Under Theresa May the Conservatives “lost focus” and shelved their economic ambitions because of Brexit, Sajid Javid has said.
The Rochdale-born Home Secretary and Tory leadership contender has criticised the outgoing administration for prioritising Britain’s exit from the EU over tackling the North-South divide.
And he called for a reboot of plans, developed under George Osborne and David Cameron, to rebalance the UK economy.
Making his pitch to replace Mrs May, he told The Yorkshire Post: “When I was Business Secretary I did the National Productivity Plan with the Treasury – we published it with the then-Chancellor George Osborne and we set out a vision about how we narrow that productivity gap – it was to do with transport but also skills and devolution as well.”
“When the Prime Minister changed and Brexit became the priority, understandably, I think we lost a bit of focus.
“You can absolutely work on Brexit and work to deliver Brexit, but at the same time you can also focus on all those domestic issues that are so important.
“I think we haven’t always twin-tracked well enough to make sure we are doing Brexit and so many other things that are so important. “
The intervention comes as Mr Javid launched a plan for a £100bn infrastructure project that would focus on redistributing growth across the UK.
The Bromsgrove MP believes that his background gives him an advantage over his leadership rivals on understanding economic priorities across the country.
“I have benefited from being someone who was born in the North,” he says.
“I still have family and friends, cousin, aunts and uncles here, but then I have a West Midlands constituency. I was brought up in the South West, I went to university in the South West.
“So, I think it helps me understand the country - certainly England - and about how the different parts are connected, or the lack of connections.”
The £100bn initiative would seek to upgrade vital infrastructure across the UK’s regions, releasing cash for ambitious projects including a national fibre optic network as well as overhauling the North’s rail network and better connecting the regions cities.
Mr Javid believes the fund would address the “lack of investment over decades by successive governments,” in northern transport.
But Mr Javid also believes that eliminating the North-South divide is a goal that should run through every Government department.
“When you’re in Government you always need to try and do more to help rebalance the economy and you can do that in pretty much any job,” he says.
“My first department that I ran was as Culture Secretary and even then it immediately struck me that a lot of the spending by Government of taxpayers money on cultural activities, the arts for example, is heavily focused on the South… I set out to rebalance that.”
Mr Javid also points to his record on devolution, and says he would go further as Prime Minister.
During his time as Communities Secretary he says he “became the main champion of devolution in the Government… I made sure that we were delivering on the promises that we made to decentralise power from Westminster, especially on big economic decisions and create those new mayoral combined authorities…
“I think there is a case for devolving more powers and looking at what more can be done. You always want to do it with local support and local consensus, but I think there is a case to look at how much further you can go.”