The Prime Minister pledged to help ‘left-behind towns’ in his first speech in 2019 – but has now missed his own deadline to get a White Paper published by Christmas
Boris Johnson’s flagship plan for ‘levelling-up’ has been delayed until next year.
Tory ministers had pledged a White Paper by Christmas on how to “improve livelihoods” in left-behind towns – two and a half years after a pledge by the PM.
But it has now been pushed back into early 2022 after ministers failed to carve out a gap in the busy pre-Christmas schedule.
New Levelling-Up Secretary Michael Gove is understood to hope it will be the government’s first major intervention of 2022.
It came amid reports there had been a clash with Chancellor Rishi Sunak over cash.
Mr Sunak announced a £4.8bn ‘Levelling Up Fund’ at October’s Spending Review, with £1.7bn in the first round of bids and a second round of bids next year.
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It’s claimed the Chancellor has insisted he will not increase the total. A source told the Mail on Sunday: “Michael has plenty of ideas but the Treasury is reluctant to bankroll them. We need more cost-effective ideas.”
Mr Gove’s draft ideas include letting parts of rural England elect American-style “governors” with sweeping powers like those of the Mayor of London.
But Shadow Levelling-Up Secretary Lisa Nandy said: “The Government’s commitment to level up our communities is in complete disarray. After two years of empty slogans and broken promises it is now crystal clear Ministers haven’t been able to come up with a single new idea to make good on the promises they made to level up our communities, beyond more boards, bureaucracy and quangos.
“Far too many parts of our country are held back for lack of power and investment. We were promised a serious plan to meet that challenge. Nothing less will do.”
A government source played down a row with Mr Sunak, insisting the Levelling Up Fund would only be one part of the White Paper.
Boris Johnson won the 2019 election on promises to level-up northern and Midlands towns.
In his first speech as Prime Minister in summer 2019, he pledged to “answer at last the plea of the forgotten people and the left behind towns”, adding: “It is time we unleashed the productive power not just of London and the South East but of every corner of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.”
But hopes of a quick plan have repeatedly been dashed and No10’s levelling-up advisor, the Tory MP Neil O’Brien, was only brought on board in May.
Michael Gove said in May: “Later this year, the Government will publish a landmark levelling-up White Paper, which will set out bold new policy interventions to improve livelihoods and opportunity.”
The October Spending Review added: “The Levelling Up White Paper to be published later this year will set out further detail on the government’s plans in this area.”