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Michael Gove Is Holding Regular Talks With Top Red Wall MPs To Flesh Out Levelling Up

Michael Gove

3 min read

Michael Gove has told officials in his department to engage directly with the increasingly influential Northern Research Group (NRG) of Conservative MPs on levelling up as he tries to flesh out the government's headline policy.

Gove, who was appointed the Secretary of State for the newly created Department of Levelling Up, Housing & Communities in last month's reshuffle, met with senior Tory MPs from the NRG last week and has told his officials to have a regular dialogue with the group, PoliticsHome understands.

The NRG, set up by Tory MPs who won in so-called "Red Wall" seats at the 2019 general election, has quickly become a significant force within the Conservative party, with its 50 or so MPs pressuring ministers to make good on their promise to invest in the North and the Midlands. 

As well as their meeting with Gove last week, which was also attended by senior officials from the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, NRG MPs are set this week to have talks with Andy Haldane, the former Bank of England chief economist who was recently appointed by Boris Johnson to help tackle regional inequality.

Forming a close working relationship with the NRG, which is led by Rossendale and Darwen MP Jake Berry, has been one of Gove's first moves since taking on the levelling-up brief.

A government source said Gove is "very keen to engage constructively with colleagues."

The government is under pressure to spell what levelling up will actually mean in practice, with a PoliticsHome poll carried out earlier this month finding that just 14% of people fully grasped the Prime Minister's buzz phrase.

The government says it plans to publish its levelling-up white paper containing details of its plans before the end of the year. One official told PoliticsHome that its publication had been pushed back because Gove wanted more time go over the text.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak will offer a glimpse of what levelling up will look like in policy terms when he unveils his autumn Budget to the House of Commons on Wednesday afternoon.

The Budget comes against a backdrop of rising living costs and ministers being warned that inflation and soaring energy prices will fall on poorest people the hardest.

The NRG wrote to Sunak over the weekend urging him to maintain the freeze on fuel duty, warning that raising the tax on petrol would be the Tory party "turning its back on the hardworking people of this country."

The letter seen by PoliticsHome said people in the North are more reliant on cars than Londoners and that raising fuel duty would erect "a barrier" in the way of their constituents commuting to work and taking care of their families. 

"Any rise in fuel duty puts a barrier in the way of people accessing well-paying jobs and taking care of their families. Cars for our constituents aren’t a luxury, Chancellor, they are a necessity," it said.

Sunak earlier this year decided to freeze fuel duty for the tenth year running and is expected to announce that it is being kept in place when he delivers his Budget on Wednesday.

A DLUHC spokesperson said: “We are leading efforts to unite and level up all parts of the UK by empowering local leaders, boosting living standards, spreading opportunity, improving public services, and regenerating our town centres and high streets.

“The Government will publish a White Paper that builds on existing action being taken across Government, setting out a new policy regime that will drive change for years to come."

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