Politics

The government's levelling up policies are very similar to axed plans from 5 years ago

Plans to cut regional inequality through levelling up are near identical to the industrial strategy published in 2017. And people have noticed.

Even the front pages of the 2017 industrial strategy and the new levelling up white paper are similar.

It’s been labelled the government’s flagship policy that ministers hope will see the Tories cruise to another election victory – but the levelling up white paper appears to contain mostly rehashed versions of old, abandoned plans.

The majority of the ideas in the government’s 12-point plan to level up the UK are rephrased ideas from a strategy announced in 2017.

After the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities revealed the plan on Wednesday, people were quick to point out the similarities with the axed “industrial strategy” from five years ago.

The industrial strategy white paper, published in 2017 when Theresa May was prime minister, detailed plans to “create better, higher-paying jobs in every part of the United Kingdom” and “ensure every part of our country realises its full potential”.

Labour MP Darren Jones criticised ministers for their similarity.

“This is essentially the recently scraped industrial strategy rebranded as levelling up,” Jones tweeted. “The key point: government was failing at delivering the industrial strategy missions so how will government now deliver this?”

The MP – who is chair of parliament’s business committee – said eight of the twelve “missions” set out in the levelling up plan were the same as pledges made in the 2017 industrial strategy.

“This is actually ridiculous,” he said.

“The only thing that is new (other than the majority of kids being able to read, write and add up, and reducing crime) is….drum roll…being proud about where we live. Brilliant.”

Referring to the lack of new funding outlined in the white paper, Jones added: “The irony of the government re-introducing the scrapped industrial strategy is that the chancellor hated it so much he stole it from the business department during the budget and buried it. Maybe that’s why he’s refusing to pay for levelling up?”

In the 12-point plan, the government promises to provide a retention fund to schools in disadvantaged areas to help keep and develop teachers who work in subjects where attainment levels are poor.

But in the industrial strategy, the then-government set out plans for a £42m “teacher development premium”, covering £1,000 in professional development costs for teachers working in areas which have “fallen behind”.

The industrial strategy was abandoned last year in favour of the government’s plan for growth, grouped under pandemic promises to “build back better”.

Other near-identical ideas to those currently known in the levelling up white paper include improving local transport connectivity and boosting devolution deals with UK cities.

Ministers also pledged in 2017 to deliver “full-fibre broadband and 5G connectivity” to up to five million homes by 2025. Now, they are promising “gigabit-capable broadband and 4G coverage, with 5G coverage for the majority of the population”.

In 2019, Boris Johnson said May’s broadband plans were unambitious and should only take five years.

Labour’s shadow secretary for levelling up Lisa Nandy also flagged the similarities and pointed out some of the proposals date back even further.

She tweeted: “Some of these announcements were actually first announced by Gordon Brown. Even Theresa May’s industrial strategy has been rebranded as levelling up in Gove’s plan. Britain deserves better than reheated ideas. It needs new leadership.”

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