Movin’ on up – Michael Gove and the Department for levelling up

By Laura Griffiths

Amidst all the reshuffle news a couple of weeks ago, we also saw the rebrand of a Ministry to a Department. The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government is no more, and has been transformed into the Department of Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (LUHC). Severed is the formal link between local and national government with housing (and planning reforms) taking more of a back seat for the Rt Hon. Michael Gove, the new Secretary of State.

This department, however, has worn many hats before including the Department of Transport, Local Government and the Regions as well as the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister when John Prescott was second in running the country.

So what is levelling up? According to the Conservative Party’s 2019 manifesto, levelling up is about “not just investing in our great towns and cities, as well as rural and coastal areas, but giving them far more control of how that investment is made.” There is a focus on equality about future prosperity i.e. giving people in Hull the same level of opportunity as people living in Hertfordshire.

However, how do you achieve equality, opportunity and effectively the levelling up of the country successfully when there are disparities across a variety of sectors? For example, people who are born in Westminster are expected to live over 10 years longer than people born in Blackpool, the number of people waiting more than six weeks for diagnostic tests in the North East and Yorkshire is over double the number of people in the South East, and the number of people who have claimed unemployment benefits in Birmingham Ladywood is over five times more than  Chelmsford.

With Andy Haldane, a widely respected former Chief Economist for the Bank of England heading up the levelling up taskforce, it is expected that there will be a move away from transport infrastructure towards his preference of social infrastructure – health, education and community facilities which meet both a local and strategic need.

On the other hand, how do you run a department that is focused on investing and promoting regional equalities when it is anticipated that you will not receive much funding? On top of the reshuffle, each government department had the Comprehensive Spending Review to comprehend hours before the reshuffle happened. Arguably, this means that whatever the former Secretary of State for MHCLG Robert Jenrick, applied for could be given to this revised department, or alternatively, be ineligible for any significant amount of funding at all.

As always with government changes and a renewed focus on policy and manifesto pledges, the devil is in the detail. This detail is not something that has been communicated to the public as or yet, but with Conservative Party Conference only a few days away, we can only anticipate that the discussion of the levelling up agenda will be provided by Michael Gove in October.

Ultimately, it remains to see whether the Department of LUHC will establish the conditions of levelling up across the country or whether it will be a game of luck.