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Every part of England that wishes to have a ‘London-style’ devolution deal will have one, says Gove ahead of Levelling Up White Paper

The Government will invite nine areas to begin negotiations for new county deals and seek to agree further mayoral combined authority (MCA) deals, the Department of Levelling Up, Housing and Communities has confirmed ahead of publication of the Levelling-Up White Paper.

The Government said by 2030, every part of England that wishes to have a ‘London-style’ devolution deal will have one.

It claimed that the White Paper, which can now be downloaded here, would “detail the largest devolution of power from Whitehall to local leaders across England in modern times”.

The first nine areas are:

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  • Cornwall
  • Derbyshire & Derby
  • Devon, Plymouth and Torbay
  • Durham
  • Hull & East Yorkshire
  • Leicestershire
  • Norfolk
  • Nottinghamshire & Nottingham, and
  • Suffolk.

The Government said the White Paper would announce negotiations for an expanded MCA deal for the North East, as well as negotiations for what it called ‘trailblazer’ devolution deals with the West Midlands and Greater Manchester to extend their powers. These deals will act as blueprints for other MCAs to follow, it added.

The UK Shared Prosperity Fund will also be decentralised to local areas in Scotland and Wales.

In addition to the mayoral deals, the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities said the White Paper would set out a complete ‘system change’ of how government works that will be implemented to level up the UK.

This includes 12 “national missions” to be given status in law in a Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill and be achieved by 2030. These include:

  • Pay, employment and productivity will have risen in every area of the UK, "with each containing a globally competitive city", with the gap between the top performing and other areas closing.
  • Domestic public investment in Research & Development outside the Greater South East will increase by at least 40% and at least one third over the Spending Review period, with that additional government funding seeking to leverage at least twice as much private sector investment over the long term to stimulate innovation and productivity growth.
  • The number of primary school children achieving the expected standard in reading, writing and maths will have significantly increased. “In England, this will mean 90% of children will achieve the expected standard, and the percentage of children meeting the expected standard in the worst performing areas will have increased by over a third.”
  • Local public transport connectivity across the country will have become significantly closer to the standards of London, with improved services, simpler fares and integrated ticketing.

The Government will legislate such that it has a statutory duty to publish an annual report updating the public on the progress of these missions, with a new Levelling Up Advisory Council providing further support and constructive analysis.

The White Paper will also confirm amongst other things:

  • Three new Innovation Accelerators, described as “major place-based centres of innovation”, centred on Greater Manchester, the West Midlands, and Glasgow-City Region.
  • Plans to “mobilise” £16 billion of the Local Government Pension Scheme for investments in local projects – “recognising that too much at present is invested outside the UK”.
  • The designation of 55 Education Investment Areas (EIAs) local authorities in England where school outcomes are currently weakest. These will be given intensive investment and support.
  • Support for 20 towns and city centres, starting off with Wolverhampton and Sheffield, undertaking King’s Cross-style regeneration projects. This work will be spearheaded by Homes England, which will be repurposed to, in addition to its existing functions, regenerate towns and cities.
  • The ‘80/20 rule’ which leads to 80% of government funding for housing supply being directed at ‘maximum affordability areas’ - in practice, London and the South East - will be scrapped, “with much of the £1.8 billion brownfield funding instead being diverted to transforming brownfield sites in the North and Midlands”. The Metro Mayors will be allocated £120m of this funding.
  • A plan that all homes in the Private Rented Sector will have to meet a minimum standard - the Decent Homes Standard. Section 21 ‘no fault’ evictions will further be abolished (as previously announced). There will be a consultation on introduction of a landlords register as well as plans for a crackdown on rogue landlords – “making sure fines and bans stop repeat offenders leaving renters in terrible conditions”.
  • Support for 68 more local authorities from the High Streets Task Force to transform their town centres.
  • Power for local authorities to require landlords of empty shops to fill them if they have been left vacant for too long.
  • Investment of £50m from the Safer Streets Fund every year to give Police and Crime Commissioners, local authorities, and also certain civil society organisations in England and Wales the resources they need to tackle crime and anti-social behaviour.

Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove said: “For decades, too many communities have been overlooked and undervalued. As some areas have flourished, others have been left in a cycle of decline. The UK has been like a jet firing on only one engine.

“Levelling Up and this White Paper is about ending this historic injustice and calling time on the postcode lottery.

