Time for ministers to level with us on ‘levelling up’

But aside from the immediate financial support to weather potentially months of closures, what Liverpool and other proud cities and towns of the UK need – and have every right to expect – is hope, and at least a hint of a longer-term strategy. Almost a year after a crushing election win that offered the opportunities of Brexit and a new epoch for the country, the “vision thing” is absent.

That the Government has its hands full with the virus response doesn’t appear to prevent regular briefings against its targets, and an example of its bizarre sense of priorities came in June as it folded the Department for International Development back into the Foreign Office. What we have heard far less on is the “levelling up”, which is supposedly the raison d’etre of the Government’s mission.

In Boris Johnson’s conference speech last week, it got precisely two mentions and one paragraph. Those were platitudes about keeping the “streets safer for everyone” and “changes in the lives of young people”. So far, so vague. But what does the concept mean and how will it be defined? We have seen little clarity as yet from ministers despite the recommendations of the new Levelling Up Taskforce. In September, its 40 MPs argued for a focus on moving the bottom 20pc of local authorities towards the national average on benchmarks like employment and earnings. 

The scale of the problem is underlined by the Institute for Fiscal Studies’ Green Budget chapter on the subject this week. The UK ranks at the top of the table on regional economic inequality on the “90:10 score”, with GDP per head in the 90th percentile region – Aberdeen – some 2.25 times higher than in Durham, the 10th percentile.

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