GK Researcher, Tristan Robinson, investigates what’s in store for the levelling up agenda under the premiership of Liz Truss and whether tangible progress can be delivered before the next general election.
What we know so far
During the Conservative Leadership Contest, Liz Truss never truly went into detail as to how she’d take on levelling up under her premiership.
She had often used the term levelling up in a “Conservative way” by focusing on tax cuts, deregulation, and devolution to boost growth. The recent not-so-’mini’ fiscal statement set out by the Chancellor of the Exchequer Kwasi Kwarteng, has given a clear indication that Liz Truss has kept with her mantra of governing in a ‘Conservative way’ – Trussonomics. The Chancellor gave no mention of levelling up in his speech but did announce the creation of new ‘investment zones’ in over 4o locations across the UK. It’s hoped that this would encourage businesses to invest by incentivising lower tax regulations and planning rules. If some of these new ‘investment zones’ were selected in areas such as Liverpool, Teesside, Newcastle and Grimsby, the financial benefits for the local areas could be significant.
Andy Street, Mayor of the West Midlands recently outlined his support for targeted Investment Zones whilst Mayor for Tees Valley Ben Houchen called it a ‘gamechanger‘ for areas such as Teesside, helping to rejuvenate town centres such as Hartlepool and creating new high-wage jobs. Yet, it remains unknown as to how long it will take for these zones to be implemented. In addition, there is a possibility of opposition from the Government’s own backbenchers who are concerned about losing their leafy rural seats that have long been opposed to development.
Liz Truss has also pledged to reverse the decision to downgrade the Northern Powerhouse Rail project which links Liverpool with Hull, stretching across England. During the contest she did not commit to completing the HS2 Line between the East Midlands and Leeds. It is yet unknown whether she will go through with this decision and reverse the downgrade and commit to the Eastern Leg. She also committed to Northern Research Group pledge card that aims for further devolution, a Minister for the North with direct responsibility for local growth and levelling up, the equalising of the Levelling Up Formula and introduction of two new vocational institutions in the North of England.
Levelling up is not just about infrastructure & transport, and Liz Truss has yet to go into detail on how she will help level up the UK by fixing the social disparities on matters such as quality of education, access to health care as well the quality of living between the North & South of England.
Time is ticking…
Liz Truss has not made levelling up her flagship policy for her administration, but rather tax cuts & deregulation. Whilst she has given an inkling as to what her approach would look like – such as introducing new investment zones & supporting the Northern Research Group pledge card – she has yet to give a detailed plan on what their levelling up agenda would look like or how long their proposals would take to implement.
The immense cost to level up makes it near impossible to do anything substantial in a short time frame and with many Southern MPs concerned of losing their seats on the topic of development, illustrated with the impact of the 2021 Chesham & Amersham by-election which ultimately caused planning reforms to be ditched during Johnson’s premiership. Centre for Cities believes that to truly level up and close the North-South divide would cost £2 trillion and would take decades to implement long-term efficient policy. In truth, Liz Truss will have very little time to fulfil any substantial changes to the geographical disparities in the UK in under two years. The incoming winter crisis & the rising tensions with Russia will inevitability shift the focus away from levelling up just as Covid-19 had done for Johnson’s government.
Shadow Minster for Levelling Up, Lisa Nandy, introduced an alternative with a 5-point plan to level up the UK. Focusing on jobs, Labour wants to spread job opportunities across the UK by investing £28bn each year in green projects in industrial and coastal towns. The plan also wants to set off 100k new businesses to help local high streets, and includes fostering greater connectivity with towns and villages by investing in better transport and digital infrastructure, more devolution, and reintroducing neighbourhood policing to ensure town centres are safe.
As Labour Conference rumbled on and Labour revealed more of its outlook in the run up to the next election, Labour’s Shadow’s Transport Secretary Louise Haigh offered a telling insight into Labour might tackle the problem of connectivity. Haigh promised not just to nationalise the railway system once more, but to build a Elizabeth Line for the North and deliver the Northern Powerhouse Rail and HS2 in full. Lisa Nandy also spoke at Labour Conference at an event with the Conservative-led thinktank Onward pledging to boost building of social housing and “finish the job” on rebuilding northern cities that was originally planned during the last Labour government.
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