Michael Gove pledges to close the north-south divide and urges ‘trust in the Government’

Rishi Sunak grilled by Robert Peston on ‘levelling up’

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Mr Gove was speaking at the Convention of the North – aimed at closing the gap between the richest and poorest parts of the country. Education, transport, digital ­connectivity, housing and public health were vital for that, he said. But handing power over to regions was equally important.

He added: “You cannot achieve change if you rely on the centre to determine and dictate.”

The summit is in Liverpool and with a nod to the city’s two famous football clubs, he added: “There will be ­arguments between Left and Right and red and blue, but ultimately we’re all on the same team.

“It’s simply wrong that individuals in the North and Midlands have limited life chances and less opportunities than those in London and the South East.

“The imperative to level up is deep-rooted and complex. We simply cannot go on with the gulf between rich and poor and North and South.

“It’s not just a matter of social justice but also ­economic ­sufficiency.”

Liverpool’s Metro mayor Steve Rotheram told Mr Gove: “Collaborate. Government can’t do this alone. We’ll show you what ­levelling up looks like.

“We’re not ­asking for handouts, just equal levels of investment. We have the blueprint for a brighter, fairer and more ­successful country.”

Mr Rotheram joined fellow mayors, council leaders and business chiefs to thrash out the levelling up plans at The Spine – billed as one of the ­country’s healthiest buildings.

He said London and the South East had benefited from a much greater percentage of capital expenditure.

And he added: “I’m not knocking London. A strong London is good for UK PLC. A strong North is good for London and UK PLC too.”

It was wrong that the average life expectancy for a man in Blackpool is 74 – a decade shorter than in parts of the South East, said Mr Rotheram.

Last week’s Levelling Up White Paper contained ­positive noises, he said, but it was important it came with money and reflected a willingness to shift power away from the centre. And he joined ­mayors ­urging a re-think on rail strategy.

They insist the Integrated Rail Plan – which downgrades the Northern Powerhouse Rail and scraps the ­eastern leg of HS2 up to Yorkshire – falls well short of what is needed to “unleash the full economic potential of Northern towns and cities”.

Mr Rotheram and fellow mayors Andy Burnham, Jamie Driscoll, Tracy Brabin and Dan Jarvis have now written to the Government and ­challenged it to open a new assessment process with Transport for the North (TfN). Manchester’s Metro Mayor Andy Burnham said: “They are asking us to accept lower ­ambitions. We are not going to take the ‘get what you’re given approach’ anymore.”

He said the Government needed to “give us what you promised”.

Louise Gittins, of TfN, said: “Local control over transport systems really makes a difference and can transform lives.” She said Northern Powerhouse Rail meant more capacity, beautiful new train carriages and east to west connections. She added: “We need ­connectivity throughout transport to level up communities.”

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