Prime Minister Boris Johnson has appointed a Midlands MP as his “levelling up” adviser, following concern that people struggle to understand what the phrase means.
The Prime Minister says “levelling up” is one of his top priorities and it’s set to be a theme of the Queen’s Speech on May 11, as the Government sets out plan to rebuild the economy following the Covid pandemic.
Levelling up means creating economic growth and opportunities outside London and the south east, including in the North and Midlands. But Whitehall officials are reported to be uncertain about how they are supposed to put this policy into practice.
Mr Johnson has appointed Neil O’Brien, the Conservative MP for Harborough in Leicestershire, as his levelling up tsar, the Financial Times reports.
Mr O’Brien will work across Downing Street and the Cabinet Office on levelling up, it’s reported, and will also work closely with the new Number 10 delivery unit.
Mr Johnson spoke about the role levelling up will play in the Queen’s Speech when he met the Cabinet last week.
A read-out of the event, supplied to journalists, shows that he said the focus of the Queen’s Speech will be to demonstrate how the government “builds back better” from the pandemic and fulfils its pledge to unite and level up the country.
He also highlighted the fact that departments are being asked to take part in a savings and efficiency review ahead of the Spending Review, due later this year. The purpose is to learn the lessons from the last year in how the nation can run services more efficiently, and ensure the Government focuses high levels of spending on key priorities.
Parliament was prorogued on Thursday, April 29. This means the current session, which began in December 2019, has come to an end.
It will resume its work following the official state opening on May 11. Along with the pageantry, this is when the Queen will deliver a speech – written for her, of course – setting out the Government’s plans for the next 12 months or so.
The Government argues that it has, in fact, pursued levelling up during the pandemic, even if its efforts have been overshadowed by the health crisis. Ministers would point to the decision to approve re-opening of Birmingham rail stations as an example.
But there are some big decisions that have been delayed. For example, whether to go ahead with the HS2 high speed rail line and the Northern Powerhouse Rail schemes in full.
The National Infrastructure Commission, which advises the Government, recommended in December that the eastern leg of the HS2 high speed rail line, which includes new stations in Birmingham and Solihull, should run no further north than the East Midlands. It also suggested the Government could save money by downgrading Northern Powerhouse Rail, a proposed new high speed line linking the North West and Yorkshire, which would also connect to the HS2 line.
The Prime Minister has already dropped heavy hints, in answers to questions in Parliament, that he won’t downgrade HS2. But a firm decision is due in the long-delayed Integrated Rail Plan, which has not yet been published
Mr Johnson had also been planning to provide more funding and powers to regional mayors, including the winner of the West Midlands Mayor election on May 6, and a White Paper setting out the proposals was due last year. Officials have said the paper was delayed due to Covid. There are also unconfirmed reports that Mr Johnson’s public arguments last year with Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham have caused him to think twice about handing more powers to regional leaders, but it remains to be seen if this is correct.