The Levelling Up White Paper has been delayed until 2022, according to reports in national media. The Mail on Sunday is being credited as first with the news, which has led to a flurry of comment and speculation.
According to MailOnline, sources said the White Paper has been a casualty of tensions between Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Chancellor Rishi Sunak over costs, with Mr Sunak insisting that the total should be limited to £4.8bn.
MailOnline quotes a source said to be close to Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove as denying the White Paper had been delayed due to a shortage of ideas. ‘There are a lot of policies in it,’ the source said. ‘We could do it before Christmas, but it makes more sense to present it in the New Year. It is in good shape. Michael has chaired at least five committees on it.’
Shadow Levelling Up Secretary Lisa Nandy told the Mirror: ‘The Government’s commitment to level up our communities is in complete disarray’.
The Mirror mentions ‘reports there had been a clash with Chancellor Rishi Sunak over cash’, but also suggests timetabling problems after ‘ministers failed to carve out a gap in the busy pre-Christmas schedule’.
The Mirror also provides a reminder that Mr Sunak announced a £4.8bn ‘Levelling Up Fund’ in October’s Spending Review, with £1.7bn in the first round of bids and a second round next year.
‘It’s claimed the Chancellor has insisted he will not increase the total’, reports the paper.
The BBC, reporting that it had been confirmed that the White Paper was ‘likely’ to be delayed until next year, said it was understood the need to deal with the spread of the Omicron Covid variant was among the reasons.
The BBC also reported Labour’s accusation that ministers’ plans were in ‘disarray’. Labour said ministers had failed to come up with a ‘single idea’ for effectively reducing regional inequality, it said.
The broadcaster quoted government sources dismissing Labour’s claim, saying that Gove was determined to address the issue and a committee he was chairing had already met several times, with ‘very good engagement’ from fellow cabinet ministers.
One new idea to emerge from weekend reports is that counties that do devolution deals, as Durham might, could elect American-style governors instead of mayors as in city regions. The Mirror calls the idea ‘daft’.
If Sunak succeeds in limiting levelling-up funding to the £4.8bn already announced then opportunities for new money will be very severely restricted. It will have to come from easing austerity on existing budgets, such as those for local government, education, crime and local transport, as discussed here on November 26. But even that will take years just to restore funding to the levels a decade ago and, if it is to contribute to levelling up, it will require the completion of the Fair Funding Review to ensure the extra money (if any) goes where it is most needed.
(This report was delayed by 24 hours by malware).