Levelling up law 'not worth paper it is written on' due to Government's get out clause, warns Lisa Nandy

The Government’s flagship ‘Levelling Up’ legislation is “not worth the paper it is written on” due to a clause allowing ministers to remove key targets at will, Labour has warned.

In February, Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove’s Levelling Up White Paper set out 12 national “missions” to achieve by 2030 which included 90 per cent of children leaving primary school with the expected standards of reading, writing and maths; raising pay, employment and productivity in every area of the UK and bringing public transport networks across the country closer to the standards enjoyed in London.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies warned at the time that the ambitions “were highly unlikely to be met, even with the best policies and much resource”.

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The Government has said its 338-page Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill, which is currently progressing through Parliament, will enshrine the missions in law.

Lisa Nandy has questioned the legitimacy of the Government's levelling up legislation.Lisa Nandy has questioned the legitimacy of the Government's levelling up legislation.
Lisa Nandy has questioned the legitimacy of the Government's levelling up legislation.

But during a debate on the Bill in Parliament yesterday, Shadow Levelling Up Secretary Lisa Nandy questioned whether the legislation carries any force.

“The only mention of levelling up in this hefty great tome, apart from in the title, is in the 12 missions that will be written into law,” she said.

“But this is a law not worth the paper it is written on because tucked away in Clause 5 is the sleight of hand that has become so characteristic of this Government. The cat is out of the bag.

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“Not only will they not back the country, but they will not even back themselves. In clause 5 is a measure that allows the Government to tear up those missions on a whim — their entire levelling up agenda, the promise made to the people of Britain and on which they won the last general election — presumably when they fail to deliver every single one.”

The relevant clause in the Bill states that if “Her Majesty’s Government has concluded that it should not continue to pursue the levelling-up missions in the current statement of levelling-up missions, a Minister of the Crown must revise the statement so that it instead contains the levelling-up missions that Her Majesty’s Government is to pursue for the remaining mission period”.

It also allows for “any changes to the mission progress methodology and metrics that the Minister considers appropriate in consequence of doing so”.

Opening the debate, Mr Gove said: “This Bill looks specifically at how we can ensure that the Government’s levelling-up missions laid out in our White Paper published in February can be given effect, how we can have a planning system that priorities urban regeneration and the use of brownfield land, and how we can strengthen our democratic system overall.”

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Mr Gove said the Government was spending “£4.8 billion to the Levelling Up Fund, similar sums through the UK Shared Prosperity Fund in making sure that every part of our United Kingdom is firing on all cylinders, and from Labour nothing”.

Another of the 12 missions is a pledge that every part of England that wants one will have a devolution deal with powers at or approaching the highest level of devolution and a simplified, long-term funding settlement by 2030.

Clive Betts, Labour chairman of the Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee and Sheffield South East MP, challenged Mr Gove on what new powers the bill allows to be devolved to a local level.

Mr Gove replied: “When we’re thinking about levelling up, this legislation is complemented by other activity that Government is undertaking, and that activity that Government is currently undertaking involves negotiations with metro mayors, for example in the West Midlands and indeed in Greater Manchester, in order to see more powers being devolved. We will be transferring more powers and we will update the House on the progress that we make in all of those negotiations.”

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Mr Betts said it was “clear from his answer” that there are no new powers in the Bill that will be available to councils and mayors.

Closing the debate, Housing Minister and Pudsey MP Stuatrt Andrew said: “By enshrining the 12 missions of our Levelling Up White Paper into law and offering every part of England a devolution deal by 2030 this Bill fulfils our promise to the British people - a fundamental promise on which this Government was elected; to take power away from Whitehall and place it directly in the hands of communities so that they can determine their own future and realise their own potential.”

New homes 'will be beautiful', Gove pledges

The Government will stop objections to new house building by making sure new homes are “beautiful” and reflect their local areas, Michael Gove has said.

The Communities Secretary said the Levelling Up Bill would address the “factors” of resistance to new housing which had frustrated development in the past.

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Mr Gove said of his vision: “Far too many of the homes that have been built have been poor quality, identikit homes from a pattern book that the volume house builders have relied on which have not been in keeping with local communities, and have not had the aesthetic quality that people would want.”

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