Mayors to tell Gove and Nandy: ‘hard-wire levelling up into UK law’

Mayors Burnham, Brabin, Driscoll, Rotheram, and NP11's Marsh

Northern Mayors, civic and business leaders are to demand the Tories and Labour commit to ‘hard-wiring’ levelling up into UK law. This would mean a move away from the current competitive bidding systems for Government funding, which picks winners and losers, to a settlement where all regions have the funding they need to close the gaps in living standards and help grow the UK economy as a whole. 

The call follows the Government’s Levelling Up Fund announcement last week, which saw some local authorities receive short-term pots of money for local projects – but many councils also losing out.  The Levelling Up Secretary and Shadow Secretary, Michael Gove MP and Lisa Nandy MP, are due address the annual Convention of the North in Manchester later today.  

The plan to hard-wire levelling up in to UK law takes inspiration from Germany, where the Constitution guarantees equivalent living standards and strong local leadership.  This approach would help the North to unlock the potential of its assets, boost its contribution to UK plc and improve the lives of people across the region. 

Carsten Schneider, the Minister for East Germany and Equivalent Living Conditions in Chancellor Olaf Scholz’ Government, will address the Convention by video, setting out his country’s model of levelling up: “Regional structural policy has long been a cornerstone of German politics. The goal of creating equal living conditions everywhere in Germany can even be found in our constitution. There are good reasons for it. If regions are drifting apart, it is bad for everyone, including for the growing regions. If a variety of regions flourish, the whole country will prosper.” 

The plans to hard-wire levelling up into UK law will be set out by Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, Oliver Coppard, Mayor of South Yorkshire, Tracy Brabin, Mayor of West Yorkshire, Steve Rotheram, Mayor of the Liverpool City Region, Jamie Driscoll, Mayor of the North of Tyne, Cllr Bev Craig, Convention of the North Co-Chair and Leader of Manchester City Council, and Convention of the North Co-Chair and NP11 Chair, Sir Roger Marsh, at today’s Convention of the North in Manchester.    

Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, said: “The Levelling Up Fund announcement last week laid bare the issues with these short-term competitive funding pots. We end up with winners and losers but nobody is able to actually plan for long-term investment in their areas.  Hard-wiring levelling up into UK law would move us away from policy by press release and start to tackle the unequal living standards we have in our country.  If we were able to close the gaps between the North and London and the South East, we’d see drastic improvements in everything from incomes to skills, to ultimately boosting life expectancy.  This would of course be good for people in the North, but would also help grow the UK economy as a whole. 

“Germany shows us what can be done when you hard-wire legal guarantees to tackle inequalities and empower local leaders into the fabric of your country. East Germany has seen long-term support and investment since the fall of communism – and it has worked.  Cities in Eastern Germany are now powering ahead of cities here in the North.   

“Our own history has shown us that, too often, the North struggles to get to the top of the Government’s to-do list – whichever political party is in charge.  That’s why we need to hard-wire levelling up into UK law and unlock the potential of the North to help the whole country thrive.”

South Yorkshire’s Mayor Oliver Coppard said: “It shouldn’t matter where you happen to be born or live, we all deserve the same opportunities and living standards. Here in South Yorkshire that’s simply not the case. If you live in Rotherham you’re likely to die five years earlier than if you live in Richmond. If you live in Barnsley you’re paid £600 less a month than if you live in Berkshire. We were promised a ‘London style transport system’, but 1 in 3 of our trains are cancelled. 

“The Government set out its own ambitions to level up by 2030. We have just 362 weeks to go, and the truth is, they have no plan. They have no strategy. Instead, we compete with other, equally deserving regions for pots of money handed out at the whims of ministers.  Communities like those I represent cannot take control of their own destiny. That needs to change for our country to thrive.” 

Sir Roger Marsh, Chair of the NP11 and Co-Chair of Convention of the North, said: 

“Across the North we are committed to ensuring our places and businesses succeed, but right now we are at a critical juncture.

“Levelling up and devolution go hand in hand. They need to be hard-wired into our economic approach, with collaboration between local and national government, across boundaries, and with business and industry as real partners.

“By doing this the North can realise its enormous potential as a driving force for UK growth.

“Our region can offer solutions to the country’s challenges, but to offer these solutions we need proper levelling up and proper collaboration.

“We look forward to discussing this with our fellow northern leaders and with the Secretary of State, Michael Gove, and the Shadow Secretary of State, Lisa Nandy, at the Convention of the North with NP11 and to agreeing how we can deliver on the levelling up promise for the North, working together as northerners and with Government.”

Mayor of the Liverpool City Region, Steve Rotheram, said:  “Delivering proper levelling up – which should be more about tackling entrenched inequalities than vanity projects and photo ops at shiny buildings – is something that must be above party politics. But we all know how governments of all stripes can struggle with long-term thinking. That is why we need this to be a legal requirement. Only then will we begin to close the yawning chasm between North and South, and enable our residents to reach their full potential.”

Tracy Brabin, Mayor of West Yorkshire, said: “We need a real plan for levelling up, enshrined in law, that requires decent living standards for everybody across the UK. This would mean trusting local leaders with long-term funding pots to make decisions on what is best for the communities they know and serve.”

The call comes as IPPR North researchers found that if the North of England were a country, it would be second only to Greece for the lowest levels of investment in the OECD.  In their State of the North report, the authors looked at international competitors and highlighted that long term job creation is 16 percentage points higher in Leipzig, Eastern Germany, than in the North of England.   

IPPR North’s findings point to Germany’s constitutional commitment to reducing regional disparities in living standards and well-resourced, empowered local leadership as key to this success.   

Convention of the North is the region’s major annual gathering, bringing together business, political and civic leaders to discuss the opportunities and challenges facing the North. As well as key figures from the Government and Opposition, the Convention will hear from Northern Mayors, Council Leaders, leading business people and representatives of the VCSE sector as the North shapes its agenda for 2023. 

Building on previous events in Rotherham, Gateshead and Liverpool, Convention of the North 2023 is being held today (Wednesday 25 January) at Manchester Central. The event is being delivered by Greater Manchester alongside NP11, and is sponsored by Growth Flag (in partnership with the Growth Company and Red Flag Alert), The University of Manchester, MAG: Manchester Airports Group, and Manchester Central.