'Levelling up will require systemic change', says West Yorkshire mayor

Mayor of West Yorkshire Tracy Brabin speaking at the 2021 Labour Party Conference in Brighton. Picture date: Monday September 27, 2021. Photo credit should read: Matt Crossick/Empics
West Yorkshire mayor Tracy Brabin wrote to levelling up secretary Michael Gove calling for the government to address the North-South divide. (PA Images)

The mayor of West Yorkshire has told Michael Gove that "levelling up will require systemic change".

On Wednesday, the former Labour MP Tracy Brabin wrote to the the Secretary of State for Levelling Up calling for the government to promote economic prosperity and equal opportunities for the North.

"Levelling up will require systemic change, radical intervention and significant investment to address poverty and inequality," she said. "It should aim to improve opportunities for all."

In her letter, she outlined key areas that needed improvement including climate, transport and equality.

The former Coronation Street star was elected as the first West Yorkshire mayor in 2021, and has been fiercely critical of the government's decision to scale back HS2 and introduce the Integrated Rail Plan (IRP).

"The IRP as it stands is simply not good enough for West Yorkshire," she said.

"It does not support my ambitions for a stronger, fairer and better-connected region.

"The plan will limit the growth and potential of West Yorkshire for decades to come."

Adding: "Northern Powerhouse Rail, with a stop in central Bradford, and delivery of HS2 to Leeds, are core to the existing future plans for these cities and the wider region.

"They would be transformational for our economy, for decarbonisation, and the additional rail capacity we need.

"I will not stop making the case for either of these projects, nor for our other strategic rail need."

She also highlighted regional disparities between the South and the rest of the country, describing them as "aching gaps".

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"The Government has acknowledged the scale of imbalance across the country, but also the aching gaps within our regions. We know what we need, and we are best placed to deliver," she said.

"We believe that further devolution will enable us to deliver sustainable and inclusive growth and be innovative in our approaches to allow us to achieve our vision for West Yorkshire."

Pledges to address disparities between the North and South were a key part of the government's 2019 manifesto, and a pledge Boris Johnson reiterated in his keynote speech at the Conservative party conference in October.

These promises were instrumental in enabling the Conservatives to smash through Labour's 'Red Wall' in the Midlands and the North, turning seats in Labour heartlands blue.

However, the Conservatives have since backtracked on some pledges - including a key northern leg of HS2 - triggering outrage among northern leaders, as well as some of his own new, 'Red Wall' MPs.

New shadow secretary for levelling up, Labour MP Lisa Nandy, has also been critical of the government's record on levelling up.

“The government’s commitment to level up our communities is in complete disarray," she said

“After two years of empty slogans and broken promises it is now crystal clear ministers haven’t been able to come up with a single new idea to make good on the promises they made to level up our communities beyond more boards, bureaucracy and quangos.

“Far too many parts of our country are held back for lack of power and investment. We were promised a serious plan to meet that challenge.

"Nothing less will do.”

Watch: Starmer: There’s no substance to PM’s ‘levelling up’ plan