Labour MPs in the North have said the Government’s levelling up pledges are “not worth the paper they are written on” as Conservatives moved to defend its record on investment in the North East.

Northern MPs have responded to analysis by the IPPR North – a branch of the Institute for Public Policy Research – that per-person public spending was higher in real terms in the North in 2019 than 2021 – and the North East has had the lowest percentage increase in spending.

The Northern Echo has joined other leading newspapers of the North to remind the two remaining candidates for the Tory leadership that they cannot let Boris Johnson’s levelling up policy wither away.

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Three years on from the coining of the phrase levelling up, there are fears the slogan is ringing hollow as former chancellor Rishi Sunak and foreign secretary Liz Truss battle it out to become the next Prime Minister.

This week, analysis by the IPPR North found the levelling-up agenda has in many ways been “business as usual”.

Per-person public spending was higher in real terms in northern England in 2019 than the England average, according to the analysis, but by 2021, the latest year of available data, it had fallen behind.

The North East had the lowest percentage increase compared with 2019, at 16 per cent.

Alex Cunningham, Labour’s MP for Stockton North, said the IPPR North analysis, along with recent figures showing the North East had the highest level of child poverty rates in the country, shows the opposite to levelling up had happened.

Saying the pledges were not “worth the paper they were written on”, he added: “Any real commitment to levelling up’ under the Conservatives, regardless of who replaces Johnson, is dead. That doesn’t have to be the case. The Conservatives might have turned their back on the North but Labour won’t. The next Labour government will give power to communities and invest to bring good jobs to every community.”

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The IPPR analysis shows that although public spending has increased in every region of England, the think tank said its research shows that in 2021 total public spending on the North was £16,223 per person, an increase of 17 per cent on 2019, compared with the England average of £16,309 in 2021, which was an increase of 20 per cent.

That means per-person public spending in the North went from being £246 higher than the England average in 2019, to £86 under the average in 2021.

Meanwhile London saw the highest total per-person public spending and the highest increase, up 25 per cent to £19,231.

Conservative MPs in the region were quick to defend the Government’s investment in the region, pointing to projects including the development of an economic campus in Darlington and the Teesside Freeport.

Jacob Young, MP for Redcar, and Darlington MP Peter Gibson, are both backing Mr Sunak for leader.

Mr Young said: "Everyone in Teesside knows that when Rishi Sunak was in charge of the Treasury, Teesside saw the most transformational investment we have seen in generations - this is what levelling up means to us.

"It was Rishi who wrote the report on the opportunities that true freeports offer, and it was Rishi who chose Teesside to be the shining example of how it could be done.”

Mr Gibson added: “Levelling up is central to the Conservative mission. Many of us, myself included, were elected on that commitment in places let down my Labour and where they took their seats for granted. Levelling up is a journey with key targets over the coming decade.

“We have already seen commitment to Darlington, treasury, freeport, towns fund, Bank Top. We need to build on this investment and raise our aspirations and attract investment. We’ve only just begun.”

Meanwhile, Middlesbrough’s Labour MP Andy McDonald accused the Conservatives of dishing out “trite” slogans. He said: “The analysis makes it crystal clear that ‘Levelling Up’ is just another deceitful and hollow slogan trotted out by the Tories over and over again to try and convince people they are addressing the geographical and economic divisions in our country. 

“They are not.  They have had 12 years in power and the divisions in our country are getting wider. They were supposed to replace every penny of the EU funding we received in our region with the Shared Prosperity Fund and we know they haven’t done that as the settlement is way short. 

“And the promises of investment, for example in the north’s rail infrastructure, is as far off as ever. 

“We can’t go on with a diet of trite slogans be that “Levelling Up” or “Taking Back Control” 

“We need real investment in the north that transforms peoples’ lives, and we are not going to get that with this dysfunctional Tory party in power.” 

Bishop Auckland MP Dehenna Davison, who is backing Ms Truss, said levelling up was “at the heart of everything” she did. She added she would be pushing Ms Truss to deliver on economic investment zones to “supercharge” growth in County Durham.

She said  “I was elected as the MP for Bishop Auckland on a pledge to level up and it’s something that is at the heart of everything I do as the local MP. That is the reason I am backing Liz Truss to be the next Prime Minister, because I believe she has the right vision to see County Durham truly prosper.”

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