving eight city regions £4.2 billion funding to improve their transport networks.

Watch the PM's speech in full:

Mr Johnson criticised previous governments for the "basic half-heartedness" of their approach, which had been previously “coupled with an unspoken assumption by policymakers that investment should always follow success”.

“To use a football metaphor, the approach has always been to hang around the goalmouth rather than being the playmaker,” Mr Johnson said.

Labour dismissed the PM's speech, saying Number 10 lacked a proper regional strategy.

During a visit to Blackpool, Sir Keir Starmer said: "It is all soundbites and no substance, which is absolutely typical of this Prime Minister. He has given a speech on levelling up which has got nothing in it."

'The Prime Minister has got two words and nothing behind them'

Sir Keir continued: "He promises jam tomorrow – that is what this Prime Minister does – but there is no delivery. The government has been in power for 11 years. They need to be judged on that record.

"The words ‘levelling up’ are no substitute for a regional strategy that brings money, resource, infrastructure, skills all together around a regional plan. That is what Labour would do.

"The Prime Minister has got two words and nothing behind them."

Analysis of the PM's speech from ITV News Political Editor Robert Peston

The heart of Boris Johnson's levelling-up speech is the imperative of transferring power back to regions and localities.

He says he wants a more flexible approach to devolution in England.

He wants to see "shire mayors" or "county mayors" with the powers of metro mayors.

Mr Johnson says "the ketchup of catchup" is "leadership".

And he says he is not talking about himself but the importance of mayors.

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The prime minister focussed much of his attention on devolution which he said "after 20 years of trial and error" was beginning to show results.

"Cities that had seemed to be in long-term decline are now seeing a resurgence in their population and a growth in productivity that actually outstrips the rest of the country," he said.

He added the government needed to “rewrite the rulebook” and take a “more flexible approach to devolution” in England.

"The UK will never fit into some cookie cutter division into regions named after points of the compass," he said.

"But where there are obvious communities of identity and affinity and real economic geographies, there is a chance to encourage local leadership."

The Lib Dem's victory in the Chesham and Amersham by-election has led to worries in the Conservative party about the focus of the agenda. Credit: PA

Mr Johnson will also hope the promise not to take away from wealthier areas will keep traditional Tory voters onside after the recent loss in Chesham and Amersham by-election, which was a safe seat until taken by the Lib Dems last month.

He secured his place in No 10 by winning over traditional Labour voters to make massive gains for the Conservatives in the north of England and the Midlands.

A policy paper on levelling up policy paper is expected to be published in the autumn.

Labour described it as an "empty husk of a speech" and said the PM would be "pitching people and towns against each other".

'The prime minister's speech was gibberish nonsense'

Labour Deputy Leader Angela Rayner said: "The prime minister's speech was gibberish nonsense...it was a stream of consciousness of rehashed announcements."

"I'm really frustrated by the fact he thinks he can just keep jumping on the stage to say 'look at all these things I'm giving you' when in reality...he's not being honest with the public and he's not delivering."