‘Levelling up’ plan unveiled as Gove says North and Midlands have been ‘overlooked for years’

People in the North and the Midlands have been “overlooked and undervalued for years by politicians”, a minister has told Sky News.

Speaking to Kay Burley, Michael Gove said the 2016 Brexit referendum was a “wake-up call” for those in power in Westminster.

He was speaking to Sky News as the government set out its 12 “levelling up missions” to spread opportunity more equally across the country which it claims will see “a complete system change of how government works”.

Image: Boris Johnson has said levelling up would involve investing in towns, cities and rural and coastal areas

Mistakes have been made by ‘parties of both colours’

Mr Gove will formally announce the government’s Levelling Up White Paper later, which officials say will set out a blueprint to bring prosperity “to all parts” of the UK.


The levelling up secretary said that “as well as a clear commandment to leave the European Union” the referendum “was also a way of saying to people in SW1, people like me, ‘look, it’s vital that you change the economic model of this country”.

Mr Gove added: “It’s all very well if people are in London and the South East in financial services and others do well, we don’t begrudge that. But you’ve got to listen to us’.”

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He said mistakes had been made by “parties of both colours” and that “one of the things in the past is there have been sincere and committed attempts by politicians left and right to deal with this”.

“But nothing as comprehensive or as long-term as the plan that we’re setting out today,” Mr Gove said.

Analysis: voters will now be able to judge whether levelling up has been delivered Tom Rayner

Digital politics editor


Boris Johnson has described it as the central mission of his premiership, he’s given a major speech on it, he’s even created a brand new government department dedicated to it – but for all emphasis, the term “levelling up” is often met with blank faces.

Analysis by the Centre for Cities carried out last autumn found 53% of voters in the so-called ‘red wall seats’ that went from Labour to the Conservatives in 2019 did not know what the policy was.

Indeed it’s become so notorious for its ambiguity that ministers have used that lack of clear definition as a hook in social media posts – describing what levelling up means to them and their department.

The white paper published today goes further than anything before it to offer a definition: breaking it down into “12 missions” that aim to tackle different aspects of geographical inequality in the UK.

Some are more detailed than others, but for the first time there is a list of clear targets against which the government will ultimately be judged: not only will voters now be able to see what levelling up actually is, they’ll be able to know whether or not it has been delivered.

In the Conservatives’ 2019 general election-winning manifesto, the party said its focus would be “levelling up every part of the UK” and the term has since become a key slogan for Boris Johnson’s government.

The prime minister has said the term involves investing in towns, cities and rural and coastal areas, using apprenticeships to balance out skills, giving areas more control over investment and creating new freeports.

But Labour’s Lisa Nandy told Sky News there is “no new money” behind the government’s announcements.

“What we’ve got is a series of rehashed announcements, some of which are so old they were actually originally made by Gordon Brown when he was Labour prime minister in 2008,” the shadow levelling up secretary told Kay Burley.

“This just simply isn’t good enough.”

What is the Levelling Up White Paper?

On Tuesday, Mr Johnson told his cabinet that the white paper would “mark a significant milestone” in ensuring his government “deliver on the people’s priorities”.

Speaking ahead of its release, Mr Gove, the Levelling Up Secretary, told a cabinet meeting that his plans will “change the economic geography of the country”.

Read more: Why Boris Johnson’s levelling-up agenda could be doomed to fail

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A fund of £1.5bn will be available for ‘levelling up’

The government’s levelling up agenda has been continually delayed and some of the new Conservative MPs, who won ‘Red Wall’ seats traditionally held by Labour in the 2019 election, have been pressuring the prime minister for urgent action.

Writing for the Times Red Box, Conservative mayor for Tees Valley, Ben Houchen, recently called for “visible signs” of action if the PM wants to retain the electorate’s support.

What we know will be included in the white paper

The Levelling Up White Paper will include “12 bold national levelling up missions” which it says “will shift government focus and resources to Britain’s forgotten communities by 2030.

The missions will be given status in law through the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill and officials say the plans will see the “biggest shift of power from Whitehall to local leaders in modern times”.

What are the twelve levelling up missions?

• Pay, employment and productivity to have risen in every area of the UK by 2030 with the gap between the top performing and other areas closing

• Investment in Research and Development to increase by 40% across the North, Midlands, South West, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland

• Local public transport connectivity across the country to be significantly closer to the standards of London with improved services, simpler fares and integrated ticketing

• UK to have nationwide gigabit-capable broadband and 4G coverage by 2030 – with 5G coverage for the majority

• Number of primary school children achieving the expected standard in reading, writing and maths will have significantly increased to 90%

• Number of people successfully completing high-quality skills training will have significantly increased in every area of the UK

• By 2030, the gap in Healthy Life Expectancy (HLE) between local areas where it is highest and lowest will have narrowed, and by 2035 HLE will rise by five years

• Well-being will have improved in every area of the UK, with the gap between top performing and other areas closing

• Pride in place, such as people’s satisfaction with their town centre and engagement in local culture and community, will have risen in every area of the UK

• Renters will have a secure path to ownership with the number of first-time buyers increasing in all areas

• By 2030, homicide, serious violence, and neighbourhood crime will have fallen, focused on the worst-affected areas

• Every part of England that wants one will have a devolution deal with powers at or approaching the highest level of devolution and a simplified, long-term funding settlement

The government says it will “do whatever it can to achieve these missions” and that “resources, energy, and focus throughout the 2020s will be re-oriented around achieving them”.

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Lisa Nandy has hit out at the government’s plans

Investment in infrastructure already announced

A “radical new regeneration programme” will see areas prioritised for a £1.5bn brownfield fund.

Wolverhampton and Sheffield have been named as the first of 20 places to get cash from the fund to create what the government says will be “developments combining housing, leisure and business in sustainable, walkable, beautiful new neighbourhoods”.

As part of a wider £120m brownfield fund package, £28m will be allocated to the West Midlands combined authority and £13m for the South Yorkshire combined authority.