Wigan MP Lisa Nandy savages Government's levelling-up plans

Wigan MP Lisa Nandy has delivered a series of broadsides to the Government's much vaunted "levelling up" agenda.
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She was responding to Communities Secretary Michael Gove in Parliament as he unveiled plans to regenerate towns and cities away from Whitehall, most off which will be in the North of England and Midlands.

said unlocking the full potential of underperforming places could boost aggregate UK GDP by tens of billions of pounds each year.

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He told the House: “The economic price from levelling up is potentially enormous. If underperforming places will level up towards the UK average, unlocking their full potential, it could boost aggregate UK GDP by tens of billions of pounds each year.

Lisa NandyLisa Nandy
Lisa Nandy

“So how do we achieve success? Firstly, by backing business, the economic growth we want to see across the UK will be generated by the private sector, by businesses and entrepreneurs, investing, innovating, taking risks and opening new markets, and we’ll support them every step of the way, by cutting through the red tape, making it easier to secure investment and, as our White Paper today outlines, by creating the right environment on the ground for business.

“As the Chancellor laid out in our plan for growth, we need to invest in science and innovation, improve infrastructure and connectivity and extend educational opportunity to underpin economic success.”

But Ms Nandy, who is shadow communities secretary, warned high streets are struggling as people do not have money to spend, adding to the Government: “They are about to hike up taxes. This does nothing to address it.

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“What we needed was a plan to connect our towns and villages to jobs, to opportunities, to our family and to our friends, but they’ve halved the funding for buses, they’ve scrapped the rail promises to the North and where is the digital Britain we were promised?

Michael GoveMichael Gove
Michael Gove

“We don’t need to look to Rome, Jericho or Renaissance Florence for inspiration, because in Preston, Wigan and Grimsby people are delivering real change for themselves – not because of their Government but despite it.

“Imagine what we could do if they could get out of the way and give us back the power that we demand to make decisions for ourselves.”

Ms Nandy described the Levelling Up White Paper as “smoke and mirrors”, and was heckled as she said: “They have given more to fraudsters than they’ve given to the north of England.”

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She said: “For some of us this is personal, we’ve lived these failures every single day, we’ve watched good jobs go, our high streets boarded up, young people who have to get out to get on.

“This system is completely broken and he’s given us more of the same.

“This was meant to be the Prime Minister’s defining mission of government.

“I’m not surprised he was too embarrassed to come here today and to defend it himself, it’s so bad that even the Secretary of State has privately been saying that it’s rubbish.”

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Chris Fletcher, Policy Director at Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce, said: “The battle cry to ‘Level Up’ the country played a significant part in ensuring victory for the Conservatives at the 2019 election but since then it has remained a slogan with very little substance behind it. With the release of the White Paper today it is a little clearer what this strategy means but many questions and gaps still remain.

“Amongst the many announcements, in what is a substantial document, the lack of new funding stands out. Some of the new 12 government missions, the key focal points for action, have been based on what has worked in parts of the country already, such as Mayoral Combined Authorities. But, without genuine devolved powers, a central government fully prepared to ‘let go’ of control and intervention, backed up by cash, these 12 targets will never be fully realised.

“There are some interesting new announcements around an upgraded devo deal for Greater Manchester and a brand new Innovation Accelerator and we await more details on what these actually are but most of the content feels very much like refined and rehashed versions of already announced policies repackaged under the label of ‘Levelling Up’.

“At a time when many businesses, employees and residents are facing significant challenges around price rises, jobs and the ongoing impact of Covid and Brexit it is vital that these proposals deliver, and quickly. We have already been let down significantly by the inappropriate and poor recommendations of the Integrated Rail Plan launched last year and hope that something more positive comes out from today’s announcement.

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“As with all White Papers there are a lots of ideas for discussion and feedback and, over the next few days, we will be digging deeper into the content to identify where more needs doing to help businesses and communities across the city region, for it is just as important that we ‘level up’ across Greater Manchester as well as other areas of the UK.”

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