PM under pressure on ‘levelling-up’ pledge
Task force of 40 Tory MPs assembled by think tank to ensure ‘red wall’ areas reverse economic trends
A THINK tank close to the Government has assembled a task force of 40 Conservative MPs to put pressure on the Prime Minister to fulfil his “levelling up” agenda. Onward also published a report underlining the political importance of improving regional equality to the Tory party.
It finds that earnings in Conservative seats are on average 5pc lower than in Labour seats and houses are worth a third less, at £62,000.
Of the bottom quarter of constituencies with the lowest earnings, three more were held by the Conservatives than Labour.
Reversing these trends will be crucial if several MPs on the task force are to retain their seats in “red wall” constituencies – those that turned blue in December’s general election after having backed Labour for decades.
They include Chris Clarkson, of Heywood and Middleton; Dehenna Davison, of Bishop Auckland; James Grundy, of Leigh; and Mark Jenkinson, of Workington.
“The coronavirus crisis has only made the case for levelling up stronger so we can get the economy moving in areas that are less well off,” Neil O’Brien, MP for Harborough, said. “Our new task force will be spearheading this vital agenda.” Analysing data from the Office for National Statistics, Onward also showed that the gap between the capital and the rest of the country is widening.
Income before tax and benefits is now almost 70pc higher in London than the rest of the UK, up from about 30pc higher in 1997, while London’s economy is a quarter bigger than the north of England’s.
In addition, regional inequality is worse in Britain than its industrialised peers. In Germany, for example, 12pc of people live in areas where the average income is 10pc below the national average, compared to 35pc in the UK.
To measure its progress on levelling up, which the 2019 Conservative manifesto pledged repeatedly, the Government should use earnings and employment rates as key measures because they allow for the analysis of smaller areas – such as local authorities – than productivity or income due to how the data are produced and given that they are more timely, the report said. The think tank, founded by a former special adviser to Theresa May, also called on the Treasury’s labour markets and distributional analysis unit to produce geographical analyses of all budgets and fiscal events, breaking down the impact of tax and spending changes on different areas.
Jo Gideon, MP for Stoke-on-Trent Central, said: “There is potentially a lot of untapped potential in parts of our country that have felt left behind for a long time.
“Now is the time to really hammer forward with the levelling-up agenda.”