Johnson calls for more devolution to boost ‘levelling up’ agenda
Boris Johnson has called for greater devolution across England as a way to boost his “levelling up” agenda, urging towns and counties to approach Downing Street with ideas as to how they can boost their local economies.
“Come to us with your vision about how you will level up,” Johnson said in a somewhat freewheeling speech in Coventry, one which spent considerable time detailing the problems of regional inequality, but had few immediate policies.
Saying the extended devolution was “not a one-size-fits-all” approach, Johnson said that while the model would be city mayors, leaders in counties, towns, and other places could seek bespoke powers in areas such as the economy and transport.
Calling a lack of local leadership one of the biggest barriers to evening up opportunities, Johnson said England remained one of the most centralised countries in Europe, and had suffered from this.
Elsewhere in the speech, billed in advance as a major explanation of the government’s flagship policy, Johnson pledged to target investment away from prosperous Conservative heartlands near London, calling these “areas where house prices are already sky high and where transport is already congested”.
In contrast, Johnson said, terrible disparities existed given the situation in more deprived areas, noting statistics such as there being 10-years less life expectancy in Blackpool than in parts of Hampshire.
“To a great extent, Germany has succeeded in levelling up where we have not,” he said, contrasting the UK’s record with other countries.
More policies for levelling up are expected in a white paper on the subject due in the autumn.
Johnson has faced criticism that “levelling up” largely remains a slogan and relates to a series of sometimes confusingly administered funds. In the spring, Johnson appointed Neil O’Brien, the Harborough MP, to flesh out the policy within No 10.
There have also been concerns about the allocation of money already distributed under the rubric of levelling up. An examination of one scheme, the community renewal fund, found that it appeared overwhelmingly skewed towards Tory-held areas, despite its stated intent to target the most deprived regions.