The Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities heaped praise on “amazing” Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen but provided little insight into the practicalities of levelling up the rest of the North.
“We, as a party and as a government, are committed to levelling up every part of the United Kingdom,” Michael Gove said at the Conservative Party Conference in Manchester.
In one of his first speeches since replacing Robert Jenrick, Gove said his party wanted to “unleash the potential of all” and “recognise that, while talent is spread equally across our country, opportunity is not”.
“Children from Blackpool are no less gifted than those from Beaconsfield, but their GCSE results, their job prospects, and their university offers don’t reflect that. Life expectancy for man born in Glasgow is years lower than for those born in Surrey. That’s wrong.”
In a speech that lasted around 10 minutes – and included swipes at the Scottish National Party, Keir Starmer, and “the militant left” – Gove outlined his four pillars of levelling up.
- Strengthening local leadership
- Raising living standards
- Improving public services
- Enhancing people’s pride of place.
“If you want to see all of these principles in action, come with me to Teesside,” Gove said.
The minister pointed to the North East region as an example of levelling up in action and praised Tees Valley’s conservative mayor Houchen for exemplifying “great local leadership”.
Houchen, elected in 2017, has brought tens of thousands of high paying jobs to the area, and changed the face of transport and further education, Gove said.
The secretary of state added that, under Houchen, towns including Middlesbrough, Darlington, Stockton and Redcar had been given their pride back after being “neglected for decades by Labour”.
“That is Conservative levelling up in action, and that is our party’s mission now, for the whole country,” he said.
Investment in urban regeneration, the creation of new homes on brownfield sites, and helping renters get on the housing ladder were among the next steps outlined by Gove.
However, those in attendance were left with more questions than answers, with many accusing the minister of failing to provide anything of substance in relation to the practicalities of levelling up.
Lucy Powell, MP for Manchester Central, was among those who criticised Gove’s speech, describing it as “empty rhetoric”.