UK's Johnson bids to reset premiership with 'levelling up' pledge

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By Paul Sandle

LONDON -Boris Johnson will set out a plan to "level up" Britain on Wednesday as he tries to move on from the scandal of lockdown events in his Downing Street residence by turning to one of the big policy pledges that made him prime minister in 2019.

His government said it had identified 12 missions to shift focus and resources to Britain's "forgotten" communities by 2030, including what it said was the biggest shift of power from London to local leaders in modern times.

Other targets include bringing local public transport closer to London's standard, extending 5G and fibre broadband across the country and working to eliminate illiteracy and innumeracy among primary school leavers, it said.

"From day one, the defining mission of this government has been to level up this country, to break the link between geography and destiny so that no matter where you live you have access to the same opportunities," Johnson said.

He is outlining the policy as he fights to shore up his premiership after damaging revelations of parties in Downing Street and other government buildings during COVID-19 lockdowns that have played badly with voters and alienated some lawmakers in his own Conservative Party.

A report on the gatherings on Monday pointed to "serious failures of leadership" at the heart of British government.


Johnson adopted his "levelling up" slogan in the 2019 election as shorthand for tackling regional inequalities, particularly between former industrial areas and London and the southeast.

Along with a promise to "get Brexit done", Johnson's pledge to plough money into towns across England helped his government to win parliamentary seats in 2019 in areas that had never voted Conservative before.

Political opponents have said the initiative is populist and lacks substance or new money, and local leaders will be looking closely at whether there is any new spending in the plan.

Michael Gove, the minister tasked with delivering the policy, said the 2016 Brexit vote to leave the European Union was a "wake-up call" that the country needed to change its economic model.

The new plan, he said, would tackle inequalities in health, housing, jobs, pay and productivity, with the government committed to spending parts of its research and development budget outside of the south east.

It will also seek to promote clusters of innovation and create new mayors to argue for their areas.

Lisa Nandy, the opposition Labour spokeswoman for the policy, described the new policy as "recycled pots of money".

She said many areas were still being damaged by cuts to local funding imposed by the Conservatives in the last decade.

She said local towns will only thrive when people had enough money to spend, something that will become more difficult when taxes, energy bills and food prices rise this year.

(Reporting by Paul Sandle and Elizabeth Piper; Editing by Cynthia Osterman and John Stonestreet)

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