Levelling up: Government white paper likely to be delayed to 2022

By Alex Forsyth
Political correspondent, BBC News

Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
Ministers say much of northern England has been left behind by previous governments

The government's white paper on "levelling up" all regions of the UK is likely to be delayed until next year, it has been confirmed.

The document, focusing on industry, skills and transport, had been expected to be published before Christmas.

It is understood the need to deal with the spread of the Omicron Covid variant was among the reasons for this being pushed back.

Labour accused ministers of being in "disarray" over levelling-up plans.

It said they had failed to come up with a "single idea" for effectively reducing regional inequality.

But government sources dismissed the claim, telling the BBC recently appointed Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove was determined to address the issue and a committee he was chairing had already met several times, with "very good engagement" from fellow cabinet ministers.

The white paper delay was first reported by the Mail on Sunday newspaper.

The promise to level up the UK was a key promise in the Conservative Party's 2019 general election manifesto, in which it targeted - and won - "red wall" parliamentary seats in the Midlands and northern England previously dominated by Labour.

Critics have argued the term is too vague but the government has said the white paper will clarify its meaning.

In a speech in July, Prime Minister Boris Johnson promised county areas in England would get "new deals", giving them the same powers as those currently exercised by major cities.

He said this would include the option of directly elected mayors but added there was no "one-size-fits-all" template.

Mr Johnson also insisted reforms would mean a "win-win" situation for the whole UK, rather than wealthier areas losing out to others.

But Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner said: "It is all jam tomorrow and a load of baloney."

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