A leading Labour MP has said the government’s plans to relocate thousands of civil service jobs away from the capital will not be enough to level up employment prospects in areas where new departmental bases are being created.
Lisa Nandy, who is shadow foreign secretary and founder of the Centre for Towns think tank, said that while prime minister Boris Johnson was right to recognise sections of the nation were being left behind, his levelling-up approaches to date had “completely missed the point”.
In an opinion piece in the Manchester Evening News, Nandy said the government’s £4.8bn Levelling Up Fund effectively pitted local areas to bid against each other for “small pots of money” to patch up high streets, and were “no substitute for good jobs that bring spending power”.
She added that the government’s Places for Growth programme, which is committed to relocating around 22,000 civil service jobs away from the capital to new regional centres – including HM Treasury’s proposed base at Darlington, would also not level up areas on its own.
“Moving civil servants from London to Darlington is no substitute for investment that allows Darlington’s young people to get those good jobs themselves,” she said.
Nandy, who is MP for Wigan, said Conservative politicians had long argued that the state “crowds out” business, but in reality business and government went hand-in-hand.
“The prime minister has praised Media City in Salford,” she said. “It was only possible because of regional development agencies, which the Tories abolished.
“If you want to level us up, level up the people. And let’s not just move good jobs, let’s make them.
“With investment in digital, skills and transport, northern success stories like Advanced Manufacturing in Rotherham and the cutting-edge nuclear industry in Warrington could spread like wildfire.”
Nandy said that rebuilding communities needed to start with the people who lived in them and creating serious plans to help areas get past a reliance on “insecure and low-paid work” that took spending power away from local economies.