A wider devolution deal for the North East will be part of wide-ranging proposals that will be set out by the Government today in a long-awaited plan for ‘levelling up’.
A White Paper on Levelling Up will be published today in a bid to put flesh on the high-profile Government policy that has faced increasing criticism from business and political leaders for being little more than an election slogan.
Among policies that will be outlined is a plan to extend the current North of Tyne devolution deal to include more of the North East, though County Durham will be invited to arrange a mayoral deal of its own.
Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove is also set to make a range of pledges on better public transport, improving public health and education standards in poorer areas, upgrading internet speeds and reducing crime.
The Government says the policy – which helped the Conservatives win a number of seats in the North East at the 2019 General Election – will seek to “change the economic geography of the country”. It will aim to increase pay, employment, and productivity around the UK, while also narrowing the gap between top and worst performing areas of the country.
Mr Gove said: “The United Kingdom is an unparalleled success story. We have one of the world’s biggest and most dynamic economies. Ours is the world’s most spoken language. We have produced more Nobel Prize winners than any country other than America.
“But not everyone shares equally in the UK’s success. For decades, too many communities have been overlooked and undervalued. As some areas have flourished, others have been left in a cycle of decline. The UK has been like a jet firing on only one engine.
“Levelling Up and this White Paper is about ending this historic injustice and calling time on the postcode lottery.
“This will not be an easy task, and it won’t happen overnight, but our 12 new national levelling up missions will drive real change in towns and cities across the UK, so that where you live will no longer determine how far you can go.”
A number of the policies set to be announced as part of the Levelling Up plan include funding already announced under existing Government initiatives.
Shadow Levelling Up Secretary Lisa Nandy has criticised the Government plans, saying Ministers had “left communities up and down the country completely short-changed once again”.
She said: “After more than a decade of Conservative Government, people are struggling to keep their heads above water. People are understandably worried about their energy bills going up, their shopping costing more and the tax hikes they are about to face.
“But these issues are far more long-term than that. For levelling up to meet the ambitions we have to go much further.”
In a report endorsed by five Labour mayors in the North, the New Economics Foundation has called for a major shift of powers to regions such as the North East.
North of Tyne mayor Jamie Driscoll said: “Where the Government has dictated programmes to our region they often miss their targets. Where we are asked to use our local knowledge and connections to deliver outcomes, we knock it out the park.”
He added: “Imagine what we could do with more money and devolved powers.”
Meanwhile, a report by the Government’s spending watchdog has found that an earlier plan for levelling up ignored Treasury guidance on how to ensure its policies were working before committing £11bn to certain communities.