Boris Johnson ‘flunked’ opportunity to clarify what ‘levelling up’ means, MPs say

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Boris Johnson “flunked” his opportunity to define his government’s flagship levelling up agenda, MPs have said.

A new report from the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) Committee says a lack of clarity risks it becoming an “everything and nothing policy”.

Levelling up was a term coined when the prime minister entered Downing Street and was heavily pushed during the 2019 election as a way of closing regional inequalities and “improving everyday life and life chances”.

But the phrase has since been used in relation to tackling a number of society’s ills including addressing racial inequalities in the context of the Black Lives Matter protests, when speaking about disability rights, and tackling anti-Semitism.

Chair of the BEIS committee, Labour MP Darren Jones, said: “Levelling up was a major part of the government’s offer to the British people at the last election, but it appears every possible funding stream from government – be it about bus stops or football pitches – is labelled as for levelling up.”

The group of MPs said it was their view that levelling up meant “the spreading of economic and social opportunities more evenly across the country”.

But the panel added that despite taking extensive evidence for a year from various parts of government, they had not received any adequate answers to their questions about the agenda, and it was unclear who was responsible for delivering on it.

The prime minister came under criticism after a speech at the UK Battery Industrialisation Centre in Coventry last week – which was billed as a major bid to define his vision for the UK – for providing little new detail on levelling up.

Mr Johnson appointed Tory MP Neil O’Brien as his levelling up adviser in May and has promised a Levelling Up White Paper later in the year.

But Mr Jones said: “Last week, the prime minister flunked his opportunity to explain what levelling up is and instead revealed that the government has failed miserably in translating a political soundbite into a deliverable programme of government.”

The committee’s report, published today, said: “Despite this focus on levelling up as a central theme in government discourse, there remains a distinct lack of clarity as to what the government actually means by levelling up, and subsequently, how the success or otherwise of the government’s policy aim of levelling up can be assessed and evaluated.”

It added: “To date, the government has provided no overall strategy for the agenda or a vision for what a levelled-up UK might look like in the future.”

MPs said it was unclear whether the amount of money promised was enough to even equal, let alone exceed, historic levels of UK and EU funding to local government.

And that “given the government’s own focus on its levelling up agenda, the lack of clarity around its meaning and how it translates into specific policy initiatives and strategies is stark”.

The report warned: “As it stands, levelling up risks becoming an everything and nothing policy.”

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