'Out of ideas': Boris Johnson's 'rehashed and recycled' levelling up policy criticised

There is a great deal of scepticism around the plans, as Norther Reporter Hannah Miller explains

A levelling up plan announced by the government today is a "repackaged, rehashed and recycled" set of policies which show the prime minister is "out of ideas", Labour has said.

A new announcement says there will be a complete "system change" of how government works to ensure levelling up is implemented, a long-awaited White Paper has set out.

The document plans to "transform the UK by spreading opportunity and prosperity to all parts of it", Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove claims.

But his Labour counterpart, Lisa Nandy, criticised the Levelling Up White Paper as being a "series of rehashed announcements, some of which are so old they were actually originally made by Gordon Brown when he was the Labour prime minister in 2008".

Her boss, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, said: "Today’s set of repackaged, rehashed and recycled 'announcements' is yet another sign the Conservatives are out of ideas and out of energy."

The plans include what the government says will be the "biggest shift of power from Whitehall to local leaders", and will offer regions the chance to get 'London style' powers, and a mayor, if they want.

The government plans to narrow the disparities between the top and worst performing areas, and narrowing healthy life expectancy. Credit: PA Images

It comes as research reveals that only £36 per person, allocated through the government's levelling up fund, has gone to the parts of England most in need of it, despite the divide between places growing.

The New Economic Foundation says, since December 2019, real incomes have risen by less than £20 per year in the north-east, £80 per year in north-west and £90 in Yorkshire and the Humber.

In contrast, real incomes in London have increased by more than £600 per year, and by more than £550 in the south-east.

It also said previous studies showed more than half of people - 58% - across the country, including 63% of people in the north, have seen no evidence of levelling up in their community since 2019.

The heart of the new policy will be 12 national missions, including narrowing the disparities between the top and worst performing areas in pay, employment and productivity, narrowing healthy life expectancy and rejuvenating the most run down town centres and communities.

Each will be given status in law in a flagship Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill.

Mr Gove said: “Not everyone shares equally in the UK’s success.

"For decades, too many communities have been overlooked and undervalued. As some areas have flourished, others have been left in a cycle of decline.

"The UK has been like a jet firing on only one engine.

"Levelling Up and this White Paper is about ending this historic injustice and calling time on the postcode lottery.

“This will not be an easy task, and it won’t happen overnight, but our 12 new national levelling up missions will drive real change in towns and cities across the UK, so that where you live will no longer determine how far you can go."

Ms Nandy attacked the proposals as "12 admissions of failure", suggesting the need for change was caused by 10 years of Tory austerity.

The plan to establish more equal education and employment chances was a key tenet of Boris Johnson's offer at the 2019 general election, at which voters handed him a landslide majority.

The prime minister's pledge to deliver Brexit and create better jobs outside London saw the Conservatives take a number of seats in Labour's traditional heartlands.

Many of those areas across the Midlands and north of England hope to be among those to benefit from the Government's proposals.

Other benefactors however include regions such as Cornwall, Norfolk, Nottinghamshire & Nottingham and Devon, Plymouth & Torquay, who will be offered county devolution deals.

Arts and culture outside London will receive funding in the Levelling Up White Paper. Credit: PA Images

The White Paper will detail the largest devolution of power from Whitehall to local leaders across England - and promises that by 2030, every region that wishes to have a ‘London-style’ devolution deal will have one.

It added: "The government recognises the strong local leadership mayors like Andy Street, Ben Houchen and Andy Burnham have shown, and wishes to replicate this success across England."

The White Paper also announced negotiations for a new Mayoral Combined Authority deal for York and North Yorkshire and expanded Mayoral Combined Authority deal for the North East.

Alongside it will include negotiations for ‘trailblazer’ devolution deals with the West Midlands and Greater Manchester to extend their powers - with the deals acting as blueprints for other Mayoral Combined Authorities to follow.

The government's 12 Missions to Level Up the UK it hopes to achieve by 2030

  • Pay, employment and productivity will have risen in every area of the UK, with each containing a globally competitive city, with the gap between the top performing and other areas closing.

  • Domestic public investment in R&D outside the Greater South East will increase by at least 40% and at least one third over the Spending Review period, with that additional government funding seeking to leverage at least twice as much private sector investment over the long term to stimulate innovation and productivity growth.

  • Local public transport connectivity across the country will be significantly closer to the standards of London, with improved services, simpler fares and integrated ticketing.

  • The UK will have nationwide gigabit-capable broadband and 4G coverage, with 5G coverage for the majority of the population.

  • The number of primary school children achieving the expected standard in reading, writing and maths will have significantly increased. In England, this will mean 90% of children will achieve the expected standard, and the percentage of children meeting the expected standard in the worst performing areas will have increased by over a third.

  • The number of people successfully completing high-quality skills training will have significantly increased in every area of the UK. In England, this will lead to 200,000 more people successfully completing high-quality skills training annually, driven by 80,000 more people completing courses in the lowest skilled areas.

  • The gap in Healthy Life Expectancy (HLE) between local areas where it is highest and lowest will have narrowed, and by 2035 HLE will rise by 5 years.

  • Well-being will have improved in every area of the UK, with the gap between top performing and other areas closing.

  • Pride in place, such as people's satisfaction with their town centre and engagement in local culture and community, will have risen in every area of the UK, with the gap between the top performing and other areas closing.

  • Renters will have a secure path to ownership with the number of first-time buyers increasing in all areas; and the government’s ambition is for the number of non-decent rented homes to have fallen by 50%, with the biggest improvements in the lowest performing areas.

  • Homicide, serious violence, and neighbourhood crime will have fallen, focused on the worst-affected areas.

  • Every part of England that wants one will have a devolution deal with powers at or approaching the highest level of devolution and a simplified, long-term funding settlement.