What Michael Gove and his colleagues can do to prove they are serious about Levelling Up - Mark Casci

“For these three nations, as or the regions of England itself, control over the locations of new factories and offices, inducements to firms to move where industries are declining, the establishment of new public enterprises where they prove necessary – all these measures will be required to check the present drift to the South and to build up the economies in other parts of the country.”

One could be forgiven for thinking these words could come from the latest Government press release talking up its levelling up agenda.

However the above is an extract from the 1964 Labour Party manifesto and just shows that plans to ‘level up’ are far from new. Harold Wilson, then Labour party leader, would go on to secure a tiny four-seat majority in the House of Commons and replace Alec Douglas-Home in Downing Street.

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Mr Wilson would go on to serve two stints as Prime Minister but these pledges on regional investment were far from realised.

All eyes on Michael Gove as he takes charge of the Levelling Up brief.

Since then the drive towards a more equally distributed economy have featured in myriad manifestos and plentiful speeches over the years.

And while I would not pretend that there have been numerous successes in terms of inward investment and regeneration in that time, the fact remains that the North of England remains less productive, less prosperous, less connected and less healthy than it should,

This weekend saw a move which could give us signs of hope. The antiquated hodgepodge that was the Department for Housing, Communities and Local Government, tasked with regional growth, now has fresh focus.

After years of the Northern Powerhouse brief being clumsily inserted into a vague ministerial brief, there is now a dedicated department overseeing it, dubbed the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities.

Harold Wilson when leader of the opposition. His party's 1964 manifesto contained lines on levelling up.

It will be headed by one of the Conservative Party’s veritable big beasts, in the form of Michael Gove.

Huddersfield native Neil O’Brien, referred to in some circles as Boris Johnson’s “levelling up guru” has been handed a junior role in the reconfigured department, and Andy Haldane, one of the world’s foremost economists is to be seconded to lead a new task force on the policy.

Given his track record as the Bank of England’s former chief economist and chair of the nation’s Industrial Strategy Council, one would be hard-pressed to find a more credentialed candidate than Guiseley-raised Mr Haldane.

However, savvy appointments and departmental rebrandings, while a step in the right direction, must now be a precursors to serious and wide-ranging action.The good news for Mr Gove and his team is that the first steps in this process are obvious. He can convince his Cabinet members that any hint of scrapping the Eastern leg of HS2 must be eradicated permanently with a firm commitment to build the Yorkshire leg – starting in Leeds – made prior to the publication Integrated Rail Plan and party conference season.

Rail travel across the north remains a paramount issue.

With this vote of confidence in the North, Mr Gove can then set about bolstering the powers of the North’s elected mayors and ensuring elections for a leader in North Yorkshire are held as soon as possible. Proposals to privatise Channel 4 should be kicked into touch and the proposed revamp of the Leeds Bradford Airport should be brought in from exile and backed in full.

As I type, I read that the £1.1bn upgrade of the Northern Line in the capital has been completed today, including two miles of tunnels and two new stations – all of this with none of the wailing and gnashing of teeth surrounding any Northern upgrade.

This template now needs to be the norm across the country – infrastructure always pays off in the end and those who doubted it were forgotten in an instant by the history books.

All eyes will now be on Mr Gove and his team. Will they be the ones who finally delivered on levelling up? Or will their words seem familiar yet dated, just like those of the 1964 manifesto.

While only time will tell, I wish them every success – and will be watching their every step.