A Treasury source told i Rishi Sunak has ruled out raising taxes to pay for the costs of levelling up, after Michael Gove’s plan came with little in the way of funding promises
Tax increases to help pay for the Government’s flagship levelling up agenda were on Wednesday ruled out by the Treasury despite the much-vaunted plans being criticised for lack of ambition and funding.
The Levelling Up Secretary promised to boost life expectancy, practically end illiteracy and innumeracy in primary schools and spread wealth across the country via the long-awaited levelling-up White Paper.
A Treasury source told i Rishi Sunak has ruled out raising taxes to pay for the costs of levelling up – promising colleagues he will instead cut taxes by the next election.
They said: “We’ve already allocated all the levelling up money, literally billions at the spending review.”
The blueprint was also attacked by a senior Tory, who branded the plans “socialist” and demanded the Government abandon the policies in favour of more traditionally Conservative measures.
“We need to allow overlooked and undervalued communities to take back control of their destiny,” adding: “Because we know that, while talent is spread equally across the United Kingdom, opportunity is not.”
Boris Johnson made levelling up his flagship policy during the 2019 election campaign, promising parts of the country that had never voted Tory before that his government would boost their standard of living.
But two years on, Mr Gove failed to secure fresh funding for the Prime Minister’s pet agenda, with sources previously telling i that the Treasury believed the policy was a “luxury” at a time when households were facing a cost of living crisis.
Shadow Levelling Up Secretary Lisa Nandy condemned the proposals put forward, claiming they were evidence of “a Government in freefall – out of ideas, out of energy”.
Responding to the plans in the Commons, Ms Nandy demanded: “Is this it?”
“They tell us to wait till 2030. But where have they been for the last 12 years?” she asked.
Ms Nandy said the plan amounted to “ministers scurrying around Whitehall shuffling the deckchairs, cobbling together a shopping list of recycled policies and fiddling the figures”.
She added: “He talks about 12 missions. This is 12 admissions of failure.”
By 2030, pay, employment and productivity will have risen in every area of the UK, with each containing a globally competitive city.
Domestic public investment in R&D outside the Greater South East will increase by at least 40%
Local public transport connectivity across the country will be significantly closer to the standards of London.
The UK will have nationwide gigabit-capable broadband and 4G coverage, with 5G coverage for the majority of the population.
The number of primary school children achieving the expected standard in reading, writing and maths will have significantly increased.
The number of people successfully completing high-quality skills training will have significantly increased in every area of the UK.
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 5 years.
Well-being will have improved in every area of the UK, 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.
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 plans will see a major devolution of power to local leaders, £100m in cash for three “Silicon Valley-style” innovation accelerators in the West Midlands, Glasgow and Greater Manchester.
There will also be priority for “British firms and British jobs” in Government procurement activity.
While the policies were broadly welcomed by Tory MPs, former minister Steve Baker hit out at what he branded as “socialist” plans.
“We should be using our 80-seat majority to implement Conservative policies, not policies that wouldn’t look out of place in Labour’s manifesto,” he said.
Tory West Midlands Mayor Andy Street said the White Paper would “finally address the imbalance of opportunities across the UK”.
Mr Street acknowledged “some stuff” within the White Paper was “reheated” from previous prime minister Theresa May’s industrial strategy and earlier Labour governments’ regional development agencies.
He said: “But what’s wrong with that? There’s this view that ‘if it’s not their idea, it’s bilge’ but Theresa May had some really good ideas and indeed previous Labour governments did as well – let’s have them.”
Steve Rotheram, the Labour Mayor of the Liverpool City Region, said there were “encouraging elements” but was largely a “rehashing” of policies. “On the whole though, it reads like a recipe cooked up during Veganuary – something severely lacking in meat.”