Convention of the North: Secretary of State's speech

The Secretary of State delivered a speech to the Convention of the North in Leeds

The Rt Hon Michael Gove MP

Today is the day the North truly takes back control. Today, at this Convention, we inaugurate the biggest transfer of power and resources to the North in living memory. We all know that power is best exercised by those closest to the people they represent. We all know that the divisions in our society – economic, social, educational – are best bridged by empowering local leaders and local communities to determine the futures of the places where they live and the towns and cities that they love. And that is why today – at this Convention of the North – together – we are bringing about a power surge for the North. 

We have already agreed deals – agreed, not imposed or dictated – agreed deals with the mayors of the West Midlands and Greater Manchester to give them greater power over skills, transport and housing so the opportunity to get on, access to the best jobs and a safe, warm, decent home of your own are within reach of many more.  

And today we’re extending these same opportunities to West Yorkshire, South Yorkshire and the Liverpool City Region. In technical terms that means Level 4 Devolution. In real terms it means more money and a bigger capacity to make a difference for Tracy Brabin, Oliver Coppard and Steve Rotheram. 

Yes, I know Tracy, Oliver and Steve are Labour politicians. And in a few months’ time we’ll be arguing passionately about different visions for the country as a whole. But – much more importantly to me, Tracy, Oliver and Steve are directly accountable local politicians with a mandate and a mission and a responsibility to deliver economic growth and improved opportunities for people in Leeds, Bradford, Wakefield, Castleford, Huddersfield, Dewsbury, Sheffield, Rotherham, Barnsley, Doncaster, Liverpool, Knowsley, Runcorn, Southport and the Wirral.  

And what’s important to me, and I know to them, is delivering for people in those cities and towns. Giving local politicians more power – with greater accountability – so local people can enjoy better jobs, higher wages, quicker journeys to work, more opportunities to learn, more attractive homes and an enhanced environment around them. 

The theology is devolution, the reality is improved lives for all.  

And I am also today clear we want to take forward devolution to many more areas across the country. With the North leading the way. I’ll be continuing to support the extended North East Mayoral Combined Authority grow from strength to strength. And I know the Chancellor will be saying more on how we support the north east in days to come. And I want to conclude a Level 4 deal with the great Ben Houchen – the one-man Northern Powerhouse who has done so much to bring investment and hope to the Tees Valley.  

And as well as the Level 3 deal we have with York and North Yorkshire we are also now implementing Level 3 deals with Hull and East Yorkshire, and also with Greater Lincolnshire. There are further Level 3 deals moving forward in Norfolk and Suffolk and, of course, a Level 3 deal has been secured for the East Midlands, and a Level 2 deal for Lancashire. We will also shortly be announcing more Level 2 devolution deals covering other parts of England. 

So we now have 19 devolution deals either established or in implementation covering over 33 million people. This is the most profound change to the way England has been governed in generations, it is a vote of confidence in local democracy and, in particular, a vote of confidence in Northern leadership. We  together are levelling up the North by giving power to its people. 

But that is very far from all we are doing together to demonstrate our commitment to the North of England and our shared determination to level up. 

We are working in partnership with civic leaders to irrigate the soil for the private sector investment which is vital for the enduring economic growth the North needs – which we all need. 

Here in Leeds, we are working with the council and the mayoral combined authority to lever in investment for new housing and new enterprises in Mabgate, the Innovation Arc, in Holbeck, West End Riverside, Eastside and Hunslet Riverside and on of course on the iconic Southbank. We’re working closely with the Royal Armouries here and working to secure and bring into public ownership a site for British Library North at Temple Works. I was also excited recently to meet with the Poet Laureate, Yorkshire’s own Simon Armitage, to hear his fantastic plans  for the UK’s only National Poetry Centre to be situated here in Leeds. I and my department will be doing everything we can to support that endeavour. And we’re also working to ensure that the existing strengths of the universities in Leeds, the life sciences sector, financial services sector, the tech sector and of course the cultural jewels of Opera North, Leeds Art Gallery and Channel Four can all be reinforced.  

And today I can go further.  I am delighted to be able to announce  that we have agreed with West Yorkshire the final plans for their new Investment Zone, focused in particular on health tech.  , It will direct £50m of additional investment to accelerate capital projects here in Leeds, and in Bradford and Huddersfield. And a further £25m of the funding will be used to give local people the skills they need to take advantage of over 7000 new high-quality jobs being created in the region all because of the Investment Zone. 

And to ensure that the Leeds Renaissance can benefit the greatest number of people in West Yorkshire – and beyond – we’re also investing two and a half billion pounds in a mass transit system which will link Leeds with Bradford, Halifax, Huddersfield and Wakefield. The heart of West Yorkshire will be stronger and the arteries which connect Leeds to these proud towns will be enhanced – I don’t believe any  Government for decades has shown this level of commitment to Leeds, to West Yorkshire, to Yorkshire and indeed the North as a whole – and it is central to our shared moral mission to make opportunity more equal for everyone. 

Because Levelling Up – at its heart – is about public and private investment, partnership between central and local government, empowering local people to determine their own future and using all the resources of communities which have been overlooked and undervalued in the past – their educational, cultural, and entrepreneurial talents to shape economic growth and to deliver greater social justice. 

And that is why in our Levelling Up White Paper we set the direction for future central government spending in areas such as tech and culture – the two of the principal motors of growth in the decades ahead. And we are committed therefore to increasing spending on research and development – from both public and private sectors – faster outside the golden triangle of the South East and in the North .  

