Levelling up: Rishi Sunak jetting in and out of Blackpool is symbolic of the problems with Boris Johnson's big idea – Scotsman comment

After “Get Brexit done”, Boris Johnson’s next big idea was “levelling up”.

A UK Government White Paper published only last year spoke of the need to end the “geographical inequality which is such a striking feature of the UK”.

One reason for that inequality was government money tended to flow towards the largest population centres, like London. ‘Levelling up’ describes a mission to lift up the poorer parts of Britain to the kind of prosperity enjoyed by south-eastern England.

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Yet, among the UK Government’s latest grants, the south-east gets nearly twice as much as north-east England. Arguments that the spending per head of population paints a different picture suggest a return to the policy that helped create geographical inequality. The kind of pork-barrel politics that parties engage in when they’re in trouble may also be a factor.

Levelling up has other problems, with former senior civil servant Philip Rycroft describing the process as “completely crackers”, saying that Whitehall officials would probably never have been to many of the places they were making decisions about.

And Andy Street, the Conservative mayor of West Midlands, condemned the “bidding and begging-bowl culture” of levelling up, adding: “I cannot understand why the levelling-up funding money was not devolved for local decision-makers to decide on what's best for their areas.” A sentiment doubtless shared by many in Scotland where £177m will be spent on ten projects.

Rishi Sunak flew to Blackpool yesterday to talk about levelling up, rather than risking the trains. But jetting in and out of ‘the North’ is only going to add to the impression of a distant government meddling in affairs best left to the locals.

Rishi Sunak and Chancellor Jeremy Hunt fix a 'Powered By Levelling Up' sign onto Accrington Market Hall (Picture: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

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