We deserve a plan for Britain that matches the ambitions of the people
Ask any two government ministers what levelling up means and you’ll get two different answers. The much-anticipated white paper has not made this any clearer.
After two years of big promises, the sum total of ambition for our coastal and industrial towns, our villages and our great cities, was a history lesson on the rise of the Roman Empire.
It conjures up images of Michael Gove playing a parliamentary version of Supermarket Sweep – dashing around Whitehall throwing policies into the trolley in the hope quantity would compensate for lack of quality. Surely we can do better than this?
While the Tories take their inspiration from Rome, Jericho and Renaissance Florence we look to Preston, Wigan and Grimsby, where people are delivering real change for themselves – not because of the government, but despite it. Imagine what we could do with a government that backed us.
It’s no good just giving tax breaks to get a few companies to move out of London
For some of us, this is personal. We have lived these failures every single day. We have watched for four decades as good jobs have left our towns and never been replaced. It has created a chain of insecurity. Young people have had to move far away from their homes and their loved ones, just to find decent opportunities. The loss of good jobs costs us the spending power that sustained our high streets, pubs, banks, post offices and buses.
People are growing old hundreds of miles away from children and grandchildren, and feel the aftershocks in declining prosperity, an eroded community, and a growing sense of insecurity.
Bringing back these good jobs must be the defining mission of levelling up – getting investment back into towns, and money into people’s pockets. Our high streets are struggling because people do not have money to spend – and the government is about to hike their taxes.
Good jobs do more than put money into people’s pockets. They are also central to restoring local pride. Many of our towns powered Britain’s economy within living memory. Why shouldn’t young people in Barnsley and Aberdeen power us through the next century as their parents and grandparents powered us through the last?
We need far more ambition. It’s no good just giving tax breaks to get a few companies to move out of London. Children whose schools and colleges are next door to those workplaces need to be able to acquire the skills to get one of those high-quality jobs.
All of this is about giving people control over their lives, and giving young people real choices and chances, so they don’t have to get out to get on.
This is what drives Labour’s plan to build a new Britain.
We will take immediate action through a windfall tax on oil and gas producers to cut energy bills, saving people money to spend elsewhere.
We will build good jobs right across the United Kingdom, through £28bn in green investment every year in the next parliament, and funding for 100,000 start-up businesses that will make, buy and sell in Britain.
And we will end the system where we have to go cap in hand to Westminster to do things that we know will work for us.
For all the slogans and promises of investment and powers, all the Conservatives have given us is more of the same. For every £13 they have taken from us, they have given us £1 back, and for this partial refund they expect us to be grateful.
A few pots of money to scrap over, or a few new mayors, won’t touch the sides. We deserve a plan for Britain that matches the ambitions of the people in it, with good, local jobs at its heart.
People deserve security, opportunity and prosperity in every community across the UK. The Tories won’t deliver it; Labour will.
Lisa Nandy is the Labour MP for Wigan and shadow levelling up, housing and communities secretary.
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