As we start to move out of the pandemic, building a new Britain requires a shift in focus toward spreading greater opportunity, prosperity and power to regions like ours here in the North East. But the sad reality is that despite all the noise coming from the government, they are failing to level up our region.
Yesterday’s white paper focused on creating more politicians and processes, rather than focusing on people. A people-centred approach would see the government devolving real power and resources, so people across Tyne and Wear, and indeed across all our regions, can determine their own future.
Labour welcomes the government’s targets, but we deeply regret that there is no detailed plan for the investment required to truly level up areas like Gateshead, where we’re set back by deep-rooted inequalities.
To hold the government to account, Labour has set out five tests the Government’s levelling up plan must meet if they are to deliver on their promises in the 2019 election.
Our new research has revealed that virtually every area of England (95%) has received less in funding on average since 2018 than they received from regional development funds, such as the Towns Fund.
And we know that eight of the poorest local authorities in England have received less than £10 a head from the four funds announced to-date, while some of the wealthiest areas have received ten times more per head.
In Gateshead, local settlement funding has reduced and no successful bids through levelling up funding have been forthcoming for the area, leaving a £51.7m real terms loss for the borough since the Government’s levelling up agenda was announced back in 2018. Our research also found that in England 144 local authority areas were worse off by approximately £50 million on average, after receiving Levelling Up funding. How can the real-terms cuts to the regions be called levelling up?
I agree with Lisa Nandy – Labour’s Shadow Levelling Up Secretary – that it is simply not good enough to give us more of the same – more small pots of money to scrap over – without real power. We need to change the settlement of our country in favour of those who built it and meet the ambitions people have for their own communities.
Yesterday, Labour published our five tests for measuring levelling up. The first test is that we see more good jobs in our home towns, so young people have choices and chances and don’t have to get out to get on.
Second, our high streets must be thriving because the local economy is thriving, with good local businesses and money in people’s pockets – not just papering over the cracks.
Third is whether our towns and villages are better connected to jobs, opportunities, our family and our friends through good transport, digital infrastructure and affordable housing that we have too often missed out on.
Our fourth test is whether the government hands us the power to take local decisions for ourselves – ending the system where we have to go cap in hand to Westminster to do things we know will work for us.
And fifth, we will measure whether our town centres are safe and welcoming instead of plagued by anti-social behaviour, with criminals being let off and victims let down.
While the Government is distracted cleaning up the Prime Minister’s scandals, they aren’t governing and they certainly aren’t delivering for constituents like mine here in Blaydon, who have real ambitions for their future. Labour will continue to hold this government to account.
Levelling up can’t be based on a system of throwing scraps over the castle wall. It means devolving real decision-making power and financial resources to the regions to ensure jobs and opportunities are spread fairly across the country so that young people in Blaydon constituency and beyond don’t have to get out to get on.