Liz Truss’ commitment to levelling up is under scrutiny tonight after she was forced into an embarrassing U-turn on her plans to pay public sector workers less if they work outside of London.

The plans, which lasted just over 12 hours after a major backlash, would have seen nurses and teachers in the North East paid less as part of plans to cut £11bn in spending.

The Tory leadership hopeful was forced to abandon her plans after condemnation from cross-party politicians and experts who said the move would “level down” the UK and worsen the North-South divide.

Read more: Liz Truss says civil servant pay cut plans 'misinterpreted'

Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen, who is supporting Rishi Sunak to be next Prime Minister, slammed the policy as “horrifically bad” saying it brought the credibility of Ms Truss’ leadership bid into question.

He said: “How anybody can deliver a policy of this nature in the eye of the storm of a cost-of-living crisis with energy bills going up, to suggest that those in the North of England should be worse off, just really goes to the heart of the credibility of the Liz Truss campaign.

The Northern Echo: Ben Houchen is supporting Rishi Sunak. Picture: PABen Houchen is supporting Rishi Sunak. Picture: PA

“It is just a huge mis-step and I’m just pleased that she’s realised it and has back-tracked and has decided that this isn’t going to happen moving forward.”

Earlier on Tuesday Houchen had said he was left “speechless” by the plans.

Public sector workers including teachers, nurses and those working at the new Darlington Economic Campus could all have been affected by the move.

Meanwhile Redcar MP, Jacob Young, told The Northern Echo: “I’m glad that Liz Truss has now completely U-turned on this policy.

“You can’t level up, by levelling down wages.”

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Reacting to the policy before the U-turn, Darlington MP Peter Gibson said: “I believe Rishi has our region’s best interests at heart, and we don’t serve that interest by cutting the wages of the very people we are seeking to recruit at the Darlington Economic Campus.’”

But Truss supporter and Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland MP Simon Clarke reiterated comments made by Ms Truss’ spokesperson this lunchtime, saying: “Over the last few hours there has been a wilful misrepresentation of our campaign.

“Current levels of public sector pay will absolutely be maintained.

“Anything to suggest otherwise is simply wrong.

“Our hard-working frontline staff are the bed rock of society and there will be no proposal taken forward on regional pay boards for civil servants or public sector workers.”

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But the U-turn brought into question Ms Truss’ commitment to levelling up, one of the Conservatives’ key 2019 election pledges.

Just last week (July 25) The Northern Echo joined with newspaper titles across the North to call on both Truss and Sunak not to “turn their back” on the region once in Downing Street.

The Northern Echo: The Northern Echo's message to the leadership contenders on July 25.The Northern Echo's message to the leadership contenders on July 25.

In response to our calls the current foreign secretary said: “We need to ensure that opportunity is equally spread across the entirety of the UK. That means equalising the levelling up formula to make sure that areas that have been left behind get the support they deserve.

“I strongly believe that levelling up means broadening economic growth from beyond London and the South East and supercharging the North.”

She added: “We must do what we can now to ease the cost-of-living crisis for families and give children a real opportunity to reach their full potential and break the cycle. That’s what my approach to levelling up is all about.”

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Business leaders were also quick to condemn the policy, saying that wages are key to “closing regional inequalities” and levelling up.

Rachel Anderson, Assistant Director of Policy at the North East Chamber of Commerce, said: “The regional variation of public sector pay would effectively mean trying to deliver levelling up with one arm tied behind our back.

“The North East must have all the advantages possible in order to attract and retain staff both in the public and private sectors and our quality of life and lower cost of living in this region are major advantages, but only if coupled with competitive levels of pay.

“Wages, high quality employment and career paths are key to us closing regional inequalities along with skills development and investment in infrastructure, if anyone of those is not there then the process will take longer and be so much more difficult.”

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