Michael Gove chose Tees Valley today for his first ministerial visit since being appointed Secretary of State for Levelling Up. He went to both Darlington, where civil service jobs are being re-located from London, and the Teesworks industrial site at Redcar which is being developed as a centre for green energy.
In an early, if nor particularly enlightening, indication of his thinking about the nature and meaning of levelling up, he told the Northern Echo: ‘You shouldn’t have to leave somewhere you love in order to have a truly fulfilling career – that’s part of what levelling up is about’.
‘Levelling up is about making opportunities more equal’ he said, echoing but not adding anything significant to the Conservative Party manifesto of 2019, which stated that ‘Conservatives believe that every child should have the same opportunity to express their talents and make the most of their lives’.
If Gove’s words added little of substance to clarify the levelling up debate – not surprisingly after just a week in the job – what was significant was that he chose Tees Valley for his first visit.
Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen’s delight will have been enhanced by Gove’s reference to him as a ‘brilliant mayor’. If Houchen has decided the time has come to hitch his wagon to Gove’s fortunes rather than those of Boris Johnson, as I speculated here yesterday following the mayor’s implicit criticisms of the Prime Minister, he will regard today’s visit as validating his decision.
Tees Valley can expect to continue receiving full support for levelling up – within its limitations – while the neighbouring North East, still without a devolution deal for four of its seven councils, can only hope for crumbs at best. The seven should re-unite and do a deal as soon as possible.