Give mayors new powers, say Michael Heseltine and Andy Burnham
Their letters of support in The Times newspaper coincided with the Government announcing a major rebranding of Mr Gove’s new-look ministry following last week’s Cabinet reshuffle.
This has seen the creation of the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities to replace the former Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government headed by Robert Jenrick who has lost his job.
It also paves the way for levelling up policy, and Northern Powerhouse initiatives, to be scrutinised by MPs in the House of Commons and by a Parliamentary committee.
Meanwhile former Bank of England chief economist Andy Haldane, who grew up in Guiseley, has been appointed head of a new levelling up task force launched by Mr Gove and Boris Johnson.
Mr Haldane, who joins the Cabinet Office on a six month secondment from the Royal Society of Arts, said: “Levelling up the UK is one of the signature challenges of our time. It has also been a personal passion throughout my professional career so I am delighted and honoured to be making a contribution to this crucial objective.”
But the interventions of urban regeneration pioneer Lord Heseltine, who was Deputy Prime Minister in John Major’s government, and former Cabinet minister Andy Burnham, now Greater Manchester’s mayor, are significant.
“It is months since I called for Michael Gove to be put in charge of the devolution agenda and be given a Cabinet committee to bind the rest of the Whitehall into the project,” wrote Lord Heseltine.
The political grandee wants all mayors to be given the enhanced policy powers enjoyed by Mr Burnham in the North West – and for local authority boundaries to be realigned to maximise the benefits of devolution.
He cited the potential creation of new authorities for Nottingham Derby in the East Midlands, and south Hampshire to encompass both Southampton and Portsmourth, to reflect this. “In his recent speech, the PM emphasised the need for local leadership. A multiplicity of councillors does not achieve that, but elected mayors do,” added Lord Heseltine.
Meanwhile Mr Burnham, in his letter, said his plans for “London-style public transport system with London-level fares” in Manchester could “define levelling up in practice”.
The city is due to host the Tory party conference shortly and Mr Burnham said: “While Michael Gove and I haven’t always seen an eye to eye, I am encouraged by his appointment. He always brings energy and intellect to his ministerial brief.”
Mr Burnham, tipped to be a future Labour leader if he ever chooses to return to Westminster, said that he, and Greater Manchester, are “ready” to help Mr Gove to “make it happen”.
As the Whitehall changes were finalised, Mr Gove described the levelling up agenda as “the defining mission of this Government”. “We have a unique opportunity to make a real difference to people’s lives,” he added.
But there was a word of warning from South Yorkshire mayor Dan Jarvis that regional health, economic and social inequalities across Britain are now the worst of “any comparable developed country”.
“There will be no levelling up without the English mayors so I welcome Michael Gove to his new post and look forward to working with him closely,” said Mr Jarvis who says the sidelining of mayoralities must end. “The message from mayors is clear: our communities need action, not empty rhetoric. We should get to work to tackle this injustice.”
Yorkshire banker to head levelling up task force
BORIS Johnson has explained why he chose to give Michael Gove an enhanced role – and decision to recruit Yorkshire-born economist Andy Haldane to head a new levelling up task force.
The changes follow the appointment of former Treasury minister Kemi Badenoch as a new Levelling Up Minister and the Prime Minister’s policy guru Neil O’Brien, who comes from Huddersfield, handed a junior ministerial role at after concerns that he had become unaccountable to Parliament.
Casualties include Luke Hall who lost his job as Local Government Minister – he struggled to describe levelling up’s objectives during a recent select committee inquisition.
“This Government is committed to uniting and levelling up every part of the UK and I am determined that as we build back better from the pandemic we are geared up with the teams and expertise to deliver on that promise,” said Mr Johnson.
“Andy is uniquely qualified to lead our efforts to raise living standards, spread opportunity, improve our public services and restore people’s sense of pride in their communities.”