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Northern mayors call for “hard-wiring” levelling up into UK law

Edit News Week in review: Digital City Festival 2022

Northern mayors, civic and business leaders will call on the government and opposition to commit to “hard-wiring” levelling up into UK law when the Convention of the North kicks off in Manchester on Wednesday morning.

This would mean a move away from the current competitive bidding systems for government funding, which picks winners and losers, to a settlement where all regions have the funding they need to close the gaps in living standards and help grow the UK economy as a whole.

The call follows the Government’s Levelling Up Fund announcement last week, which saw some local authorities receive short-term pots of money for local projects while many councils lost out. The Levelling Up Secretary and Shadow Secretary, Michael Gove MP and Lisa Nandy MP, are both due address the annual Convention of the North on Wednesday.

The plan to hard-wire levelling up in to UK law takes inspiration from Germany, where the constitution guarantees equivalent living standards and strong local leadership. This approach would help the North to unlock the potential of its assets, boost its contribution to UK plc and improve the lives of people across the region.

Northern leaders will also draw attention to some stark disparities between the North of the country and the South East, in particular the significant difference in average life expectancy, weekly wage, education, fueld poverty rates and access to reliable public transport.

Closing these gaps will be vital not only to improving outcomes for millions of people throughout the North West, North East and Yorkshire & the Humber, but also to growing the UK economy as a whole.

Carsten Schneider, the Minister for East Germany and Equivalent Living Conditions in Chancellor Olaf Scholz’ Government, will address the convention by video, setting out his country’s model of levelling up.

The plan will be laid out at the convention with all of the key metro mayors of the North – Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham; Oliver Coppard, Mayor of South Yorkshire; Tracy Brabin, Mayor of West Yorkshire; Steve Rotheram, Mayor of the Liverpool City Region, and Jamie Driscoll, Mayor of the North of Tyne – in attendance.

Burnham said: “Hard-wiring levelling up into UK law would move us away from policy by press release and start to tackle the unequal living standards we have in our country. If we were able to close the gaps between the North and London and the South East, we’d see drastic improvements in everything from incomes to skills, to ultimately boosting life expectancy. This would of course be good for people in the North, but would also help grow the UK economy as a whole.”

Burnham’s West Yorkshire counterpart Brabin added: “Last week, the government handed twice as much funding to London and the South East than to Yorkshire, laying bare the fundamental flaws in its levelling up agenda. This scattergun approach pours cash into areas that already have it, and makes areas in real need compete against each other for the remaining scraps.”

The call comes as IPPR North researchers found that if the North of England were a country, it would be second only to Greece for the lowest levels of investment in the OECD. In their State of the North report, the authors looked at international competitors and highlighted that long term job creation is 16 percentage points higher in Leipzig, Eastern Germany, than in the North of England.

IPPR North’s findings point to Germany’s constitutional commitment to reducing regional disparities in living standards and well-resourced, empowered local leadership as key to this success.

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