But what neither the Prime Minister or anyone else could have foreseen was how just a few months later the coronavirus pandemic would upend ordinary life – and politics – as we knew it.
While the Government still insists it is pressing ahead with its ‘levelling up’ agenda, the scale of the challenge has undoubtedly grown much greater in the past year.
Research conducted on behalf of the Social Mobility Commission has revealed more than half of British adults believe the Covid crisis has increased the gap between social classes in the UK, while people in the North of England were the most likely to say they have suffered more in terms of education, employment and living standards.
Yorkshire has seen the slowest falls in Covid rates in the country as the vaccination programme has been rolled out – something attributed in part to the higher percentage of the population in workplace-based jobs like manufacturing compared to the white collar roles being done from home in larger numbers in London and the South-East.
Understandable scepticism about the Government’s true commitment to levelling up has followed the decision in the Budget to prioritise Tory shires such as the Chancellor’s own constituency of Richmond over ex-mining (and still Labour-voting) areas like Barnsley. Unless concrete and consistent action is taken, ‘levelling up’ is in danger of following George Osborne’s ‘Northern Powerhouse’ idea into the file of concepts that sound inarguable on paper but delivered much less than was hoped for in reality.
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