Exclusif: Labour frontbencher says ministers are ‘out of energy and ideas’ on plan to level up the country
La main d'oeuvre's Lisa Nandy has accused Michel Gove of attempting to regenerate left-behind areas of the country “on the cheap” ahead of the long delayed publication of the government’s levelling up strategy.
In a stinging attack on the government, the shadow levelling up secretary told L'indépendant that ministers were “out of energy” and “out of ideas”, as a row continues to rage over Boris Johnson’s future in No 10.
The senior Labour figure also claimed the strategy – to be unveiled on Wednesday – appeared to be “more about a reset” for the prime minister, rather than “turning around an economic settlement that hasn’t worked for a lot of places for decades”.
Her remarks come as Mr Gove – the cabinet minister responsible for levelling up – prepares to publish the government’s blueprint for changing the “economic geography of the country” and creating better opportunities outside the south-east of England.
Non 10 said Mr Gove will “set out the tools needed”, including “investment in education and skills and further devolution of powers outside of Westminster”, to deliver on the 2019 election promise to level up the country.
Some details of the plan were revealed over the weekend, as the government identified Sheffield and Wolverhampton as the first recipients of a “radical new regeneration programme” – with areas benefitting from the £1.5bn Brownfield Fund.
pourtant, a row ensued after it emerged the funding had previously been earmarked by the chancellor, Rishi Sunak, at last year’s Budget.
Ms Nandy told L'indépendant that two years after Mr Johnson promised to level up the country, disadvantaged areas were being given “piecemeal, small pots of money dolled out from Whitehall” following a decade of austerity.
Taking aim at Mr Gove, she said the cabinet minister was “walking around the country talking about a King’s Cross style regeneration of 20 parts of the country, without the King’s Cross style funding – it cost £3 billion to redevelop King’s Cross.”
“The money that was announced in the Budget several months ago that they reannounced at the weekend for the whole rest of the country is £1.5 billion," elle a ajouté.
“It’s regeneration on the cheap and that is the settlement people called time on two and a half years ago – it’s just simply not good enough. These are places that within living memory powered this country, made a contribution, built our wealth and influence and should have the right to do it again.”
Pressed on whether levelling up had any chance of success under the current prime minister, who has faced calls to resign from his own MPs, Ms Nandy replied: “I don’t want to say no because we had 40 years of good jobs leaving our towns, we’ve had a decade of austerity that’s turbo-charged that – and people have had enough.”
But she added: “They are out of energy, they are out of ideas, and they’ve got a chancellor who fundamentally doesn’t believe in the potential of our nations and regions.”
Speaking on the eve of the publication of the levelling up white paper, Ms Nandy went on: “I don’t see how anything more that this can materialise from this government.
“They seem tired, they seem more interested in their jobs than other people’s. If the only thing that they’ve come up with in two and a half years is a levelling up board, some civil service jobs, and more mayors, I think they’ve completely missed the point.
“Do I hold much hope for this? Non, but in the end this will happen because people won’t accept it. In the end this will have to happen, but whether this government can deliver it or not, I’d say the evidence is pretty clear they can’t.
“Who knows, maybe Michael Gove will read this and surprise me? Mais, if the Treasury doesn’t back it and the prime minister is deeply uninterested in what is happening in parts of the country, I don’t see how it can succeed.”
In an interview with the BBC, Mr Gove insisted on Tuesday that the levelling up strategy was “absolutely critical for the country”, and while there was no “instant fix”, the government could not afford to go slow.
Il ajouta: “Levelling up means making opportunity more equal. At the moment the UK is like a jet plane flying on only one engine and we’re not making the most of every community and in particular in the north and Midlands we need to make sure that people have an improved quality of life, but also economic improvements as well.”