What is levelling up? What will Michael Gove’s government plan pay for, how did it come about, and reaction

More than 100 projects across the UK are set to benefit from ‘levelling up’ funding

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Rishi Sunak has reiterated his commitment to levelling up as the government announces £2 billion for more than 100 projects across the UK.

The Department for Levelling Up has promised the latest round of levelling up funding would deliver much-needed economic growth and new jobs to communities across the country.

The Prime Minister said that greater investment in local areas will help to “grow the economy, create good jobs and spread opportunity everywhere”. However, the funding has come under fire by Labour, with the party accusing the government of presiding over a “Hunger Games-style contest where communities are pitted against one another”.

The levelling up vision was one pioneered by former Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who promised to “level up” towns and communities across the UK, creating better opportunities outside the South East of England. A total of 12 national “missions” were set out in a White Paper to be achieved by 2030, which will be enshrined in a flagship Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill.

Here’s what is meant by ‘levelling up’ and what Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove’s government plan will pay for.

Michael Gove said the levelling up agenda will seek to “change the economic geography of the country” (Photo: Getty Images)Michael Gove said the levelling up agenda will seek to “change the economic geography of the country” (Photo: Getty Images)
Michael Gove said the levelling up agenda will seek to “change the economic geography of the country” (Photo: Getty Images)

What is ‘levelling up’?

‘Levelling up’ refers to the government’s plan to close the gap between rich and poor parts of the UK.

Boris Johnson put ‘levelling up’ at the heart of the Conservative’s election-winning manifesto in 2019, with the aim of creating more opportunities for people and communities that feel they have been left behind.

The strategy, unveiled by Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove, will take until 2030 to achieve and aims to improve the likes of education, public transport, employment rates and broadband.

What is included in the plans?

Mr Gove said the government has “12 big missions” for levelling up and the pledges “commit us to ensure that research and development spending, the sort of rocket fuel that will help our economy grow, is spread more equally and also that we tackle some of the other underlying inequalities in health and education and housing”.

The first mission is to improve pay, employment and productivity across the country, and narrow the disparities between the best and worst performing areas. Others include bringing public transport systems around the UK closer to London standards, ensuring the large majority of the country has access to 5G broadband and to increase public research and development outside the Greater South East by at least 40%.

Ministers are promising to provide more power to the regions in a “devolution revolution” with the offer of a directly-elected mayor for any area of England that wants one. Derelict urban sites in 20 cities and towns will be targeted for redevelopment, with Sheffield and Wolverhampton the first to be selected.

There is a mission to effectively eliminate illiteracy and innumeracy among primary school leavers with the government’s educational efforts focussed on the most disadvantaged parts of the country.

There are also commitments to ensure hundreds of thousands more people get high quality skills training every year while gross disparities in healthy life expectancy are narrowed.

The paper promises to halve the number of poor quality rented homes, rejuvenate the most run down town centres and deliver a significant decrease in serious crime in the most blighted areas.

Gove, the architect of the plan who will be responsible for driving through the changes, said it would end a “historic injustice”.

How will the funding be spent?

The funding has been split between £672 million to develop better transport links, £821 million for community regeneration, and £594 million to go towards restoring heritage sites.

Among the projects earmarked for funding is the Eden Project North in Morecambe, which received £50 million for the regeneration project designed to transform the Lancashire town’s seafront. The Cardiff Crossrail plan was allocated £50 million and a new roll-on, roll-off ferry for Fair Isle in the Shetlands is to get nearly £27 million.

The Prime Minister’s own Richmond constituency in Yorkshire is receiving £19 million in funding, with money going to Catterick Garrison to regenerate the town centre.

Among other projects set to benefit is the planned regeneration of Gateshead Quays and the Sage, which will receive £20 million, while £5.1 million has been provided to build new female changing rooms in 20 rugby clubs across Northern Ireland.

A regional breakdown of the levelling up funding is as follows:

  • Yorkshire and the Humber: £120,619,162
  • West Midlands: £155,579,834
  • Wales: £208,175,566
  • South West: £186,663,673
  • South East: £210,467,526
  • Scotland: £177,206,114
  • Northern Ireland: £71,072,373
  • North West: £354,027,146
  • North East: £108,548,482
  • London: £151,266,674
  • East Midlands: £176,870,348
  • East: £165,903,400

Gove said the support would see the government “firing the start gun” on a range of projects. He said: “This new funding will create jobs, drive economic growth, and help to restore local pride. We are delivering on the people’s priorities, levelling up across the UK to ensure that no matter where you are from, you can go as far as your talents will take you.”

The successful bids announced on Thursday (19 January) follows the allocation of £1.7 billion to 105 projects from round one of the Levelling Up Fund in 2021. The government confirmed last year that round two funding would match the first, but increased this by more than £400 million after receiving a high number of transformative bids – taking the total allocated so far from the fund to £3.8 billion.

What has the reaction been to the plans?

The allocation of funding has come under fire over claims the cash is mainly being handed to the relatively affluent South East - a claim Gove said is “simply untrue”. He insisted the latest round of investment is “specifically tilted towards the North, the Midlands, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland”.

It follows criticism that the funding for more than 100 projects across the UK is being directed at areas not considered deprived, including Rishi Sunak’s own Richmond constituency.

Mr Gove refuted the claims, even when a story in The Times was put to him which said 52 Tory constituencies in England benefit – more than twice as many as those represented by Labour MPs.

He told Times Radio: “I think more of the money is going to Labour-led local authorities than to Conservative-led local authorities and that’s because the money’s been allocated according to a set of objective criteria and on the basis of deliverability.”

He said London and the South East together constitute a quarter of the country’s population, but that per capita “the biggest winners are those in the North West”. He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “If you look at it in terms of the amount of money allocated per person, then it is the case that it’s the North West, the North East, Wales, which do best of all.”

Labour accused the government of presiding over a “Hunger Games-style contest where communities are pitted against one another”.

Lisa Nandy, the shadow levelling up secretary, offered a scathing assessment of the fund as she accused the government of “extraordinary arrogance”. She said: “The Levelling Up Fund is in chaos, beset by delays and allegations of favouritism.

“It takes an extraordinary arrogance to expect us to be grateful for a partial refund on the money they have stripped out of our communities, which has decimated vital local services like childcare, buses and social care.

“It is time to end this Hunger Games-style contest where communities are pitted against one another and Whitehall ministers pick winners and losers.”