"Communities Need Levelling Up Now More Than Ever": Labour's Alex Norris
Shadow Levelling Up Minister Alex Norris says the need for levelling up couldn't be clearer
There was one question I was asked the most at the Labour Party Conference in Liverpool this year: haven’t they sacked you yet? Naturally this did not relate to personal conduct but rather the expectation that the government has somewhat given up on levelling up.
There is plenty of evidence to support this: a levelling up white paper long on rhetoric and diagnosis but with little new – especially in the terms of resources; a levelling up bill that is bulked out predominantly with a planning bill; and, of course, the procession of ministers that cycled through that bill committee, seven in total accompanied by three different whips.
This shuffle has ended up where it started in terms of leadership. But the reality is that Rishi Sunak blocked the resourcing of levelling up as chancellor and there is little to suggest this will improve in the future.
The sadness in this is that levelling up is needed and so it falls to the opposition to keep it going. Everyone, of all political persuasions or none, should be angered by how much a child born today will have their life chances dictated by where they have been born. Similarly we ought to believe that the future prosperity of our country is something that is contributed to and shared in by every nation and region of the United Kingdom. For many years the government has written off significant parts of the country as areas with nothing to offer – this must change.
This means we are stuck in a low growth, low wage spiral because the government is trying to power a modern economy using only a handful of people, in a handful of places, in one small corner of the country. The route to growth is to invest in all people and all places and get Britain firing on all cylinders, but over 12 years the government has failed to do this.
We face a range of crises at the same time: cost of living, climate change and regional inequalities. These should be tackled through a levelling up approach. Our Green Prosperity Plan is central to that – £28bn of green capital investment to bring good, well-paid jobs back to places that have lost them, and backing our northern towns and cities to make the contribution they are ambitious to make. We must make sure that our mayors and council leaders have the tools and resources to ensure that they can shape their community and its economic outlook to benefit from this.
We also must address issues relating to democracy. The devolution of decision-making is central to restoring trust in democracy. At the moment this has meant a transfer of power from Whitehall to some sub-regional bodies. The public expect more and must get more. We need to see a rebirth of community power in this country. Shadow levelling up secretary Lisa Nandy has already announced our Community Right to Buy pledge that will give communities the power and support to take over that much loved community asset – the pub, the shop, the football club – before it is lost. We will build on top of these opportunities for the public to better shape the services that affect their lives. We know they want those powers held locally, this must be delivered for them.
Far from the end for levelling up, the importance of fighting for it couldn’t be clearer – to ensure better jobs, better opportunities and to safeguard our democracy.
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