Brexit: Rishi Sunak outlines plans for ‘levelling up agenda’
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Boris Johnson will this week kick off the next stage in his plan to “level-up” the United Kingdom, revive high streets and raise the prosperity of the poorest regions when he delivers a major speech. This comes as measures are announced to put new energy into local businesses and communities – including support for grassroots football, allowing takeaway pints to continue for 12 months, and making it easier and cheaper for pubs, restaurants and cafes to set up tables outside.
In a bid to ensure football really does come home, the Government has committed £25million to build new sports facilities – the equivalent of 50 new artificial pitches.
According to Downing St, Mr Johnson regards levelling-up and uniting the UK the “central purpose of his premiership”.
In a clear sign that No 10 believes major mistakes were made in the way the Government responded to the last financial crisis, a Government spokesperson said: “The Prime Minister is determined to level up the UK and deliver a fairer, stronger society – one where whatever your background and wherever you live, everyone can access the opportunities they need to succeed. While talent and potential is distributed evenly across this country, opportunity is not.
“That’s why as we emerge from the pandemic, it’s vital that we do not make the mistakes of recovery from the financial crash and seize this moment to ensure a better quality of life for people in every part of the UK.”
The Government will put high streets at the heart of its plan to regenerate local communities. A new “high streets strategy” is on the way.
This week’s speech will kick off a “summer of engagement” with the Government seeking views before setting out concrete proposals with the publication of the White Paper in the Autumn.
Before then, the Government intends to put measures in place so people can “enjoy a great British summer together outdoors”.
It wants al fresco dining to become the norm with pavement licences “extended and then made permanent”. Temporary permission for off-sales of alcohol will be extended so takeaway pints will continue for another 12 months.
And with England gripped in football excitement, the Government says support for local sports teams is a “central part of levelling up opportunities for all”. The £25million boost for local facilities is coming so “all football fans have the chance to play their favourite sport.”
Mr Johnson is expected to lay out ambitions for a “more balanced economy with great jobs in every part of the UK” as well as better infrastructure, stronger local leadership, and restored “pride in place”.
The rejection of austerity comes as debate continues about to the best way to deal with the debt amassed in the response to the pandemic.
It is understood there is support in cabinet for treating it in a similar way to wartime debt that can be paid off over many years; there is also support for borrowing to fund priorities such as improved social care.
John Longworth, chairman of the Independent Business Network, said: “The Government’s right… The crisis we’ve just suffered is not like the financial crisis.
“It’s more like having fought a war but without any loss of assets and no destruction. So, what we can do [is] borrow at all-time low interest rates, using perpetual bonds which will help fund the existing debt and enable us to invest in the economy.
“To really level-up, what we need to do with that investment is to cut taxes for business in particular, to have access to finance for growth, and to simplify regulation so that entrepreneurs can employ more people. That will do more for levelling-up than any pet projects that are simply window dressing.
“The Government really needs now, coming out of the Covid crisis, to get a grip and go for super-growth. That itself will then generate enough cash to pay for both the debt and to invest in public services without having to raise any taxes.”
He also anticipates that trade deals will boost manufacturing and support growth in the regions the Government particularly wants to help.
Andrew Bridgen, the Conservative MP for North West Leicestershire, said he was “delighted” at the direction the Government is taking and will meet with communities secretary Robert Jenrick tomorrow to discuss a levelling-up bid for funding for a new town centre “hub” in Coalville.
Mr Bridgen said: “This is our opportunity to see if we can get Government support to build back better.”
Arguing that this is not the time for more austerity, he said: “[This] was not a normal recession. This was a recession brought up on by a pandemic.
“We’ve never had those conditions before and what’s important is we get the economic growth back to pre-pandemic levels.”
Government programmes already announced include the £4.8billion Levelling Up Fund which will provide investment in infrastructure.
A host of initiatives are designed to boost the fortunes of local communities. In addition to the £220million UK Community Renewal Fund, there is the £830million Future High Streets Fund which supports regeneration in 72 areas across England, as well as the Towns Fund which is investing £3.6billion in 101 towns in England.
A further ambition is that “every area has a bus service as good as the capital’s”, with £5billion being invested in buses and cycle routes across England. This comes alongside an investment package worth more than £27billion in motorways and A-roads.
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