Whitehall-centric approach to regional equality project is ‘frankly insulting’, says Labour
Two-thirds of officials working on the UK government’s flagship levelling up policy are based in London, figures show.
Two years since Boris Johnson was elected on a promise to improve what he has described as the “outrage” of glaring regional inequalities, 1,929 out of 3,011 civil servants on the levelling up taskforce are based in the capital.
The largest group of civil servants based outside London are 129 in Wolverhampton, where there is a second HQ for the government’s levelling up department. After that, the largest groups of mandarins working on the policy are in cities such as Birmingham (118), Bristol (88), Leeds (75), Manchester (62) and Newcastle (62).
The figures were revealed in response to a written question from the shadow secretary for levelling up, Lisa Nandy. She described the situation as “frankly insulting”.
In a speech on civil service reform in June 2020, the secretary for levelling up, Michael Gove, argued that the government could “literally reduce the distance between government and people by relocating government decision-making centres to different parts of our United Kingdom”.
He continued: “Why shouldn’t some of the policymakers intimately involved in reshaping our approach to energy and the decarbonisation of our economy be in Teesside, Humberside and Aberdeen? Shouldn’t those thinking about this sector be part of the communities whose jobs depend on getting these decisions right?”
Nandy said: “We’ve had quite enough of ministers and civil servants sitting in Whitehall picking winners and losers in our nations and regions. For the department supposed to set this right to adopt the same arrogant approach is frankly insulting.”
Although expected in early February, the long-awaited white paper on levelling up has been delayed several times and there is still no fixed date for publication. The latest launch was shelved until after Sue Gray concludes her report on alleged Downing Street parties.
Gove has clashed with the chancellor, Rishi Sunak, over whether any new funding should be released. The white paper is understood to include several “missions” on broad topics such as life expectancy and obesity, and ensuring every child has access to a good school. It is also expected to make new proposals for devolution, including extending the mayoral model.
The housing minister Eddie Hughes said: “In March 2020, 23% of the department’s workforce was outside of London; we now have 32% of our workforce outside of London.”