These 12 new levelling up directors on £144k a year will make fools of taxpayers as cost of living crisis deepens – Tom Richmond

THE London Government clearly has money to burn – despite the likelihood that working families will be plunged into poverty following the biggest drop in living standards since the 1950s.

On the day that Rishi Sunak delivered a Spring Statement that downplayed the cost of living crisis, the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities headed by Michael Gove started advertising for Levelling Up Directors.

However the numbers involved, and the remit, beggar belief. It is proposed that there will be 12 levelling up directors who “will live, breathe and champion the places they represent” covering 21 locations including Leeds and Sheffield. The likes of Belfast, Cardiff and Truro are also included.

This was Michael Gove, the Levelling Up Secretary, during a recent visit to Blackpool.

Described as “a single front door for places and an influential voice across Government”, directors will be paid between £120,000 and £144,000 a year.

Far more than an MP’s salary – and I already envisage former Parliamentarians applying for these jobs – it means a bill for taxpayers in the region of £1.75m a year as these directors basically compete in vanity competition for London’s policy scraps.

It’s also a good gig: “25 days annual leave on entry, increasing on a sliding scale to 30 days after five years’ service. This is in addition to eight public holidays. This will be complimented by one further day paid privilege entitlement to mark the Queen’s Birthday.”

But what I don’t understand is why a government allegedly committed to efficiency is proposing another tier of bureaucracy when each area is already served by local authorities – and metro mayors in many instances – who should know the policy priorities.

This was Boris Johnson and Michael Gove launching the Levelling Up White paper in Blackpool earlier this year.

Frankly, taxpayers don’t want more bureaucracy. They want greater efficiency. They hope to see spades in the ground, beginning to reverse decades of under-investment, rather than glorified jobsworths and political has-beens who know how to “lead through ambiguity effectively”.

And, yes, before you ask, that last point – leading through “ambiguity effectively” – is part of the job spec and not an early April fool. Enough said.

LET’S hope Chris ‘Failing’ Grayling has no aspirations to become a levelling up director. Even though he has been out of office for over two years, it’s no compensation to the 800 P&O Ferries staff sacked without warning and replaced by agency workers on as little as £1.80 an hour.

One of his actions as Transport Secretary was a little noticed change in the law which required shipping firms to give notice of large-scale redundancies to the country where the vessels in question were registered. This explains why DP World – owners of P&O – were able to circumvent employment laws.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson congratulates Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak after he delivered his Spring Statement in the House of Commons, London.

What was also perturbing was that so few backbench Tory MPs attended Monday’s emergency debate in the Commons over P&O sackings and employment rights when Grayling’s successor Grant Shapps suggested that P&O Ferries be asked to rename ships, like the Pride of Hull and Spirit of Britain, to reflect the Government’s disquiet.

There were just nine at the start of proceedings. They did not include Grayling – and all four Conservative MPs from the East Riding appeared to be absent.

And while Hull MPs Emma Hardy and Karl Turner were forthright with their contributions, their colleague Dame Diana Johnson was missing in action due to Covid.

She wanted to speak – but rules instigated by Jacob Rees-Mogg when Leader of the Commons mean MPs can only participate in proceedings, and votes, if they’re in attendance at the Commons. Sorry, but I think there should be exceptions when there are extenuating circumstances – like Covid – or when the issue matters so much to the MP’s area concerned.

SUCCESSIVE governments are to blame for shortcomings in transport investment here – and political correspondent Peter Riddell’s book 15 Minutes of Power: The Uncertain Life of British Ministers contains two vignettes that confirm this.

When Ken Clarke was handed a junior transport role in 1979, he recalls that “no one in Downing Street could tell me where the department was, let alone give me any other guidance as to what I was supposed to do”. Not much has changed.

It was little better 10 years later when Patrick McLoughlin, now chair of Transport for the North, was given the aviation and shipping brief. “There are two problems with that: I’ve got the most land-locked constituency (Derbyshire Dales) in the UK and I’m afraid of flying.”

To which Cecil Parkinson, the then Transport Secretary, replied: “Excellent, you’ll bring an open mind to this subject.”

TALKING of Ken Clarke, he stood by his Budgets. He never asked Treasury officials to scramble round and source supportive quotes from ‘stakeholders’.

Yet this is precisely what happened this week – some poor official had to obtain 14 testimonials that showed Chancellor Rishi Sunak in a good light and then send them out to the media. Not one, however, was from a member of the public. I can only assume Sunak was trying – and failing – to put ‘Brand Rishi’ before the politics and financial realities.

FINALLY a word of humble advice to our Queen ahead of Prince Philip’s memorial service – Her Majesty should not feel embarrassed if she needs to use a wheelchair due to her ailing physical health. Quite the opposite. There would be such an outpouring of affection that it might even prompt a new focus on the rights of disabled. Ten years on from the London Paralympics, it is frustrating that progress has stalled on this issue.

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