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Levelling up white paper is starved of ideas and new funding

3 min read

I was lucky enough to grow up in Kirkby, now part of the borough of Knowsley, situated just outside of the City of Liverpool.

Kirkby boomed during the mid-twentieth century post-war rebuilding, people flocked to the promise of a new town in their thousands. Back then, developers thought you could bring about community cohesion by opening a pub and a chip shop, but soon the planners dream turned sour.

My hometown is a place brimming with local pride – but that has been forgotten by successive governments and repeatedly failed by the private sector.

As Michael Gove took to his feet in the Commons yesterday to outline, at long last, the government’s vision for ‘levelling up’, it is unlikely that many people in Kirkby were tuning in. But for the concept of levelling up to translate to effective solutions, it is places like Kirkby that must feel the benefits.

It looks more like mission impossible with the thin gruel on offer

Sadly, I do not think that the white paper goes anywhere near far enough. Despite some encouraging elements, like solid commitments to further devolution and R&D, a recognition of the need to improve transport in the regions and a focus on education and skills, there was a disappointing lack of any fresh ideas or funding.

Considering this has taken more than two years and is supposedly the Prime Minister’s guiding mission, I am sure I am not the only left asking “is this it?”

To build high-quality infrastructure we need to drive growth across the country – but it cannot just be about shiny buildings and expensive projects.

Levelling up must include meaningful and lasting action to address the embedded structural inequalities that exist between regions of the UK. The white paper seems to accept that principle but offers us no clear path to get there.

As Lisa Nandy outlined, we need good jobs, decent wages, genuinely affordable housing, action to deal with the unfolding cost of living crisis and real opportunities for our young people so they can put down roots in their local areas and no longer have to get out to get on.

Disappointingly, this feels like a document drawn up more in consultation with people in the Westminster bubble than with leaders across the North. Meaningful levelling up doesn’t happen from the top down – and can be delivered much faster and more effectively by people who understand their own communities.

Devolution has been a resounding to success in our region because towns and cities are now being heard by politicians.

By putting more power in the hands of local leaders we have seen Kirkby town centre regenerated – with its first supermarket in more than 30 years. The new Shakespeare Theatre is due for completion shortly and our local rail network has been extended to better connect communities that have been left behind for too long.

It is a stark contrast to national government’s approach. Despite being ranked as a top priority for levelling up funding (by the government itself), Knowsley has not received a single penny – while more affluent areas, such as those where Sajid Javid, Nadine Dorries and Rishi Sunak currently reside, have all seen funding pouring in.

This white paper should have been the impetus to put that right and help make the Prime Minister’s levelling up mission a success. Starved of ideas and new funding, it looks more like mission impossible with the thin gruel on offer.


Steve Rotheram is the Labour Metro Mayor for the Liverpool City Region.

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