Tom Walker made the comments about the publication of the Levelling Up White Paper as he addressed the official launch of the National Infrastructure Commission’s report on devolving more infrastructure powers and funding to local councils.
Mr Walker said the report was “perfectly timed” as work on the Levelling Up White Paper is finalised ahead of the Comprehensive Spending Review on October 27.
He said: “The downside is, I can’t tell you what’s in the White Paper just yet. If you were a few weeks later I’d be able to do that. If we were a few weeks earlier, we’d really be in the fact-finding phase.”
Mr Walker added later in the meeting about the report: “We’re very pleased to have it in time for the endgame negotiations at the Department for Transport we will be having with the Treasury on the Spending Review.
“We really welcome the emphasis on pride in place as well as just economic connectivity, we think that’s crucial. I hope the White Paper will be saying a lot more about that. It’s very much with the direction of travel that we are taking on the White Paper which I hope will be in the public domain in the next few weeks.”
It follows Boris Johnson’s recent reshuffle assigning responsibility for the levelling up agenda to new Housing Secretary Michael Gove, with the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government being renamed the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities.
Mr Walker said he has been working with Tory MP and Levelling Up Adviser Neil O’Brien for the past four months in the Levelling Up Unit and they are now reporting to Mr Gove. They will also report to former Bank of England Chief Economist Andy Haldane who will start work next week as the new head of the Government’s Levelling Up Taskforce.
When asked by The Yorkshire Post if he could specify a likely publication date for the White Paper, Mr Walker said: “The press notice that announced Andy Haldane’s appointment said later this year.”
In its Infrastructure, Towns and Regeneration report unveiled in Grimsby yesterday, the commission recommends that the current array of around 15 funding streams for local transport are streamlined into just two. In addition to the five-year budgets, a targeted scheme to help areas with poor transport connections or where new industries could spring up would be established.
The commission’s analysis suggests that around £6 billion per year should be made available for local transport investment in England outside London in the next five years. This would mean around a 40 per cent increase in investment compared to 2019/20 which the NIC predicts would be enough for local authorities in every area of the country to address priority infrastructure projects in their area.
Mr Walker said: “Where this report makes a really important contribution is that levelling up isn’t just a narrow set of regional growth or local growth programs but it’s really about raising living standards, breeding opportunity, improving public services and crucially restoring public pride in place, with the role of transport and infrastructure has.”
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