Yorkshire mayors and business leaders issue Levelling Up White Paper warning to Boris Johnson

Business leaders and politicians in Yorkshire have warned Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Chancellor Rishi Sunak not to repeat the mistakes of the controversial Integrated Rail Plan after reports that no new money will be made available for the Government’s flagship ‘levelling up’ policy programme.

Tracy Brabin and Dan Jarvis, the mayors of West and South Yorkshire. Picture: Gary Longbottom
Tracy Brabin and Dan Jarvis, the mayors of West and South Yorkshire. Picture: Gary Longbottom

The Government has promised to publish a Levelling Up White Paper by the end of this year setting out “bold new policy interventions” designed to deliver on Mr Johnson’s key agenda.

But multiple government sources have told The Daily Telegraph that no new money will be made available outside of the real-terms increases for Whitehall departments announced in last month’s Budget and Spending Review.

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“The cash has already been allocated,” one Treasury source said. “They have to flesh out what levelling up actually means.”

The White Paper’s delivery is being overseen by recently-appointed Levelling Up Minister Michael Gove.

But Barney Mynott, the Federation of Small Businesses’s development manager for West Yorkshire, said: “Levelling up properly will require significant support across the nations and regions.

“Proper investment is crucial – this cannot be a set of shallow proposals with repackaged or even reduced announcements of existing funding arrangements, as we saw on HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail.”

The Mayor of West Yorkshire, Tracy Brabin, added: “The Government has spent the last two years talking about levelling up, but has yet to say what it means or that they intend to do.

“Last week’s broken promises about Northern Powerhouse Rail, with that crucial stop in Bradford, do not fill me with confidence that the Government understands what our communities truly need.”

South Yorkshire Mayor Dan Jarvis claimed the White Paper on levelling up provides the chance for the Government to “make up some of the ground lost by the flawed Integrated Rail Plan” and prove it is committed to tackling regional inequalities.

"It’s hard to see how they’ll do that without significant new investment," he said.

Mr Jarvis added: “Of course, there is more to levelling up than money, for example, there should be greater devolution of decision-making to local leaders and mayors to deliver the practical changes our communities need to thrive.

“It’s not at all clear whether the Government has either the ambition or the appetite to do this.”

Erica Roscoe, a senior research fellow at the IPPR North thinktank, maintained that the UK’s regional divides are “historic and longstanding”, and have been “greatly exacerbated by the historic concentration of investment away from the North”.

She said: “Thus far, the short-term piecemeal projects we’ve seen will not make a dent in levelling up, because central government holds all of the strings and they do not tackle the depth of inequalities we face.

“Without commitment to additional investment from government, levelling up will be reduced to nothing more than empty rhetoric and regional inequalities will continue to grow.

“The Levelling Up White Paper needs to see a substantial shift of power and resources away from Whitehall and closer to communities.”

The Department of Levelling Up, Housing and Communities declined to comment yesterday when contacted by The Yorkshire Post.

'Chance to reset relationship with councils'

The Levelling Up White Paper must take the opportunity “to reset the relationship between central and local government and turbo charge an ambitious programme of devolution”, the Local Government Association has said.

An LGA spokesperson said: “As we look towards securing a recovery that works for all, now is the right time to bring forward an ambitious new devolution settlement that gives councils powers and funding equal to the challenge of addressing long-standing regional inequalities, tackling concentrations of deprivation exposed by the pandemic and making communities attractive places to live, work and visit.”

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