“This will not be an easy task, and it won’t happen overnight, but our 12 new national levelling up missions will drive real change in towns and cities across the UK, so that where you live will no longer determine how far you can go.”

Tweeting in response to the Government announcement, the Shadow Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, Lisa Nandy, said: “For all the talk of levelling up, we have been completely shortchanged - again. After 12 yrs all we’ve got is a list of 12 things the Government has failed to achieve - no new money or powers.

“Boris Johnson's answer to our communities calling for change is to shuffle the deckchairs - tinkering with government structures and recycled announcements. This is not what was promised. We deserve far more ambition than this.”

She also claimed that some of the announcements were actually first announced by Gordon Brown. “Even Theresa May’s Industrial Strategy has been rebranded as Levelling Up in Gove’s plan. Britain deserves better than reheated ideas. It needs new leadership.”

Nandy added: “They are talking about 2030. But what are they doing now? People in towns across this country need opportunities and good jobs today. It is only by putting money back in people’s pockets, that we will start to see local economies thrive.”

Cllr James Jamieson, Chairman of the Local Government Association which represents 350 councils across England and Wales, said: “Levelling up is at the heart of what councils and combined authorities want for their communities and they have a critical role to play in achieving the 12 national missions set out in this wide-ranging white paper…..

“It is positive to see devolution being extended beyond England’s city regions and further opportunities for Mayoral Combined Authorities. Inviting every part of England to experience the benefits of devolution and decide for themselves what they need is crucial to improving opportunities and life chances for people across the country, which councils and Mayoral Combined Authorities will embrace.

“The Government’s framework for devolution is an important step and is something that the LGA has long called for. It is good that the framework will apply to all local areas and will not impose a one-size-fits-all approach to governance. We are keen to go further and faster with other government departments so the whole of government is taking a ‘local first’ approach.”

Cllr Jamieson added that the launch of the UK Shared Prosperity Fund, to be distributed via councils, was “confirmation of their vital leadership role in bringing together local partners”.

He said: “It will give them greater certainty and freedom to run local programmes that respond to local need and can have a real impact on tackling inequalities and levelling up opportunities, such as boosting employment and skills, supporting local businesses, achieving net zero and leading the Multiply programme to improve adult numeracy. We look forward to actively shaping this with government.”

Cllr Tim Oliver, Chairman of the County Councils Network (CCN), described the Government’s commitment to county devolution deals as “a game-changer” for the effectiveness of local government.

He said: “This is an important departure from previous approaches to devolution, and provides a framework for those councils to work with local partners on securing devolved powers for their communities.”

Cllr Oliver added: “Whilst we await further detail in the Levelling Up White Paper, it is critical that county councils and unitary authorities are placed in driving seat of making these deals a success, with powers directly devolved to those councils.

“However, many of our member councils are yet to be convinced that adopting a directly elected mayor model provides any greater degree of accountability or stability compared to the existing leader and cabinet model.”

Cllr Sam Chapman-Allen, Chair of the District Councils Network (DCN), said it felt the Levelling Up White Paper was “a missed opportunity to integrate the unique value of district councils into an ambitious plan for the future of our country”.

He added: “We believe devolution can play a positive role in giving local areas the powers they need to tackle economic and social inequality. We’re pleased that the Government has confirmed there will be no top-down reorganisation of local government.

“But the proposals for County Deals have really missed a trick and have the potential to cause unnecessary tension. They don’t treat districts as equal partners and recognise the indispensable part we must have in making a success of devolution."

Cllr Chapman-Allen said the DCN's member councils in the nine pathfinder areas would seek to work constructively with their local partners to develop the best possible deals for the residents and businesses they serve. "But we’re calling on the Government for stronger recognition of the valuable role districts can play and a formal duty for local partners to collaborate with district councils in all pathfinder areas.”

He added that the DCN was sceptical about how the Government proposes to encourage the expansion of town and parish councils and other community groups. “Town and parish councils play an important role at the hyper local level, however their capacity is variable and not all areas have parishes.

"We believe community empowerment can help deliver better local services. What matters is how this is done. Despite good intentions, we’re concerned that this will cause confusion, disrupt local relationships that work well and clog up local systems, such as housing and planning. It also has the potential to add to the cost of local government at the expense of spending money on the local services our residents need. It’s essential that all parts of local government are given a genuine chance to shape the policy design here.”

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