Now level with us Boris Johnson over levelling up – Tom Richmond

IT is now time for Boris Johnson to be level with the people of the North and explain what he and his Ministers mean by the phrase “levelling up”.

Be level with us, Prime Minister, accept the invitation published by The Yorkshire Post on Thursday and write us one of your famous essays setting out your definition, objectives and how you intend to measure success.

Yet, while levelling up is the stock answer given by every Minister in a hole, the public suspects it is political speak for: do nothing.

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But it is not taxpayers who are confused as they continue to contact this newspaper about delays to trans-Pennine rail improvements which even precede the Northern Powerhouse.

Boris Johnson is being urged to define his 'levelling up' mission.

Significantly, public and political figures also appear to be unsure of the Government’s intentions as they press The Yorkshire Post to maintain the pressure on Downing Street.

In many respects, this is testament to the award-winning and agenda-setting One North and Power Up The North campaigns – unprecedented collaborations between dozens of newspapers.

They raised the issue of under-investment – one public servant said they had been more effective than lethargic bodies like Transport for the North and West Yorkshire Combined Authority – combined! – whose work remains a mystery to many despite tiers of empire-building bureaucrats who measure success by the number of meetings they hold, external affairs staff who don’t communicate and sundry others who cost the public purse eye-watering sums.

But, given how the PM won an electoral mandate on the back of levelling up promises, some vaguer than others, it is, in fact, a failure of political leadership that there are so few specifics when this region wants pounds rather than platitudes, even more so in the wake of Covid and Brexit.

Boris Johnson says the eastern leg of HS2 to Yorkshire remains an 'ambition', but what does he mean?

And while Transport Secretary Grant Shapps – also the Northern Powerhouse Minister – has outlined a number of schemes, he was more coy on the status of the eastern leg of HS2 while Johnson says it remains “absolutely unchanged” while, at the same time, describing it as an “ambition”. You make your minds up.

However education and skills matter as much as new regional and national rail links – and talk about transport infrastructure must not overlook the need for high-speed broadband.

Yet, with Education Secretary Gavin Williamson still in denial about the challenges facing the North’s schools and so many teachers and parents regarding him as little more than a hapless fool (the phrase “useful idiot” flatters him), Johnson should use the new year to press the reset button, put one Cabinet minister and department in charge of levelling up, move them here – and set clear objectives – before voters choose to get level with the Prime Minister at the ballot box.

I SUGGESTED that Theresa May make Tory grandee William Hague chief of staff when her premiership imploded because he had the gravitas, nous and experience of high office to offer candid advice without posing a threat.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps is also the Northern Powerhouse Minister.

Yet, while such advice is too late for May, there’s still time for Boris Johnson to hire his fellow Daily Telegraph columnist who remains an exceptional talent.

Why? Rotherham-born Hague hit the nail on the head this week which suggested that “2021 has to be the start of a new national purpose, articulated from the top” following Brexit and Covid.

He also articulated this agenda. “That purpose has to draw on our greatest strengths – our culture, education and openness – but use them to foster world-leading positions in key industries such as life sciences and artificial intelligence”. On second thoughts, why not put Lord Hague in charge of levelling up?

I SUPPOSE Jeremy Hunt, the former Health Secretary, was slightly less self-aggrandising with his Parliamentary questions this week to his successor Matt Hancock. Unlike the previous week’s love-in, Hunt did manage to make a passing reference to a new strain of Covid on Monday before devoting most of his remarks to Christmas shopping and, specifically, London’s Oxford Street.

Presumably this was for his own convenience but the rest of us have reason to expect more from the chair of the Health Select Committee on our behalf. Like the rules of engagements for new tiers – and why their application appears to be an even greater lottery than the Grand National.

JEREMY Hunt is symptomatic of a generation of politicians incapable of asking succinct questions. Toadying Tory MP Michael Fabricant – him with the blond bouffant to rival Boris Johnson – was cut off after 165 words and would still be going now if Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle had not intervened at PMQs.

Meanwhile, whilst Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer’s lawyer-like approach appears wooden, he was on the money when he raised the scandal of the 40 per cent salary hike given to the PM’s aide and lockdown villain Dominic Cummings when so many key workers, heroes of the year, face a pay freeze. Yet he did not persist. Who authorised it? Was it performance related? And why shouldn’t Downing Street aides be treated as equals to other public servants?

AFTER Christmas Day duties on this paper, I’m likely to be in the company of the police – reading Peter Robinson’s new paperback Many Rivers To Cross about DCI Alan Banks and trying to identify the North Yorkshire town depicted as Eastvale. It will be more entertaining than the TV.

In the meantime, have a happy, safe and, more importantly, healthy and responsible Christmas.

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