Michael Gove’s 12 commandments for levelling up Britain to be set in stone

A dozen pledges to “level up” Britain are to be enshrined in law in an attempt to set the Government’s agenda for the rest of the decade, Michael Gove will announce on Wednesday.

The flagship Levelling Up White Paper promises improved infrastructure, research and development funding, educational outcomes and quality of life across Britain, to be delivered in a range of targets ministers hope to reach by 2030.

It also offers greater devolution to towns and cities over the next eight years, in what officials describe as a “devolution revolution” and a “huge shift of power from Whitehall to local leaders”.

Wednesday’s long-awaited paper provides the most comprehensive definition yet of levelling up, which ministers have said is the defining mission of Boris Johnson’s premiership, but some MPs have complained is a vague policy agenda plagued by accusations of politically driven funding decisions.

Announcing the paper, Mr Gove compared the UK to “a jet firing on only one engine” and pledged to return government focus to “overlooked and undervalued” communities.

His policy document runs to about 350 pages and is the culmination of months of work by himself and his Levelling Up taskforce, led by Andy Haldane, a former chief economist at the Bank of England.

Michael Gove’s 12 pledges by 2030

It includes a pledge to reduce the gap in life expectancy between rich and poor areas of Britain, and for expectancy to increase by five years overall by 2035.

By the end of the decade, the White Paper says 90 per cent of children will have reached the expected standard in reading, writing and maths, while 200,000 more people will complete high-quality skills training each year.

It also promises that Britain will have nationwide gigabit-capable broadband and 4G coverage, with the majority of the population also able to access mobile 5G.

The Levelling Up Secretary has complained of an “attention deficit disorder” among politicians in previous administrations, and believes his 12 missions will “irrigate the soil” of northern towns and cities and encourage more private sector investment.

However, in a nod to concerns among Conservative MPs that southern voters will feel overlooked by plans aimed at reducing the economic gap between rich and poor areas, the missions also contain a commitment to improve standards across the board.

Following the ‘Medici Effect’

Mr Gove believes that his efforts to encourage people to move to new economic hubs in the North, modelled on the so-called “Medici Effect”, will ease pressure on infrastructure and property prices in London and the South East.

He is a fan of the Medici Effect – an idea from a book of the same name by Frans Johansson, the Swedish-American entrepreneur – which argued that the Medici family encouraged the Renaissance in medieval Italy by situating financiers, artists and scientists in the same cities.

The paper promises that all parts of England will be offered a “devolution deal” offering London-style powers for local officials by 2030, as well as pledging tougher action on rogue landlords and improving the quality of rental housing.

Whitehall sources said that the paper is an attempt to provide philosophical framing for policies that have already been announced, including various pots of money for neglected towns and cities.

However, some Cabinet ministers have been sceptical of the attempt to marry the two, with one government source describing Mr Gove’s track record as “rubbish” and the upcoming Bill as “legislating for the sake of it”.

The source said: “This paper is an attempt to prove that this is a sort of philosophy, as well as a paper full of retail politics. It’s quite far from Thatcher’s policy agenda, for instance.”

Others questioned the paper’s broad scope and length, pointing to its introduction, which contains a history of cities stretching back to the Mesopotamian settlements of 1000BC and the origins of the Middle Eastern city of Jericho.

‘We cannot fail people who voted Tory in 2019’

In an interview on Tuesday night, Mr Gove said that the Government will “fail” people who voted Conservative in 2019 unless it delivers on its promise to level up.

“There’s going to be a shift both of power and money away from London and the South East, towards the North and Midlands, and indeed every part in the United Kingdom,” he told the BBC.

“For too long, our country has been over-centralised and you’ve had the elites in London, who haven’t really understood all of the problems that people in communities like Grimsby and Cleethorpes face.”

Separately, the Government is launching an initiative in schools to tackle the “legacy of lockdown” on children’s waistlines.

School lunches could be inspected for the first time to ensure they are complying with healthy eating standards, which ministers are concerned are not being adhered to.

Launched initially as a pilot with up to five local authorities, the new regime could be rolled out nationally if deemed a success.

A Whitehall source said: “Tackling childhood obesity is a key part of levelling up. It has got a lot worse during Covid and it is twice as high in deprived areas. Children are carrying a lockdown legacy around their waist. We need to make it easier for people feeding them to do the right thing.”

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