Government fails first-year levelling up test

The prime minister's levelling up agenda has had a rocky start after official figures from his first year in charge show major disparities in regional transport spending, with the Midlands and the North losing out again.

Per capita transport spending in 2019-2020, saw London given three times more cash than some other areas and the South East secure around twice the investment.

The figures were released after Sir John Hayes - MP for South Holland and The Deepings in the East Midlands and twice a Conservative minister of state for transport - asked a parliamentary question about the latest transport spending figures from his region in comparison with the rest of the UK.

In response, transport minister Rachel Maclean revealed that during 2019-20 there was £289 of public expenditure on transport per head in the East Midlands, this compares to an average of £497 per head for the UK, £882 in London and £521 across the South East.

In his first speech to Parliament as prime minister on July 2019, Boris Johnson said he wanted 'new road and rail infrastructure to help level up across Britain' adding that 'it is time we unleashed the productive power not just of London and the South East but of every corner of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.'

Despite this the figures tell a familiar story of underspending in the regions compared to the South East.

In October 2020, the Institute for Fiscal Studies reported that the 'UK is one of the most geographically unequal countries in the developed world; compared with 26 other developed countries, it ranks near the top of the league table on most measures of regional economic inequality'.

It added: 'Currently, some sorts of public spending – transport and R&D, for example – are heavily concentrated in London and the South East. Increasing spending on these in other parts of the country might help with levelling up.'

Spending per capita for English regions and UK in 2019-20.

Region 2019-20
North East £315
North West £438
Yorkshire and Humber £309
East Midlands £289
West Midlands £492
East of England £470
London £882
South East £521
South West £329
UK £497

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