Government Levelling Up White Paper offers ‘very little’ for Cambridgeshire
A council leader says the government’s Levelling Up White Paper offers “very little” for Cambridgeshire and is “far from what people might have hoped for”.
Leader of Cambridgeshire County Council Lucy Nethsingha also revealed that funding for the Ox-Cam Arc has been “dramatically scaled back”.
Cllr Nethsingha along with deputy leader Elisa Meschini released a statement after it was announced that the paper would be unveiled today (Wednesday, February 2).
The government says the paper will “breathe fresh life into disadvantaged communities” across England.
It will set out a series of wide-ranging national “missions” – from improving public transport to ensuring access to 5G broadband – to be enshrined in law.
At the same time, ministers are promising to provide more power to the regions in a “devolution revolution” with the offer of a London-style deal for any area of England that wants one.
But, Cllr Nethsingha (Lib Dem, Newnham) said having “finally got to see some” of the paper she was “disappointed”.
She said: “There is very little on offer here for Cambridgeshire. There is nothing recognising the urgent nature of the serious skills shortages which are causing major problems for business in our area.
“The Levelling Up agenda is supposed to be Boris Johnson’s answer to the loss of huge amounts of investment money which was available via the European Union.
“The money promised today doesn’t come close to replacing the funding which would have been available had we still been members of the EU. Not only does this not replace lost infrastructure funding, but some of the funding and central government investment which had been promised to our area has been withdrawn.
“The Ox-Cam Arc was not universally popular, but it offered a mechanism to progress key infrastructure projects across the Oxford to Cambridge route, such as East - West Rail. Funding for this work has been dramatically scaled back, meaning thousands of pounds of work, along with many hours of time could be wasted.
“The White Paper introduces another layer of Whitehall bureaucracy, in the form of ‘levelling up directors’. This is so far from what people might have hoped, and so far from what was promised.
“Our county faces major inequality, but this paper offers little to help us to tackle those issues.
“In Cambridgeshire and as a member of the CPCA we will of course do all we can to work for increased investment for all areas of Cambridgeshire, and in particular those where investment is desperately needed, but this paper seems to promise so much less than was hoped for.”
The promise to “level up” forgotten and deprived communities was a key theme of his 2019 general election campaign which saw the Tories make huge gains in Labour’s previously impregnable “red wall” heartlands.
In all, the White Paper includes 12 national “missions” to be achieved by 2030 to be enshrined in a flagship Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill.
But, Labour’s Cllr Meschini (King’s Hedge’s) said the paper “seems to be a collection of promises without any substance”.
“We don’t need more blackmail or pork-barrel politics. We don’t need more ‘ambition’. We need fair funding and infrastructure now,” she stormed.
Cllr Meschini continued: “We have known for a while that we need action on those 12 points so having them repeated doesn’t exactly do anything towards addressing them, nor does it explain why government policy continues to actively contribute to many of those issues, with cuts to rail services, no investment in buses, and local Conservative MPs actively campaigning against the development of bus infrastructure.
“We have known that most LAs in England and Wales need ‘simplified, long-term funding settlements’ since this same government abolished the RSG in 2015 without any replacement. Cambridgeshire experiences high growth, high inequality and has been severely short-changed by the funding formula.
“Cambridgeshire also already has the highest possible level of local devolution. Hearing that promises of funding are dependent on an otherwise un-detailed ‘devolution deal’ will raise more questions than it answers for Cambridgeshire residents.”
The first mission is to improve pay, employment, and productivity across the board while narrowing the disparities between the best and worst performing areas.
Others include bringing the rest of the country’s local public transport systems much closer to London standards and ensuring the large majority of the country has access to 5G broadband.
There is a mission to effectively eliminate illiteracy and innumeracy among primary school leavers with the government’s educational efforts focussed on the most disadvantaged parts of the country.
There are also commitments to ensure hundreds of thousands more people get high quality skills training every year while gross disparities in healthy life expectancy is narrowed.
The paper promises to halve the number of poor quality rented homes, rejuvenate the most run down town centres and deliver a significant decrease in serious crime in the most blighted areas.
Every part of England will get a London-style devolution deal if they want one.
Levelling up secretary Michael Gove, the architect of the plan who will be responsible for driving through the changes, said it would end a “historic injustice”.
“For decades, too many communities have been overlooked and undervalued. As some areas have flourished, others have been left in a cycle of decline. The UK has been like a jet firing on only one engine,” he said.
“This will not be an easy task, and it won’t happen overnight, but our 12 new national levelling up missions will drive real change in towns and cities across the UK, so that where you live will no longer determine how far you can go.”