The Prime Minister yesterday said the country risked "squandering vast reserves of human capital" by "failing to allow people to fulfil their potential" as he set out what he described as a 'skeleton' of how his flagship domestic policy would be achieved.
After the Conservative PM's speech from a Coventry battery factory, where he said policies would be spelled out this Autumn in a levelling up White Paper, Labour mayors in the North criticised the address for "lacking substance".
South Yorkshire metro mayor Dan Jarvis said the speech "missed out any of the basic elements needed to finally give the agenda credibility – clearly defined goals, genuinely new and transformative funding, and a real commitment to local leadership".
The PM reiterated commitments to rolling out gigabit broadband, investing in rail and roads, giving the guarantee of "great education" to all children, and boosting funding for science and technology and tackling crime.
He vowed to "re-write the rule book" by offering powers to shire counties and towns, but there was no mention of the much-anticipated Integrated Rail Plan which will set out how major projects like HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail will be funded.
Mr Jarvis added: “We’re glad to see the possibility of devolution deals extended to the counties, and welcome the offer of discussions on further powers for Mayors. But you can’t claim to support devolution then make powers dependent on regions toeing the government’s own vision, as the PM implied.
“A real plan, real resources, real empowerment – that is what real levelling up needs. We are more than happy to work with the government, but we can also recognise a hollow promise when we see one. The forthcoming White Paper is the last chance for the government to show it is serious.”
In his speech Mr Johnson, a former mayor of London, sought to ease the jitters of some Conservative MPs by promising his agenda would not mean "levelling down" wealthier areas, in the wake of the loss of the former safe seat of Chesham and Amersham in last month's by-election.
Having secured his place in No 10 by winning over traditional Labour voters to make massive gains for the Conservatives in the North and the Midlands, Mr Johnson argued "greater regional prosperity means more customers and more business for our national metropolis".
But he said it was an astonishing fact that the Gross Domestic Product in Yorkshire, the North East, East Midlands, Wales and Northern Ireland "is now lower than in what was formerly East Germany".
"We must be honest with ourselves – to a large extent Germany has succeeded in levelling up where we have not and it is vital to understand that these imbalances and inequalities are found within the regions of the United Kingdom– not just between them.
"A woman from York has on average a decade longer of healthy life expectancy than a woman from Doncaster 30 miles away – one stop away on the east coast mainline.
"In York nearly half the working population has a higher education qualification, in Doncaster that figure is only 25 per cent. Why is it that Leeds has one in five working age people not in work, while in Bradford next door the number is as high as one in three?"
Meanwhile, there was delight for local leaders in Stainforth near Doncaster and Todmorden in West Yorkshire as the Government revealed how much funding they and 13 other areas would get from the £3.6bn Towns Fund.
Todmorden will get £17.5 million to create a new public square to increase community space and highlight the towns green credentials, along with building a five-star eco hostel and setting up a digital enterprise and learning centre.
And Stainforth will get £21.6m to pay for improvements at the train station, the creation of a hub in the town centre, enhanced roads and streets and the headstocks to be turned into a prime heritage site with green space and new commercial opportunities.
In total 101 towns across the country will have regeneration work paid for by the fund, including 16 across Yorkshire and the Humber. Craig Whittaker, Tory MP for Calder Valley, described the funding for Todmorden as "brilliant".
He said: "This will give a massive boost to the local area and it is great to have witnessed so many passionate people from all parts of our community working together to enhance facilities and our economy.”
And Doncaster MP Ed Miliband said the funding for Stainforth was "a tribute to the hard work, imagination and determination of the people of Stainforth who worked together on the neighbourhood plan which formed the bid for the Towns Fund money".
He said: “We welcome this funding and are glad that the government has listened to the strong calls we made to Robert Jenrick the Local Government Secretary last month for this money to be brought forward.
“While these resources are a step forward for Stainforth, they do not make up for the more than 50% percent cuts in council funding we have seen over the last decade. Money from the Towns Fund will not excuse continued austerity which will continue to undermine the local services people in Stainforth desperately need and deserve.
“This is just the start of what is needed to tackle the deep inequality in our country. To give real long-lasting improvements to the lives and livelihoods of Doncaster people we need investment in education to support lifelong learning, in our health system with a new hospital for Doncaster and by supporting each of our towns, communities and residents with both good jobs and housing.”
As part of the new high streets strategy unveiled by the Government, councils in England will be given the power to transform towns, taking over derelict buildings through compulsory purchase orders so they can be converted into new homes if property owners stall on regeneration plans.
Local authorities will also be encouraged to use existing powers to convert empty offices into housing, and empty shops will be transformed into entertainment venues or thriving new businesses without the need for planning permission.