Last week saw the publication of the Government’s ‘Levelling Up’ White Paper. Coming after the much hyped ‘Northern Powerhouse’, there is understandably a lot of cynicism about Government slogans like this. But as an opposition MP, I believe my job is to take the Government seriously though critically, and properly examine what they are offering.

I do believe that the UK’s regional inequality is one of the major problems facing the country. This is not about being anti-the South East – there are clearly major problems of poverty and inequality in all parts of the country. But too much of the UK’s national life is centralised in London, and we have legitimate grievances in the North and Midlands as to the comparative quality of transport services, research funding and the jobs market. No other developed country in the world is as centralised around it’s capital city as the UK is.

There are parts of the Government’s White Paper that infuriate me. It’s far too long at 300 pages – I wonder how many constituents will even look at it – and some bits are appallingly written that suggests it wasn’t properly proof read before publication. There is little mention of the huge cuts to public services since 2010, particularly council funding, police numbers and education budgets, which disproportionally hit areas like Tameside. And where there has been a real renaissance in recent years, such as in the shift which has seen Northern city centres like Manchester boom as people increasingly choose to live there rather than the suburbs, there is no attempt to analyse and learn lessons from this success.

But the real question from this paper concerns the ‘how?’. How will any of this be delivered? The Government’s most significant announcement in this area so far has been to cancel what they promised on a transformative rail plan for the North, and instead offer a cobbled together strategy which is less than the sum of its parts. A u-turn here would be welcome.

Some of the targets in the paper are extremely modest. For instance, that there will be higher employment in very region by 2030 – this should definitely happen anyway given the way population naturally rises every year. By way of comparison, there are around 300,000 extra people in employment in the North West compared to eight years ago. We should be more ambitious on this. Other targets, such as on productivity, growth, housing, and education, would need a near total reversal of the trends that have been evident since 2010. It is messy, lacks cohesion and feels like the authors still don’t understand the areas they are talking about.

For me, addressing these issues can only come through the provision of good jobs and good wages, which is what my work as Shadow Business Secretary is based around. In this White Paper the Government have made big promises. I welcome the chance to hold them accountable for these but also to put forward plans for real solutions to these issues.

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