Today the government announced more cash for communities in need of investment – levelling up in action. But Red Wall MPs lament their constituencies aren’t getting enough, writes Elena Siniscalco
It’s 2023, and we’re talking about levelling up again – although most people still don’t know what it means. Rumour has it, the government has been advised to call it something else. Try “stepping up” or “gauging up”, ministers have been told. Labour didn’t like it and quipped “screwing up” would be a more accurate depiction of what the government has achieved since Boris Johnson launched the slogan in 2019.
But today is a big day for this mission, however you want to call it, as £2.1bn of funding is distributed up and down the country. As expected, there’s unhappiness on the green benches.The redistribution of cash has pissed off Conservative MPs who didn’t get money for their local projects rather than the actual residents. Telling.
Members of the Cabinet have been sent on special missions – also known as media rounds – all over the place. It had a distinctive vibe: you know when the Totally Spies magically change into their colourful shiny outfits and leap out to complete their dangerous assignments? That one. Michael Gove, for one, was in Blackpool this morning defending his department’s splurge. He had the unenviable task of fending off the main criticism of the new funding, namely that it doesn’t go to the communities who need it most.
Critics – including scornful Red Wall MPs – point out the South of England gets, collectively, more money than the North. Yorkshire got basically half of what the south east got, for example. But it’s a matter of how you calculate it, Gove quickly fired back. If you look at the amount of money allocated per person then the north west, the north east and Wales do best of all, he said. He then went on a rant about how levelling up doesn’t only mean investment, but also increasing local trust – which made everyone confused, again.
Of the 80 successful bids in England, only half are in the most deprived areas. Some affluent communities are getting money to renovate their high streets – it’s all about priorities I guess.
Handing out pots of cash in this way was never going to be easy – and the government would have been criticised either way. If it gives all the money to the North, it means it has forgotten there are big pockets of deprivation in London and in the South. If it gives money to pockets of deprivation in the South, it has forgotten about the poorer, jobless communities in the North.
Sunak now has to convince the electorate that what he’s doing is in the public interest – and that he’s not simply favouring communities whose vote he needs to win, or rewarding Conservative strongholds. Then, he must convince his own MPs that he can keep his promises and that their constituencies are not only political pawns. Thank god he has a Cabinet of 30 cheerleaders to help him in the mission – rather than just three Totally Spies.