DLUHC hires former senior No.10 official as levelling-up director

Ed Whiting will work on flagship policy from Leeds, but plans for 12 regional levelling-up chiefs remain “under review”
DLUHC's Marsham Street headquarters. Photo: Steph Gray/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0

By Jim Dunton

16 Feb 2023

David Cameron’s former deputy principal private secretary Ed Whiting has been hired as a levelling-up director by the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities.

Whiting, who left the civil service in 2016 – and wrote about his post-Whitehall life for Civil Service World three years later – started work in his new Leeds-based role on Monday.

In March last year DLUHC started recruitment for 12 new regional levelling-up directors, offering salaries of up to £144,000 a year. The move followed plans set out in the government’s levelling up white paper, which said the directors would act as a “key bridge” between local leaders and central government.

However, last month levelling-up minister Dehenna Davison told members of the Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Select Committee that no appointments had been made for the regional roles despite candidates having been interviewed. She said that an “internal review” was under way.

CSW asked DLUHC whether Whiting was the first of the regional directors to be appointed. It said he had been appointed as a director in DLUHC’s levelling-up policy group but made no reference to the regional-director roles.

Writing on social media, Whiting said details of his new role were “tbc” but likely to include “a big focus” on working with authorities and organisations across Northern England on economic growth and prosperity.

“I’ll be based in Leeds, hoping to be travelling round North and London often too,” he said on Twitter. “Thrilled to be working in my hometown for the first time as a grown up. I love Leeds, and have enjoyed seeing more of it since we moved back up here. I’m excited about its future and how we get there.”

Whiting added that he would be “on the lookout” for new thinking and work on regional growth from inspiring leaders and organisations working in the North, “and on civil service reform/improvement”.

Government’s progress with the flagship levelling-up agenda has come under increased scrutiny in recent weeks. DLUHC’s announcement of the successful bidders in the £2.1bn second round of its Levelling Up Fund attracted widespread criticism from areas that failed to secure backing for projects, notably from Conservative mayor of the West Midlands Combined Authority Andy Street.

It also emerged last week that HM Treasury has imposed a new sign-off regime on all of DLUHC’s capital spending, against a backdrop of concerns about progress with projects that have so-far been allocated funding from levelling-up programmes.

DLUHC’s admission that no regional levelling-up directors had yet been appointed, 10 months after recruitment began, came at a session of the Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Select Committee on 23 January.

Parliamentary under-secretary of state Davison told MPs that DLUHC was “reviewing the process internally to figure out the best course of action” for appointing the regional directors.

“There was some work done over the summer with some interviews run for levelling up directors,” she said. “We want to make sure that when we put directors in place they are doing the right work and we have the right people there.”

Jessica Blakeley, who is DLUHC’s, director of levelling up major programmes, told the session that a new approach to appointing the planned regional levelling-up directors could be taken. She said the department had realised its initial approach “might not be achieving exactly the aims that we had hoped for”.

She said that one option could involve “elected officials” – such as combined authority mayors – having responsibility for regional levelling-up directors.

A DLUHC spokesperson said the government was “committed to delivering levelling up outcomes in the best way possible”.

“We are reviewing the recruitment process for levelling up directors internally as well as our wider approach to working with places across the country,” they said.

“It is key that we get this right and that we join up effectively across government. We will update further in due course.”

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