Levelling Up White Paper will contain metrics of success – Gove

The Levelling Up White Paper expected by Christmas will contain metrics by which the success of the policy can be judged, Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove has told MPs.

‘We hope to publish a White Paper before Christmas, and in it we anticipate setting out some particular missions by which the government can be judged and some metrics by which we and others can be held to account’, he said at a meeting of the Housing, Communities and Local Government Select Committee this week.

Gove also reiterated the four elements of levelling up which he set out during the Conservative Party conference:

‘The first is helping to strengthen and improve local leadership; ..the next is improving living standards, particularly where they are lower; ..the third is improving the quality of public services, particularly where they are lagging;..the final element is helping to restore and enhance pride in place’.

Strengthening local leadership was one of three ‘most immediate and pressing priorities’ that Gove said faced the Department for Levelling Up – ‘thinking about how we strengthen local leadership to make sure that local government is being seen visibly to effect a beneficial transformation in people’s lives, both economically and in the quality of the places where they live’.

On devolution, he said: ‘Without wanting to pre-empt the White Paper in detail, we will be looking at mayoral combined authorities (MCAs). Should their geography change, i.e. grow? Should there be new ones? Should we give additional powers to some of those mayoral combined authorities? We will also be looking at the relationship with individual local authority areas and whether individual local authority areas…can assume a greater degree of responsibility for the functions that are currently exercised at a national level’.

But if MCAs and individual local authorities stand to gain additional powers they also face greater scrutiny and accountability. Gove explained:

‘We need not only to develop in terms of traditional financial audit functions, but to develop a better understanding of what is working well and less well in local government by making sure we have a clearer sense of data.

‘Going back to the original point about metrics for levelling up, we need to be able to make even more powerful and meaningful comparisons across local government.

‘I am not thinking of restoring the Audit Commission, but I am acknowledging that it once discharged functions that, in a world where we were all better able to gather data and make comparisons, would be in that position. The idea is for an information-sharing function allowing voters and others to make judgments rather than a compliance function, which is what we felt the Audit Commission had become overly towards the end of its life’.

It also emerged that the South Tyneside Council leader, Councillor Tracey Dixon, has met Gove for talks on levelling up, though not in her role as a member of the North East Combined Authority but representing local authorities in coastal communities.