Lisa Nandy, the shadow leveling secretary, has slammed Michael Gove’s long-awaited white paper, saying it is proof of “a government in freefall: out of ideas, out of energy “.
Presenting his 250-page report to MPs on Wednesday, Gove said it showed the government would ‘decisively transfer wealth and power to working people and their families’, setting out aspirations to upgrade everything from broadband to bus connections.
The leveling secretary said the government hoped business investment would help to “energize” growth in neglected parts of the country.
“We must empower neglected and undervalued communities to regain control of their destiny,” he said. “Our country is an unprecedented success, but not everyone shares it. We must tackle and reverse the inequality that limits so many of our horizons.
The flagship white paper sets out 12 “missions”, covering everything from healthy life expectancy to local transport links. The government will legislate to give departments an obligation to meet these targets by 2030 – an approach previously taken by Labor governments in relation to child poverty.
In a furious response, however, Nandy, the MP for Wigan, challenged Gove, saying: “Is that it?”
Nandy, the MP for Wigan, asked: “They tell us to wait until 2030. But where have they been for the past 12 years?” accusing the ministers of “energizing the decline of our communities, cutting off choices and opportunities for a generation of young people”.
She added: “He talks about 12 missions. That’s 12 admissions of failure.
Gove set out an assortment of specific policies, including ensuring that additional Arts Council grants are spent outside of London and the South East of England; to “refocus” the development of industrial wasteland away from the capital.
He also signaled a new wave of decentralization, with local areas having the option of creating new metropolitan mayors and negotiations on “county agreements”.
Gove said the white paper showed “this people’s government is keeping the faith with the working people of this country, empowering them to take back control of their lives, their communities and their future.”
He argued that the revival of areas outside London and the South East would be boosted by private sector investment – although the government also promises to redirect public spending, including on research and development.
Critics of the government’s plans say they are backed by insufficient resources to be feasible. However, senior Tory officials say enshrining ‘missions’ in legislation could help Gove win future arguments with the Treasury.
Will Tanner, the director of the Tory think tank Onward, said: ‘Long term, the government is a crucial game-changer – committing the whole of government to a list of concrete missions to level the UK by 2030, which will be underpinned by legislation and against which government departments, including the Treasury, will be held accountable.
“Just as the Office for Budget Responsibility drives fiscal discipline, this scheme will also create a rod for the back of government to ensure opportunities are distributed fairly across the UK.”