Northern Tories Say Government Must "Get On" With Levelling Up Plans Immediately
Ministers must put levelling-up plans into action as soon as possible and not wait for legislation to be passed before implementing certain proposals, the head of the Northern Research Group of Tory MPs (NRG) has said.
Jake Berry, who fronts the 50-strong group of Conservative MPs in the north of England, said the long-awaited levelling-up white paper presented by Michael Gove on Wednesday was a "brilliant start" and welcomed the "long-term ambition" of the government's plans.
But he insisted the government must put its proposals into action as soon as possible so that northern Tories have something to show for Boris Johnson's levelling-up agenda when the next general election is due in 2024.
"I don't want the government to wait for legislation and debate in the House of Commons to get on with levelling up," Berry, the MP for Rossendale and Darwen, told PoliticsHome.
"Never forget, George Osborne didn't need a levelling up white paper to create mayors for Manchester, Leeds, Liverpool, and Teeside.
"Theresa May didn't need a white paper to do high street deals and town deals. So everything the government can do to level up without legislation is what they must do".
Berry paid tribute to "brilliant" Gove, the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, who worked with the NRG on putting the white paper together.
The document sets out twelve "missions" that ministers want to achieve by 2030 in a cross-department bid to help people live happier and longer lives in Britain's "forgotten communities".
These include reducing the difference in life expectancy between the wealthiest and poorest parts of the country, as well as regional gaps in performance. The government has also vowed to increase pay across the country, expand 5G, and deliver the "biggest shift of power from Whitehall to local leaders in modern times" through increased devolution.
Lisa Nandy, the Shadow Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, said the white paper represented "more of the same" and accused Gove and the government of "cobbling together a shopping list of recycled policies and fiddling the figures".
Berry warned ministers that NRG MPs would "hold the government's feet to fire" to ensure that it delivers on its promises, and not "shrink away from any fight".
"We have a batch of brilliant MPs, very particularly in the north of England, who are elected on the Prime Minister's compelling vision to deliver levelling up," he continued.
"They will not shrink away from any fight, they will be harrying you at every set of questions, they will be pushing at every budget, to make sure that we deliver for our people".
PoliticsHome revealed on Tuesday that Gove agreed to look at getting a "stronger" nothern voice in Cabinet after a meeting with the NRG to discuss the white paper.
A government source confirmed that the idea was being considered. "We always want more and stronger northern voices in government," they said.
Berry said having greater northern representation in Johnson's Cabinet, potentially in the form of a minister for the north, was something the group had been "consistently calling for, not least in our call with Michael Gove last night". But he said that it was ultimately not a decision for the NRG.
"Let's wait and see where we get to," he added.
Berry also confirmed a PoliticsHome report last month that the group would hold its own political party-style conference this spring, as the group looks to grow its influence within the Tory party.
While the Tory MP refused to confirm the location or reveal which ministers were due to speak at the event, he said the purpose of the conference would be to "set up further ideas and ambitions for the north, from the north and of the north".
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