CALLS have been made for the Government to more clearly define its flagship policy of “levelling up” following polling which found more than half of people did not understand the term.

The YouGov poll also found a quarter of those surveyed had never heard of levelling up, while 26 per cent knew exactly what it meant.

John McCabe, chief executive of North East England Chamber of Commerce, said it was “little wonder” and called on the Government to set out its vision in its long-awaited white paper, which was due to be published in 2021 but has been delayed until 2022.

Labour MPs in the region said the survey results were unsurprising.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson made his pledge to “level up” Britain a key part of the Conservative campaign in 2019.

The term is generally understood to refer to addressing regional inequalities, with the Government defining it as “boosting living standards, improving public services, enhancing civic pride and strengthening local leadership”.

However, clear parameters or metrics for measuring levelling up have not been laid out.

Mr McCabe said: “It’s little wonder large numbers of people are sceptical or unsure of what the government means by ‘levelling up’ as we’ve yet to hear a clear and consistent definition from ministers. For as long as there is such ambiguity, people will attach their own definitions to the term enabling a whole raft of measures to be badged ‘levelling up’ when in reality they achieve no such thing.

“Based on my conversations with a wide range of businesses across the North East, I’d like to see a plan to close gaps in employment, education, income, wealth and health. That’s the stuff that really matters to people so if the government is serious about levelling up, that’s what they have to deliver in our region.

“The long-awaited Levelling Up White Paper is the government’s opportunity to define what it means and to set out a vision for how it will be achieved. That’s how to turn levelling up from a vague slogan into a life changing policy and its on that basis the government’s delivery of levelling up will be measured.”

The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities has a ££4.8billion levelling up fund for infrastructure and travel investment, including town centre regeneration, and investing in cultural assets.

The Northern Echo: Chancellor Rishi Sunak in Yarm last month, following an announcement about levelling up cash

The North East has received £100 million from the fund for five projects, including reopening Whorlton Bridge, near Barnard Castle, and regenerating Yarm and Eaglescliffe town centres, restoring Newcastle’s Grainger Market, providing new sports facilities in West Denton and a Housing Innovation and Construction Skills Academy in Sunderland.

Mary Foy, Labour MP for Durham, said: “It’s hardly surprising that new polling shows people don’t understand what levelling up means, when the Government itself doesn’t know. Despite many promises, the Government has still not set out what its levelling up agenda is, or indeed what it actually means.

“While we are all rather in the dark about what levelling up looks like, it is undeniable that the Government has done little for the North East that could even be considered levelling up under any definition. It has so far simply pursued it’s own vanity projects, or made small inroads into the cuts previous Tory Governments have made.”

Alex Cunningham, who represents Stockton North, added: “There are no surprises in the data. The government can’t expect people to know what it means when they themselves struggle to define it and have delayed announcements on it. .

“It should mean action on health and wage inequalities, the development of quality infrastructure and transport and measures to eradicate poverty which is affecting more and more families whether in work or not

“Economic levelling up is more critical than ever with esculating energy prices, increased taxes, soaring inflation and increasing debt. Families were facing an extra £1200 a year in bills and taxes before the dire news on energy prices these last few days.

“We can do without another empty slogan - it’s action from the Tory government that people are demanding.”

Tory MP Peter Gibson, of Darlington, said: “Levelling Up is an overarching theme for this Government to spread opportunities across the country in places to which have been overlooked. We have the amazing opportunities from five government departments coming to Darlington, investment in our town centre and in our railway station.

“Further details will become clearer when the white paper is published in the new year but as far as Darlington is concerned we’ve been likened to the poster child for levelling up.”

A DLUHC spokesperson said: “Our ambitious plans for levelling up will transform the economic geography of every corner of the UK, and our White Paper will set out how we will achieve this.”

“Levelling Up means boosting living standards, improving public services, enhancing civic pride and strengthening local leadership to make sure opportunity is more equal, and the potential of every place in the country can be fully realised.”

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