Tackling the UK's 'outlier' position depends on the North, says Gove

09 February 2022

The North is ‘where the action is, politically and economically’ if the UK’s position as an outlier in comparison to its neighbours is to be tackled, according to levelling up secretary Michael Gove.

Addressing the Convention of the North conference yesterday, he said that the UK was both the most geographically unequal and also the most centralised of its neighbours and competitors, 'and those two things go together’.

Centralisation and inequality needed to be ‘addressed, changed and fundamentally reversed, and that’s the mission of this government, and I know it’s the mission of everyone in this room’, said Mr Gove.

On levelling up, he told the audience at the Convention of the North with NP11 conference in Liverpool that ‘as the Prime Minister has pointed out, this an ‘moral, economic and social mission’.

He added: ‘Moral, because it’s simply wrong that individuals in communities in the North and the Midlands have limited life chances and fewer opportunities than those in London and the South East… There is a fundamental inequality, which wherever you are on the political spectrum is indefensible.’

He said the ‘that fundamental inequality when it comes to the quality of life and the quality of public services is driven by a fundamental economic inequality.

‘For more than a hundred years one of the great problems that we’ve had is that the gap between the productivity and innovation, the economic growth of this country between North and South has been not just a barrier to people realising their potential, it’s also been a barrier to the whole of the United Kingdom achieving the status, the rank, the level of opportunity, the wealth creation all of us would want to see.’

According to Mr Gove, unless government ‘takes a  lead then what we will see is an agglomeration effect – “to them that have, more will be given” – and that is why government has to act’.

He added: ‘If you leave the free play of market forces entirely to themselves, then what you will see is inequality growing, and in particular geographical inequality growing as well. That means that the state has a particular role to play in partnership with local government and the private sector in order to improve growth and improve life chances.’

In a reply to a question, Mr Gove confirmed that he is ‘interested in looking at’ business rates and land value uplift in relation to devolving more fiscal powers locally. But he said it would require a ‘three way conversation’ involving ‘me, local leaders, and of course the Treasury’.

He was asked by the leader of Durham CC Cllr Amanda Hopgood how the Government would ensure the UK Shared Prosperity Fund (UKSPF) – was divided equally, ‘especially for those areas that lost out significantly from the European funding’. Mr Gove responded: ‘One of the things we have committed to doing is to distribute the UKSPF to Mayoral Combined Authorities (MCAs) but also to lower tier local authorities outside MCAs.

‘We’re committed to making sure there is no diminution in the amount that Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and Cornwall receive in real terms, but we’re also going to be talking to local authorities in order to make sure that not just the UKSPF but other shifts in how government supports not just local government but, more broadly, individual actors across the North and Midlands, is fair.

‘So I hope when we discuss in the round where we’re shifting funding [to] and why we’re shifting funding, people will see that it’s fair.’

Durham is one of the nine areas highlighted in the Levelling Up White Paper that are negotiating a county deal. Mr Gove said that the Prime Minister’s advisor on levelling up at the Cabinet Office MP Neil O'Brien ‘will be talking directly to you and to colleagues in Co Durham not just about the county deal but also about the UKSPF and other funding that we hope to make available.’

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