The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities has yet to finish recruiting a cohort of levelling up directors, almost a year after they were promised.
A spokesperson for the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities said the “robust” process to fill the positions is “still ongoing,” but declined to give a timeframe on when this may be completed.
Details of which areas across the UK will receive a total of £2.1 bn worth of levelling up funds in a second round of allocations were announced on 18 January, causing controversy because of the proportion of cash directed towards London and the southeast.
MPs on parliament’s Public Accounts Committee said this week that DLUHC permanent secretary Jeremy Pocklington would face further questions on the rationale for parts of the funding process, which they said had created the risk of "perceived improper ministerial involvement in the decision-making process". The department has rejected the MPs' recommendation that the principles for awarding funds should be set before shortlisted bidders are revealed to ministers.
The government is yet to disclose detail of what levelling up directors will be responsible for overseeing. They are broadly expected to “act as a single point of contact for local leaders and a first port of call for new and innovative local policy proposals,” according to Michael Gove’s levelling up white paper, published last January.
Levelling up minister Dehenna Davison said in October that the department was “in the process of recruitment” for the roles, which were advertised with salaries of up to £144,000.
Responding to a written ministerial question from Labour shadow levelling up minister Alex Norris on when the directors would be in post, the Bishop Auckland MP Davison said that “more details” on when the senior civil servants would be appointed would be “available in due course when the secretary of state of State has considered official advice”
At the time, the position of levelling up secretary was filled by Simon Clarke. Gove has since been reappointed to the role in Rishi Sunak’s government, having previously held it under Boris Johnson, and is largely regarded as the architect of the policy.
In a follow-up written question this week seeking an update on the recruitment process, Davison told Norris that “announcements will be made in the usual way”.
Norris told CSW's sister title PoliticsHome that “the story of these directors is symbolic of the government’s whole approach to levelling up”. He reiterated Keir Starmer’s promise to “transfer power out of Westminster” with a so-called "take back control" bill if his party is elected at the next election, announced earlier this month.
Norris accused ministers of “grand promises, announced with big fanfare, which aren't delivered and quickly disappear while the government stumbles from crisis to crisis”.
“Britain deserves far better than gimmicks and more delays. We need a government that will back all people in all parts of Britain to make their full contribution,” he added.
A DLUHC spokesperson said: “Levelling up directors will be based in the areas they represent, and will act as champions of their areas within government, contributing to spreading equality up and down the country and levelling up communities.
“The process of appointing levelling up directors is ongoing. This is a robust and rigorous process and we will only allocate roles to those who are suitable. Further details on its progress will be released in due course.”
The delay in the process to appoint levelling up directors gained fresh attention as spending for the second round of the Levelling Up Fund was announced.
Overall, 111 areas have been awarded a total of £2.1 bn worth of cash for projects such as transport improvement and community regenerations.
In 2021, £1.7 bn was awarded to 105 projects that come under the government's flagship levelling up agenda.
Caitlin Doherty is a journalist for CSW's sister title PoliticsHome, where a version of this story first appeared