Boris Johnson vowed more investment and more powers for local mayors to ‘level up’ Red Wall areas today – as he scrambled to reassure traditional Conservative heartlands that they will not be left out in the cold.
The Prime Minister insisted that his drive to boost Midlands and Northern areas where the Tories have been surging politically does not mean ‘rich areas get poorer’.
Speaking in Coventry, he said it is an ‘outrage’ that people in Blackpool have far lower life expectancy than in other wealthier areas.
And he stressed that many of the differences were within regions – pointing out the striking variation in fortunes between Leeds and Bradford.
Mr Johnson said fuelling the economy in other parts of the UK would not be ‘bad for London’, arguing it means ‘more customers and more business for our national metropolis’.
The premier said the UK was the most ‘unbalanced’ developed economies in the world and had been ‘firing on one cylinder’ for too long.
‘Levelling up is not a jam spreading operation,’ he said. ‘It is win-win for the whole UK.’
But despite floating new ‘county’ mayors, Mr Johnson admitted he only had the ‘skeleton’ of what needed to be done as he came under fire for a lack of detail in his keynote speech.
Former No10 chief Dominic Cummings bluntly branded the address ‘cr**’ and said the ‘levelling up’ slogan was ‘vapid’.
The intervention was designed to soothe Tory jitters over last month’s Chesham and Amersham by-election defeat to the Liberal Democrats.
Boris Johnson delivered his levelling up speech at the UK Battery Industrialisation Centre in Coventry, where he was given a tour of the facilities
The PM was shown an electric racing car during his visit in Coventry today
The PM insisted that prosperous areas in the South East will benefit from spreading economic growth more widely
Former No10 chief Dominic Cummings bluntly branded the address ‘cr**’ and said the ‘levelling up’ slogan was ‘vapid’
Key points from PM’s ‘levelling up’ speech
Boris Johnson said the UK is one of the most ‘unbalanced’ developed economies in the world and has been successful despite firing on ‘one cylinder’ – a reference to the strength of London.
The PM denied that boosting the North and West Midlands would come at a price for the prosperous South East, saying it is not a ‘jam spreading’ exercise and there would be more customers and business.
Mr Johnson said governments had invested too much in areas where house prices were ‘sky high’, as it forced more people to move there and drove prices even higher.
He suggested giving more powers to metro mayors, and proposed there should also be directly elected mayors for individual counties.
Mr Johnson hailed government funds for investing in left-behind areas, and infrastructure projects.
He rejected criticism of a lack of detail about the ‘levelling up’ strategy but admitted he had only set out a ‘skeleton’ of what needed to be done.
Mr Johnson warned that previous governments invested too much in ‘areas where house prices are already sky high and transport is already congested’.
He added: ‘By turbo-charging those areas, especially in London and the South East, you drive prices even higher and you force more and more people to move to the same expensive areas.
‘And the result is that their commutes are longer, their trains are more crowded, they have less time with their kids.
‘They worry at the same time that the younger generation won’t be able to get a home and that their leafy suburb or village will be engulfed by new housing development but without the infrastructure to go with it.’
The PM insisted: ‘We don’t want to decapitate the tall poppies. We don’t think you can make the poor parts of the country richer by making the rich parts poorer.’
Mr Johnson said the Government needed to ‘rewrite the rulebook’ and take a ‘more flexible approach to devolution’ in England.
‘The UK will never fit into some cookie cutter division into regions named after points of the compass,’ he said.
‘But where there are obvious communities of identity and affinity and real economic geographies, there is a chance to encourage local leadership.’
Mr Johnson added local leaders in towns around the country should be ‘given the tools to make things happen for their communities’.
‘To do that we must take a more flexible approach to devolution in England,’ he said.
‘We need to rewrite the rulebook with new deals for the counties and there is no reason why our great counties cannot benefit from the same powers we’ve devolved to city leaders.’
He said: ‘One possibility is a directly elected mayor for individual counties. And if you can think of a better title than mayor for somebody who represents a county then please send me an email.
Asked after the speech why he had yet to give more details of the ‘levelling up’ strategy, he said: ‘I am respectfully going to urge you to just go back over some of what I said because I do think that in all fairness there was at least the skeleton of what to do.’
Town centre revival plan includes £10m chewing gum taskforce
Boris Johnson today launched a town centre revival plan with a £10million taskforce to clean up chewing gum and a ‘National High Streets Day’ to boost local pride.
The government is stepping up a campaign to rescue urban centres across England after they were ‘hollowed out’ during the pandemic.
It wants to see derelict buildings transformed into new businesses or homes, while communities could get more opportunities to own local facilities such as pubs, theatres and sports grounds.
The PM reiterated his determination to ‘level up’ the country in a speech in Coventry today, although he gave few new details about what the slogan will mean.
Downing Street said the PM’s call for county mayors was a ‘new model’ of devolution.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: ‘County deals is a model of devolution which supports levelling up.
‘They enable local people to come together with powers exercised at the right level to make a difference for their communities.
‘In return for that greater control, what we expect back is improvements in government, governance and efficiency.’
Pressed on whether this would afford additional powers upon the county deals formula, which already exists, the No 10 spokesman added: ‘This is a recognition that central government can’t do all this work on its own – we want to see more county deals established up and down the country.
‘These are a new model of local devolution and we want to see people take advantage of them.’
The ‘level up’ pledge was seen as central to smashing Labour’s ‘Red Wall’ seats in the Midlands and the North. But Mr Johnson did not add much more flesh to the policy in his speech today.
Former No 10 adviser turned Tory MP Neil O’Brien has been recruited to work out details of the plans.
The agenda will include a focus on local infrastructure projects and the regeneration of high streets.
His speech – designed to put flesh on the bones of his election-winning slogan – comes amid Tory jitters over last month’s Chesham and Amersham by-election defeat to the Liberal Democrats. Pictured: Chesham and Amersham Lib Dem MP Sarah Green
The Chesham by-election’s 25 per cent swing to the Lib Dems came as a shock to southern Tories.
One MP said: ‘You can’t bang on about levelling up the North without voters in the South starting to wonder what’s in it for them.’
Meanwhile, the Government will today confirm plans for eight new hospitals – the first batch of a promised 40 by 2030.
Four will be in the West Midlands, Cumbria, Liverpool and Brighton, with four more expected in London, Manchester, Nottingham and Northumberland.