Government White Paper plans for more powers for local leaders in North East and North Yorkshire

The Government has announced plans to devolve more powers to local leaders in the North East and North Yorkshire, to help 'level up' the country.

Ministers are finally publishing their long-awaited Levelling Up White Paper, setting out their big-picture plans to tackle regional inequalities, and deliver on promises which helped the Conservatives gain seven new MPs in our region at the 2019 general election.

A central part of this is "the largest devolution of power from Whitehall to local leaders across England in modern times."

County Durham will be among nine initial parts of the country invited to agree new 'county deals', which the Government has previously said will mean local leaders, in rural as well as urban areas, getting powers over things like transport, skills and economic support.

The Government has also announced negotiations for a new combined authority, with a mayor and significant powers, covering York and North Yorkshire. Councils in North Yorkshire are currently in the process of being re-organised.

As well as this, ministers confirm there are negotiations for "an expanded mayoral combined authority deal for the North East". Labour's Jamie Driscoll was first elected in 2019 as mayor of the North of Tyne area, encompassing Northumberland, Newcastle and North Tyneside.

In 2016, councillors in Gateshead, South Tyneside, Sunderland and County Durham had voted against becoming part of the combined authority.

The Government has suggested that local leaders will now be given the option of whether they want to take up these offers, saying their plans include "every part of England getting a ‘London-style’ devolution deal if they wish to."

Labour however dismissed the plan as "more slogans" with "few new ideas".

What are the national "missions" in the White Paper?

In all, the White Paper features 12 national "missions" to be achieved by 2030 enshrined in a flagship Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill. They include:

  • Improving pay, employment, and productivity across the board while narrowing the disparities between the best and worst performing areas.

  • Promising to increase public research and development investment outside the Greater South East by at least 40% by 2030.

  • Bringing the rest of the country's local public transport systems much closer to London standards.

  • Ensuring the large majority of the country has access to 5G broadband.

  • Effectively eliminating illiteracy and innumeracy among primary school leavers with the Government's educational efforts focussed on the most disadvantaged parts of the country.

  • Ensuring hundreds of thousands more people get high quality skills training every year.

  • Narrowing gross disparities in healthy life expectancy.

  • Improving wellbeing in every area of the UK.

  • Halving the number of poor quality rented homes.

  • Rejuvenating the most run down town centres.

  • Delivering a significant decrease in serious crime in the most blighted areas.

  • Giving a devolution deal to every part of England that wants one.

Boris Johnson said it was the "most comprehensive, ambitious plan" of its kind that the country had ever seen, while Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove - the architect of the plan who will be responsible for driving through the changes - said it would end a "historic injustice".

"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," Gove said.

For Labour, Shadow Levelling Up Secretary, Lisa Nandy, said the plan fell far short of what the country needed, "Boris Johnson's answer to our communities calling for change is to shuffle the deckchairs - new government structures, recycled pots of money and a small refund on the money this Government have taken from us.

"This is not what we were promised. We deserve far more ambition this."