Why job spec for Michael Gove’s £144k levelling up directors is flawed and represents the Civil Service at its worst – Jayne Dowle

I’M thinking of applying for a job. The department headed by my old boss, journalist-turned-politician Michael Gove, is advertising for 12 new director roles at the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC).

They’ve got to have local knowledge, apparently, and be good at leading “through ambiguity effectively, with the personal resilience to work under sustained pressure and scrutiny”.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

Mr Gove would perhaps agree that 30-odd years as a journalist is good practice for both of the above.

Mchael Gove is the Levelling Up Secretary as the search begins for a series of regional levelling up directors.

Sadly, I hate meetings, Zoom or otherwise, and I don’t have the wardrobe for the job. I’d love to be a fly on the wall at the interviews however. The first question to ask should be: “Is this job strictly necessary?”

We already have local council leaders, metro mayors and MPs, many of whom are highly-committed to the levelling-up agenda, plus numerous bodies working towards improving economic performance in key levelling-up locations.

What is the point of another level of bureaucracy? While the government will argue that putting placemen (and women, obviously) in left-out locations represents their commitment to levelling up, it can also be argued that it’s already an admission of failure.

The idea of ‘levelling up’ was first articulated in the Conservative party manifesto in 2019. I know we’ve had a pandemic, but it’s taken three long years to get this far.

Cities like Leeds are to receive their own levelling up director.

I always understood – I may be wrong – that levelling up was to be endemic within and across all aspects of Mr Johnson’s government, not bolted on by careerists on bloated salaries, more even than a MP earns.

If I was playing devil’s advocate, I’d ask each of the candidates to defend their own position. And just as parents must fulfil catchment criteria when applying for sought-after schools, and MPs are expected to retain a home in their constituency, I’d ask them where they live now and where they expect to live if they get the job.

These newly-created roles will cover each of the nine English regions – including Yorkshire and the Humber. There will also be a director each for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Levelling up directors are expected to “live, breathe and champion the places they represent.

Mchael Gove is the Levelling Up Secretary as the search begins for a series of regional levelling up directors.

They will be based in local areas, draw on an existing network of local leaders and have a track-record in solving complex delivery problems on the ground”.

Furthermore, it’s expected that they will have “local area knowledge for the region in which you will be based, or the ability to acquire this quickly”.

That should strike a warning bell. This doesn’t mean being like Chancellor Rishi Sunak, who lives in a multi-million-pound mansion in his constituency of Richmond in North Yorkshire. ‘Local knowledge’ is not organising a photographer to be present when you nip to the local shop to pretend to buy a pound of sausages.

With that kind of salary going very far in some of the places on the levelling-up list – in our region Sheffield and Leeds, but there’s also Darlington, Warrington and Newcastle-upon-Tyne – it’s hardly likely that post-holders will choose to live in a modest little terrace house in the middle of town.

Cities like Sheffield are to receive their own levelling up director.

I fear that this will become yet another highly-paid public services role where the post-holder parachutes into the actual bricks and mortar office only when strictly required and spends the rest of their time WFM in some nice part of the region, or even the next county.

At up to £144,000 a year, with up to 30 days annual leave after five years’ service, plus eight public holidays and a ‘further day paid privilege entitlement to mark the Queen’s birthday’ this year, it sounds like a breeze. If you stick it for five years, that’s less than 10 months’ work a year.

And this being a senior public services type role, no doubt there will be generous pay increases along the way. I’ll leave you to do the maths, but by my quick reckoning, raking in a possible £15,000 a month in gross pay is about the same as someone on the minimum wage (£8.91 an hour) could earn in a full year.

If that – at a time when so many thousands of people in work are struggling to both eat and heat their homes due to spiralling inflation and the Government’s laissez-faire attitude towards the cost of living crisis – is not a kick in the teeth, I don’t know what is.

Levelling up doesn’t need almost another £2m per annum spending on 12 senior executive posts to carry out an agenda that hasn’t even been ironed out yet. This is not to mention the healthy pension contributions – at taxpayers’ expense.

And no doubt, a contingency fund for the generous pay-offs that will become inevitable when at least one of them messes up, fiddles the books and ends up getting sacked.

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, receive exclusive members-only offers and access to all premium content and columns. Click here to subscribe.