Boris Johnson appoints former Bank of England chief economist to lead 'levelling up' agenda

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Boris Johnson - Tayfun Salci/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
Boris Johnson - Tayfun Salci/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Boris Johnson has appointed a former Bank of England chief economist to lead his "levelling up" agenda, as a report likens the project to the 30-year transformation of East Germany.

Andy Haldane, who left the Bank in June, will become head of a New Levelling Up Taskforce, as the Ministry of Housing is re-branded as the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, following Michael Gove's appointment as its Secretary of State.

Mr Haldane has previously warned that "you don't level up from the top down. Rather you level up from the bottom up".

His remarks chime with a new report which warns that Mr Johnson's levelling up agenda will fail if he focused on "expensive heavy infrastructure rather than in catalysing bottom-up improvements to local places".

The report, due to be launched by Kwasi Kwarteng, the Business Secretary, this week urges Mr Johnson and Mr Gove to focus on rejuvenating "left behind" areas, including by overhauling high streets, planting trees, creating more parks and improving bus services.

Mr Johnson has put infrastructure investment at the heart of his levelling up agenda, including with the promise of new roads and dozens of hospitals.

Don't miss the opportunities

But Nicholas Boys Smith, a Government adviser who sat on the Commission into Prosperity and Community Placemaking, which wrote the report, said: "Abandoned high streets, derelict shops, closed pubs bring an almost physical pain to many in ‘left behind’ communities ... If the Government see levelling up as constructing fast roads linking new jobs to new housing estates sprawling through our countryside they will have missed a vital opportunity to invest in our existing communities and grow sustainably.”

Writing in The Telegraph, James Frayne, a pollster whose firm Public First has been used by Downing Street to test public opinion, warns that with only three years remaining until the start of the next general election campaign, "the Government must get a move on improving town and city centres – and high streets particularly."

He adds: "Big infrastructure alone cannot arrest a city’s decline."

Haldane 'uniquely qualified'

Mr Haldane will join the Cabinet Office as a permanent secretary, on secondment from the Royal Society of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA) for six months. He will report jointly to Mr Johnson and Mr Gove.

Mr Johnson said: “Andy is uniquely qualified to lead our efforts to raise living standards, spread opportunity, improve our public services and restore people’s sense of pride in their communities."

The Commission into Prosperity and Community Placemaking was chaired by Toby Lloyd, a former housing adviser to Theresa May. The report warns that "top-down investment must not focus on expensive heavy infrastructure rather than in catalysing bottom-up improvements to local places."

It warns that towns and neighbourhoods are "vital for prosperous community life" but states that economic change and the impacts of Covid-19 have left the future of traditional high streets "on a knife edge" as it faces "terminal decline".

The report's recommendations include new Community Improvement Districts, which would see businesses combining forces with local councils to improve "the physical fabric, trading conditions and community involvement in town centres."

It also proposes replacing dual carriageways with "treelined boulevards, tramlines and green space". It also states that 8.7 million people live more than ten minutes walk from a local park, adding: "Left behind places need trees, trams and tricycles to create prosperous, child-friendly environments."

The document sets a "tricycle test" for local areas, stating: "If small children can happily and safely ride a tricycle around a place, it’s almost certainly a good place to meet friends, shop, go for a meal out, access services, or just hang out."

Mr Lloyd said: “To replace spirals of neighbourhood decline with a virtuous circle of wellbeing and prosperity we have to invest in the physical fabric of local places and the social fabric of local communities – and trust communities themselves to lead it. No place should be left behind.”

The report states: "Many of our proposals come with significant price tags: we do not minimise this or pretend that addressing many decades of economic imbalance can be done cheaply or easily. A recent estimate by the Centre for Cities put the bill for levelling up at around £1.7 trillion.

"This is comparable to the cost of bringing the former East Germany up to the levels of prosperity found in the West. In this context, our proposals are rather modest."

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