Levelling up: Boris Johnson promises more powers for local leaders

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Boris Johnson: "Levelling up is not a jam-spreading exercise"

Boris Johnson has set out the "skeleton" of a plan to "level up" the country, by spreading power and opportunity more evenly.

In a speech in Coventry, the PM insisted his flagship policy will not make the "rich parts" of the UK poorer but would be a "win win" for everyone.

He also pledged to hand more power to local leaders, with the possibility of elected mayors for counties.

Labour described Mr Johnson's speech as "gibberish nonsense".

The party's deputy leader Angela Rayner dismissed the PM's promises as a "PR exercise", adding that Mr Johnson "does not do detail, he does soundbites".

"It is all jam tomorrow and a load of baloney. What he pretends and what he says he is going to do, is not what happens in reality."

In a wide-ranging speech, Mr Johnson said the government wanted to "rewrite the rulebook" on local devolution and offer county areas in England "new deals" to give them the same powers as those currently given to major cities.

And he promised a flexible approach to those deals, including the option for directly elected mayors, but said there was no "one-size-fits-all" template.

Media caption,

The prime minister “promises jam tomorrow” but fails to deliver says the Labour leader.

The former London mayor urged local leaders with ideas for how to improve their communities to come forward, promising to give them "the tools to make things happen for their communities"..

He said he did not want to see the return of what he called "loony-left" councils, but added: "We will deal with anybody."

The Conservatives first promised to "level up" the country in their manifesto for the 2019 general election, in which they targeted - and won - so-called "red wall" parliamentary seats in the Midlands and northern England previously dominated by Labour.

The plan, some of which has already been outlined, involves investing in transport, skills and businesses to address regional disparities.

The government is expected to publish more details in September.

Asked what his clear strategy was for "levelling up", he said: "I am respectfully going to urge you to just go back over some of what I said because I do think that in all fairness there was at least the skeleton of what to do."

Boris Johnson again tried to explain the purpose of the "levelling up" agenda and talked about the UK's huge regional imbalances, entrenched inequalities and squandered opportunities.

In well-trailed remarks he also said that the aim of getting more government spending and private investment into poorer parts of the UK would not come at the detriment of London and the south east - an attempt to reassure traditional Tory voters who might be feeling left out themselves.

In terms of policy prescription the speech was fairly thin.

A White Paper is promised in the autumn and today Mr Johnson clattered through a list of things - from tackling crime, building football pitches, laying railway lines - that he seemed to say all fell under the umbrella of levelling up.

But he also proposed greater regional devolution and suggested county leaders could get new powers.

He said if anyone could think of a better title than county mayors they should email him, which rather summed up the speech.

In his speech, the prime minister said the government will have "made progress in levelling up when we have begun to raise living standards, spread opportunity, improved our public services and restored people's sense of pride in their community".

Investing in more deprived areas will relieve pressure on parts of the UK that are "over-heating" and that previous governments focused too much on "areas where house prices are already high and where transport is already congested", he added.

But he insisted that there will not be "levelling down" in prosperous places, adding: "We don't want to decapitate the tall poppies.

"We don't think you can make the poor parts of the country richer by making the rich parts poorer."

He said that "levelling up is not a jam-spreading operation. It's not robbing Peter to pay Paul. It's not zero-sum. It's win-win".

The PM's speech was welcomed by county councils.

County Councils Network spokesman Martin Hill said: "Local areas should be able to decide the most appropriate devolution arrangements for counties".

He added: "We are pleased that this looks firmly on the table."