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Johnson promises access to opportunity for all in levelling up plan

PA News

Boris Johnson is promising to break the link between “geography and destiny” as the Government publishes its long-awaited blueprint for “levelling up” the country.

The White Paper will set out a series of wide-ranging national “missions” – from improving public transport to ensuring access to 5G broadband – to be enshrined in law.

At the same time, ministers are promising to provide more power to the regions in a “devolution revolution” with the offer of a London-style deal for any area of England that wants one.

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

The move comes as Mr Johnson struggles to regain the political initiative after the battering he has taken over lockdown parties in Downing Street and the Sue Gray report.

Michael Gove said the plan would end a ‘historic injustice’ (Steve Parsons/PA)
Michael Gove said the plan would end a ‘historic injustice’ (Steve Parsons/PA)

The promise to “level up” forgotten and deprived communities was a key theme of his 2019 general election campaign which saw the Tories make huge gains in Labour’s previously impregnable “red wall” heartlands.

In all, the White Paper includes 12 national “missions” to be achieved by 2030 to be enshrined in a a flagship Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill.

The first is to improve pay, employment, and productivity across the board while narrowing the disparities between the best and worst performing areas.

A research and development mission promises to increase public R&D investment outside the Greater South East by at least 40% by 2030.

Others include bringing the rest of the country’s local public transport systems much closer to London standards and ensuring the large majority of the country has access to 5G broadband.

There is a missions to effectively eliminate illiteracy and innumeracy among primary school leavers with the Government’s educational efforts focussed on the most disadvantaged parts of the country.

There are also commitments to ensure hundreds of thousands more people get high quality skills training every year while gross disparities in healthy life expectancy is narrowed.

The paper promises to halve the number of poor quality rented homes, rejuvenate the most run down town centres and deliver a significant decrease in serious crime in the most blighted areas.

Every part of England will get a London-style devolution deal if they want one.

Lisa Nandy said the plan fell far short of what the country needed (Gareth Fuller/PA)
Lisa Nandy said the plan fell far short of what the country needed (Gareth Fuller/PA)

Mr Johnson said it was the “most comprehensive, ambitious plan” of its kind that the country had ever seen.

“From day one, the defining mission of this Government has been to level up this country, to break the link between geography and destiny so that no matter where you live you have access to the same opportunities,” he said.

“The challenges we face have been embedded over generations and cannot be dug out overnight, but this White Paper is the next crucial step.”

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”.

“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,” he said.

“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.”

For Labour, shadow levelling up secretary Lisa Nandy said the plan fell far short of what the country needed.

“Ministers have had two-and-a-half years to get this right and all we been given is more slogans and strategies, with few new ideas,” she said.

“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.”

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