AFTER months of scandal followed by heavy local election losses, Boris Johnson’s Government wants to get its agenda back on track by using the Queen’s Speech to look serious about “levelling up” – closing the decades-old gap in investment and outcomes between different UK regions.

All the promises of spending were, of course, welcome, but what about the structural causes of wealth inequality? The long-term, sustainable aim should go beyond redistribution of wealth to the north, and focus on generating it here.

But when the chips are down, will Rishi Sunak and company choose to favour the interests of big multinational financial companies in London at the expense of the rest of the country? (And at the expense of most Londoners, too.) After all, that’s where he spent his career before politics.

The financial sector plays a crucial role in deciding how economic outcomes play out across the UK, for instance in the £22bn funding gap for small business outside London and the south east, or the rapid loss of local bank branches. And yet, rather than focus on priorities like these, or addressing systemic challenges like the climate crisis, the Government seems likely to propose measures to benefit the short-term profits of City financiers.

It is working on a “Future Regulatory Framework” for the financial sector, a key proposal of which will make financial regulators focus on promoting and supporting the “international competitiveness” of the sector.

“International competitiveness” is rightly in scare quotes. It’s Orwellian New Speak for playing the markets, as opposed to investing sustainably. This approach was tried before, and failed before. In 2012 a similar principle was removed from regulators after it contributed to the 2008 financial crisis – a disastrous period that hit real-economy businesses hard and ushered in a decade of austerity. Adjusting for inflation, wages have still not recovered to pre-2008 levels. It’s hard to see any justification for increasing the risk of another such crash.

Here in the North East, people are rightly sceptical of such an approach. New research from the Finance Innovation Lab shows that 77 per cent of people in the region think playing the markets is “out of touch and elitist”. They want investment, jobs and a plan for the future, not a repeat of the casino economy and the mistakes of the past.

As North of Tyne Metro Mayor, I talk to our businesses all the time. What we need is a finance sector that focuses on investment in the real economy. That boosts start-ups and scales ups, and brings innovative products to market. Our Green New Deal Fund does exactly that. Higher wages here lead to healthier people, reducing pressure on the public services.

As the cost-of-living crisis continues to bite, it’s disappointing to see the Government head off in the wrong direction. If it is serious about generating wealth in the English regions, it needs to give Metro Mayors mechanisms to raise sustainable investment in their areas. We need a financial sector that will help us build a sustainable economy for the future, not a return to the short-term gambling that cost us so dearly once before.

Let’s hope they listen to the people in the regions, not the City traders.

  • Jamie Driscoll is the Labour, directly-elected North of Tyne Mayor