We are increasing Arts Council spending in the coming years outside of London and the South East and in the North And the Network North transport spending, which was announced earlier this week, sees millions more committed to improving transport links within and between the communities of the North and Midlands. 

Re-directing spending is crucial to Levelling Up – but so is making sure those resources are in the hands of the communities that they’re intended to benefit. That’s why Network North funding goes to councils, why Arts Council spending will support grassroots cultural organisations in the North, and enhanced R&D spend will be delivered through the North’s great universities. 

And we also know that across the North different communities have very specific needs which we can only effectively support by working in partnership with people on the ground to identify obstacles and opportunities. 

So, for example, in Liverpool, we know that the immense potential of the city and the wider region has been held back by an insufficiently coherent approach towards urban regeneration. There are iconic new investments and of course handsome historic buildings, but they sit alongside stalled sites and areas of untapped potential. That is why the vision set out in the Liverpool Strategic Futures Advisory Panel report is so important and we will back it with £31 million of new money  I can announce today for regeneration projects which trace an arc from the Knowledge Quarter to Bramley Moore docks on the waterfront. 

In Sheffield we know that city’s proud industrial heritage – augmented of course by the innovation we see at South Yorkshire’s Advanced Manufacturing Centre – also requires additional investment to reap benefits in the future. That’s why we’re investing £67 million to create over 1,330 new homes and 4,000 square metres of commercial space in the heart of the city. That’s on top of the £12 million we’re already invested through the Brownfield Housing Fund. And by working with Sheffield council and Oliver Coppard we hope to unlock a further half a billion pounds of private sector investment. 

We’re also investing more in Blackpool – a great town which has had to adjust to the changing nature of the visitor economy and has been held back by historically terribly poor housing – so we’re devoting another £90 million to transform some of the most deprived parts of the town centre to power Blackpool’s revival 

I’m also committed personally to ramping up our support in Barrow – where the commitment that we have with British Aerospace to develop and build the next generation of nuclear submarines will generate thousands of new highly-skilled, high-paying jobs for decades to come – but with those jobs must come new housing, improved transport links for Barrow and even better educational institutions, and that’s a mission to which my Department is committed. 

In each of these communities – with diverse needs but all optimistic about the future – we’ve worked together to identify where the additional investment that we’re committing to the North can make the biggest difference. 

And that’s the philosophy driving our Levelling Up Partnerships – new initiatives from my department which lead to  deep relationships between the department and local leaders in Blackpool, Blyth, Grimsby, Middlesbrough, Redcar and Cleveland and now, most recently in Blackburn. Together we identify the barriers to growth, and thendeliver bespoke investments which build on the community’s existing strengths. So in Blackburn our announcement today means £8 million for the arts and community venue King George’s Hall, £1.5 million to redevelop the Cotton Exchange and £1.5 million to revive Tony’s Empress Ballroom – one of the very few original Northern Soul dancefloors in the country. Sadly, I won’t be Out on The Floor for any forthcoming all nighters but as Levelling Up funding goes, do I love it? –  indeed I do. 

The principles governing our Levelling Up Partnerships – and indeed the 4.8 billion pounds worth of investment delivered though the Levelling Up Fund – are also behind our Long Term Plan for Towns. We know that for towns to succeed our great cities need to grow, but we also know that it’s the specific needs of towns, their individual strengths, their particular challenges, that need to be addressed if they are to benefit from the growth that our cities are powering. So that we know that in the towns around Manchester, Leeds, Liverpool, Sheffield and Newcastle and other great cities some, towns are doing better than others, some are better connected than others, some have higher productivity than others, but all have potential.  

In the 55 towns we’ve identified for investment, we’re making £20 million per town available – and we’re ensuring it’s a locally-constituted, grassroots-led town board which will drawi up the bespoke plan for how that investment meets specific local needs. So in the Yorkshire towns with which we are currently working – Barnsley, Castleford, Dewsbury, Doncaster, Keighley, Rotherham and Scarborough – it will be local people who will be empowered and  local priorities which will be supported. Under the leadership of my friend Adam Hawksbee – who is committed to driving down power and opportunities much closer to these intimate communities – we will be building on  the success of this programme in weeks to come.  

I want to end on a personal note. 

And I want to end soon because the last time I spoke at this Convention I had so much to say about Levelling Up that Evan Davies had to cut me off. And I can see Clive eyeing his watch carefully. 

The reason why I am so committed to Levelling Up is because I came into politics to tackle inequality, to give a stronger voice to those who’d been cut out of the elite conversation, to uphold the principle that everyone is of equal worth and no one should be held back because of their background, their birthplace or their beliefs.  

Tackling entrenched inequalities, overcoming historic injustices, giving space and opportunities to those who’ve been overlooked and undervalued, it takes time – it requires money, yes, but it also requires us to reach across old political divides, to see the other person’s perspective, and to trust in the spirit of public service that animates so many of those who enter public life.  

In the election months ahead there’ll be arguments, of course, about priorities, policies and people. I’ll be defending our record in Government of which I’m immensely proud and outlining why I believe the big questions we face are best resolved with Conservative answers. But at a time when the risks of division and polarisation are heightened I want us all here at the Convention of the North to recall and celebrate what he have in common – to feel optimistic and proud about every community in our country and resolved to ensure that we make the pursuit of greater opportunity for all a fight in which we are all in this room on the same side.

From: Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities and The Rt Hon Michael Gove MP