Boris Johnson condemns “outrage” at north-south divide but provides few details on “leveling up”


Prime Minister Boris Johnson launched a scathing attack on the failure of previous governments to bridge the North-South divide, as he made plans to “level” the country.

But he has been criticized for failing to provide details of his plan to ensure that people in areas such as the northeast have the same opportunities as those in the south.

He gave a speech in Coventry which contained few new announcements except for a plan to create high-level mayors or similar leaders in the counties of England, similar to those already in place in Manchester, Liverpool and the North Tyne region.

READ MORE: Politicians clash over England ‘taking the knee’

There was a £ 20million announcement for Blyth from the government’s Cities Fund, designed to boost main streets and local amenities.

But full details of the upgrade plan won’t be released until the fall, when the government releases a white paper. Tory Midlands MP Neil O’Brien is working on the plan alongside the Prime Minister, and local leaders, including mayors, have been asked to make proposals.

Mr Johnson said East Germany, the former Communist state which was economically backward when it reunified with West Germany in 1990, was now richer than the North East .

The Prime Minister said: “It is an astonishing fact that 31 years after German unification, the GDP per capita of the North East of our country, Yorkshire, the East Midlands, Wales and Ireland of the North is now lower than that of the former East Germany. – and I remember going to the former East Germany in 1990, just after the fall of the wall, and I remember having was amazed at how great West Germany was at the time. “

He warned: “Even before the start of the pandemic, the UK had and has a more imbalanced economy than almost all of our biggest immediate competitors in Europe.”

Johnson said it was “a scandal” that life expectancy is much lower in some parts of the country than in others. He added: “If you are a child with free school meals in London, you now have more than double the chance of going to college than a child with free school meals growing up outside London.”

Given that the UK has had a Tory-led government since 2010, the comments could be seen as criticism of recent Tory prime ministers as well as labor administrations.

But Mr Johnson, who became Prime Minister in 2019, has provided limited details on what he would do differently. He pointed to a £ 4.2bn transport fund, first announced in the March budget statement, for which regions, including the North East, were invited to bid.

Boris Johnson meets Nissan staff earlier this month

He pledged to crack down on crime, especially “county line” gangs involved in the drug trade, and to build 40 new hospitals. He also highlighted the plans for the deployment of very high speed across the UK.

Business leaders in the Northeast have asked for more details on the proposed leveling measures. Rachel Anderson, Deputy Director of Policy at the North East England Chamber of Commerce, said: ‘We welcome the Prime Minister’s recognition that our national economy being out of balance is an issue that needs to be addressed. . It was also very clear in his speech that he understands where the difficulty lies in realizing this lie and the government must present a long term plan to achieve it.

“We have campaigned for many years to ensure that the overheating of the South East is not sustainable and that the North can be a key driver of the UK economy, it was good that his speech acknowledged that.

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“We have known about these issues for a long time and there is an urgent need for them to be addressed. However, we need details of the actual measures to address the very real gaps in our economy in order to truly bring the country up to speed on the key issues for it. our region that we didn’t have today. “

Key Cities, a lobby group representing 25 cities including Sunderland, echoed the call for more details. Key Cities Chairman John Merry said: “Key Cities welcomes the government’s renewed commitment to flexible decentralization and local leadership, but as a bringing together of 25 cities in England and Wales, we would have liked to know more about exactly how the government intends to achieve an inclusive and balanced economy for all parts of the country. “

Meanwhile, the northern transportation authority, Transport for the North, has called on the government to release its long-awaited integrated transportation plan, which aims to present firm proposals for the construction of the trans-Pennine Northern Powerhouse rail line. and the eastern part of the HS2 high speed train. line. He wrote to ministers to demand that the plan, initially slated for by the end of 2020, be released by the end of this month.

The Northern Powerhouse Partnership think tank has also called for the plan to be released. Henri Murison, Director of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership, said: “The Prime Minister is right to recognize the enormous potential that can be unleashed from a properly rebalanced economy and now is the time to translate that into visible change.

“There is only a week left until the summer break and we still haven’t seen the integrated rail plan, which can’t wait for the fall.”

Labor MP for Wansbeck Ian Lavery said: “The Prime Minister’s speech today on ‘The Leveling Up’ was exactly what we expected on this topic, a vague, winding monologue devoid of any detail or significant consistency.

“After the speech, no one is more aware of what the term ‘leveling’ actually means in reality – including it seems the Prime Minister himself.”

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