Treasury move to the North risks tokenism – Tom Richmond

THERE is one ominous omission from Rishi Sunak’s latest Facebook film listing his five political priorities – levelling up.

It’s also a curious oversight because of the growing belief that his Budget on March 3 will finally formalise a past pledge to move part of the Treasury to the North.

Evidently three locations – Leeds, York and Darlington – are in the running. Leeds is said to be favourite, in part because of its expertise in financial services.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

But it is also important that this decision doesn’t pay ‘lip service’ to past promises by the Chancellor and Boris Johnson, the Prime Minister, to relocate parts of Whitehall to the regions.

Chanclelor Rishi Sunak is preparing to move part of the Treasury to the North.

This anticipated announcement will only have genuine merit if the new Treasury base effectively becomes the long-awaited and even longer-overdue Ministry for the North with the task of creating a new era of opportunities in a spirit of national unity not seen for years.

This requires the recruitment of a generation of civil servants who are steeped in the North and understand that the solutions here, and in other regions, will be different to those of the capital and Home Counties.

It also needs Treasury staff to actually live here rather than make the occasional trip here or rely on Zoom meetings – their outlook will be shaped by their experience of public services like schools and skills.

And, in my view, this mini-department will need to be headed by a fully-fledged Cabinet minister who can provide the necessary authority and accountability to accelerate a new era of growth in all regions. This is an opportunity – and I sincerely hope that Sunak makes it the centrepiece of his economic recovery plan after failing to signify his intentions in his mini-spending review towards the end of last year.

Leeds is in line to be the new Northern base of the Treasury.

But it will require the Government to define its levelling up mission – a policy prospectus which has been made even more urgent by the Covid catastrophe – and begin to match its platitudes with pounds and pence to signify that this is how to best recover from the pandemic.

And that will only happen when the Prime Minister is clear in his own mind – and prepared to be level with people – about how his government intends to revive the regions for a generation. At the moment there’s no plan.

TALKING of levelling up, or levelling down in this instance, there was no assuredness from Gavin Williamson when the Education Secretary read out a pre-prepared speech to Parliament in a debate over online learning and free meals.

Some of the assertions appeared to come a surprise to him, presumably because he’s now Education Secretary in name only, as I pointed out last week.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak in Northallerton last summer.

It’s just a shame that Williamson’s speech-writer didn’t slip the words ‘I 
will resign’ into the text. If they had 
done so, I’m quite certain that the Secretary of State would have read out the words.

He couldn’t even answer the question ‘is your best good enough?’ when pressed later in the week by Nick Robinson on the BBC’s Today programme. A confident politician would have blagged it and said ‘yes’.

Meanwhile Wes Streeting, the Shadow Education Minister, is said to have won political plaudits for saying: “If the Prime Minister had any judgment, he would have sacked the Secretary of State, and if the Secretary of State had any shame, he would have resigned.”

The remarks came on Monday – nearly a fortnight after The Yorkshire Post had made the same argument. Just saying...

THE silence was deafening when Labour asked HS2 Minister Andrew Stephenson to give a commitment that the leg of the high-speed line to Leeds will be built.

Labour spokesman Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi even said: “I am happy to give way to the Minister if he wants to make that commitment now.”

There was an agonising pause for a good few seconds while Stephenson remained in his seat, shuffling awkwardly as the camera panned on him. “That is disappointing,” said Singh.

It is also inauspicious because such projects require long-term commitment if they’re ever to materialise and increase capacity on a creaking network still at the mercy of Victorian infrastructure.

FOR the benefit of those households being harassed by ScottishPower to allow smart meters to be fitted during the lockdown, the energy provider tells me it is taking action against over-zealous call centre staff.

Yet, while such work is illegal in Scotland under Covid laws, it is less clear cut in England where they say “smart meter installations are still permitted”.

However, following questions from this correspondent, it says customers have the right to cancel or delay appointments. Let’s hope that ScottishPower and other energy firms amend their spiel.

AN odd choice of words from Priti Patel when discussing lockdown restrictions on the BBC: “As you’ve heard me say too frequently...”

No Home Secretary, it’s only now that the Government has deemed you trustworthy to speak now and again. For, on the missing police records, Patel was absent from the Commons. Why?

PLEASE can someone gently remind Andrew Marr that he works for the BBC – and not the London Broadcasting Corporation – after his first three questions to NHS chief executive Sir Simon Stevens were all about the Covid crisis in the capital.

Does he think the virus has not reached the regions – or do they not count?

Support The Yorkshire Post and become a subscriber today. Your subscription will help us to continue to bring quality news to the people of Yorkshire. In return, you’ll see fewer ads on site, get free access to our app and receive exclusive members-only offers. Click here to subscribe.