Broken promises over levelling up threaten to undermine trust, IPPR North warns, as Yorkshire Mayors call for proper powers and funding

Broken promises and delays over levelling up threaten to undermine political trust, a leading think-tank warns today, amid claims the nation is more regionally divided than ever.

Two years after the Government pledged to ‘level up’ the country, IPPR North has published a ‘promise tracker’ under its annual health-check of the North’s economy.

Rhetoric has “over promised and under delivered”, it claims, amid research findings over delays, ‘watered down’ pledges, and the scrapping of the Eastern Leg of HS2.

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New funding pales in comparison to the impact of austerity while the country becomes more centralised, the report said, and divides grow over measures like jobs growth.

Mayor of South Yorkshire Dan JarvisMayor of South Yorkshire Dan Jarvis
Mayor of South Yorkshire Dan Jarvis

The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) has dismissed the analysis as misleading, arguing it focuses on just one area. But the think tank warns central government policy has “undermined” the levelling up agenda.

Arianna Giovannini, interim director of IPPR North, said: “Two years on from the promise to level up the country, government’s rhetoric has reached fever pitch, but in reality they have once again over-promised and under delivered on rebalancing our economy.

“To succeed in levelling up, enabling people everywhere to live a good life it will be necessary to build an economy hardwired for widespread prosperity, that powers the net zero transition, and provides everyone with access to high quality lifelong education.”

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Calls for devolution deals to be tailored to help solve decades-long inequalitie...
Mayor of West Yorkshire Tracy Brabin.Mayor of West Yorkshire Tracy Brabin.
Mayor of West Yorkshire Tracy Brabin.

Despite local communities and leaders acting for change, the report argues, the region’s potential can only be reached when government is willing to devolve powers.

But Ms Giovannini warned: “Reorganising local government by the back door, false dawns, and further centralising power and funding would be a huge mistake and level down the country.”

Yorkshire leaders, speaking of dismay at the breadth of findings, said it was “scarcely surprising” and today call for the North to be backed by proper investment and powers.

Mayor of South Yorkshire, Dan Jarvis, said: “After so much sound and fury, what the government has actually delivered for the North is growing regional inequality, rising in-work poverty, and more central control of spending. We’re actually going backwards – and that’s just unacceptable.”

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Tracy Brabin, Mayor of West Yorkshire, cited the axing of HS2 to Leeds and the ‘watering down’ of Northern Powerhouse Rail via Bradford as decisions that will hold regions back for generations to come.

She said: “To address regional inequalities, the solution lies in devolution – moving powers and funding away from Whitehall and closer to the places they affect. We know what we need to level up – just give us the power and money we need to achieve it.”

'Broken promises'

Pledges over levelling up have been dismissed as “repackaged broken promises” by regional leaders who call for investment and a fairer playing field to truly ‘power up’ the North.

The centres around divides between promises and reality from central government, warning “this year has been one of false dawns”.

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Allocations under the Levelling Up Fund last year saw investment of £32 per person in the North, the report found, compared to a drop in annual council service spending of £413 per person over the last decade.

It argues public spending is concentrated in central government, while regional divides are growing. For every job created in the North, just under three were created in London and the South East.

Mr Jarvis said communities were not fooled by repackaged promises “palmed off” as transformation.

“They are not fooling anyone – but particularly Northerners who can see the consequences with their own eyes,” he said. “Ministers need to get serious, and back local leaders across the North with proper investment and powers, so we can drive our economy forward from the North rather than from a desk in Whitehall.“

Case for optimism

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With a focus on jobs, net zero and education and skills, the report argues policy has been “underwhelming”, but that the North’s institutions and communities prove reason for optimism.

A “profound shift” on governance is needed, the report concludes, broadening and deepening devolution to ensure no community is left behind.

Ms Brabin said the findings over allocations under the Levelling Up Fund, when 96p of every pound paid intax goes to Whitehall, represents an “extremely unfair deal”.

She said: “This system isn’t working. Why should local authorities be pitted against one another, made to bid into small pots of funding, when these pots don’t even replace the money that has been taken away by Central Government over the past few years?

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“If Government were truly committed to levelling up, they wouldn’t need one rebadged department here, or a small pot of funding there. Every department in Whitehall would be tasked with levelling up.”

'Level the playing field'

Coun James Lewis, leader of Leeds Council, said the UK cannot achieve a vibrant and sustainable economy without a strong North, which is moving at pace to innovate and grow.

He said: “To truly capitalise on this we need a level playing field, so our ability to deliver initiatives that improve lives and prospects is not inhibited by lack of resource or infrastructure. Then we really will be powering up the North.”

Coun Jonathan Pryor, deputy leader of Leeds City Council and executive member for employment, added: ”The North South divide is growing and in work poverty is rising.

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"Where we have seen job growth it is mainly in low paid roles at a time when the cost of living is going up due to food and energy prices. The reality on the ground is lots of people in Leeds are struggling to get by and are not seeing any of the supposed benefits of “levelling up” promised by the Government.”

Government response

A spokesperson for the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) cited millions pledged in investment programmes to level up the country in support of Northern towns, high streets and community renewal.

They said: “This analysis is misleading as it focuses on just one part of our investment to level up the North of England.

“In addition to the £4.8bn Levelling Up Fund, we’re providing record investment in infrastructure worth over £96bn, £12bn in affordable housing and a £2.6bn Shared Prosperity Fund to help rebalance opportunity across the UK. The government will publish a White Paper that will drive forward this central mission in due course.”

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