False hopes of ‘levelling up’ risk squandering public trust, Ministers warned

THE Government is today facing new calls to define its ‘levelling up’ agenda more clearly and ensure that policy plans for the revival and renewal of deprived communities have “real purpose”.

Boris Johnson (right) and Chanclelor Rishi Sunak (left) are under pressure to define the Government's levelling up agenda.

The direct challenge comes from Robert Halfon, the much-respected chair of Parliament’s cross-party Education Select Committee, as he sets out his own proposals in The Yorkshire Post.

Mr Halfon is the latest high-profile political figure to warn Boris Johnson and the Government that ‘levelling up’ risks becoming a meaningless phrase.

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“Before making grand announcements, the Government must first define clearly what “levelling up” means. Is it about social justice? Social mobility – the ladder of opportunity?” the senior Conservative MP writes.

Robert Halfon on the steps of 10 Downing Street - he chairs Parliament's cross-party Education Select Committee.

“Is it to do with building better transport links? New hospitals and schools? Or is the focus cutting the cost of living? Perhaps, it is all these things?

“The Prime Minister needs to establish a narrative around “levelling up”, otherwise the Government’s policies will simply be a series of initiatives that might capture a few newspaper headlines but won’t change the fundamentals.

“In short, ‘levelling up’ must not be a whole load of clothes pegs without a washing line.”

Mr Halfon’s blueprint reiterates past calls for a 10-year national education plan to drive up standards and the recruitment of “high-quality teachers and leadership teams in areas of disadvantage, as we know that it is always strong leadership that transforms the chances of left-behind children”.

Grant Shapps is the Transport Secretary and Northern Powerhouse Minister.

But he also believes that the increased provision affordable housing should be fundamental to any ‘levelling up’ agenda.

“One thing we can know for certain is that Covid-19 has been the great “leveller down”. The pandemic has cast a spotlight on existing injustices and, in many cases, accelerated social problems, especially in housing, education and living costs,” warns the former Tory party deputy chairman.

“In the UK, the fifth biggest economy in the world, 829,000 households are living in overcrowded conditions. Levelling up mustn’t just be about building more houses, but ensuring more genuinely affordable homes. That starts with enabling and financially incentivising housing associations to develop more social housing.”

Mr Halfon also wants business taxes paid into Special Redistribution Fund that can be used “to cut taxes substantially for those on lower incomes or spend on poorer communities” with details published on the Treasury website to guarantee transparency.

“If we get one thing right in 2021, let’s make sure “levelling up” isn’t just a soundbite but has real purpose,” he adds.

However, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps believes the Government is better placed to now that the Brexit trade deal is in place and Covid-19 vaccines are being rolled out across Britain.

“It’s been clear throughout 2020 that we are living through extraordinary times – and 2021 will have its share of challenges,” said Mr Shapps, who is also 
the Northern Powerhouse Minister.

“But just as we delivered an excellent trade deal with the EU, we will deliver on our other promises, too. That means delivering on one of the fundamental pledges in our manifesto - making the Northern Powerhouse an industrious, inventive and vibrant reality.”

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