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‘Levelling up’ phrase to be dropped by government as it was ‘only ever a slogan’ – UK politics live


Housing ministry dropping ‘levelling up’ from its title because it was ‘only ever a slogan’, says minister

The government department in charge of housing and local government is dropping levelling up from its title, the communities minister Jim McMahon has said.

McMahon is a minister in what is still, on its website, called the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities. But, in an interview with BBC Breakfast, he said this was changing.

Asked if levelling up would remain part of his job title, he replied:

No, it was firmly tippexed out of the department yesterday, so we are now the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government.

Why that is important for me is levelling up was only ever a slogan, it wasn’t a thing that people felt in their communities.

He also said it was important to include local government in ministry’s title, describing that as “a refocus, but frankly … also just grown up politics”.

In a separate interview on LBC, asked if the government remained committed to levelling up, he replied:

We certainly believe in addressing the regional inequalities that are holding our communities and our economy back.

But we don’t believe a slogan fixes it, we believe action fixes it, we believe building 1.5m new homes fixes it, we believe investment in the NHS does, investment in our schools system, investment in transport and skills does.

Boris Johnson popularised the phrase levelling up, and he described it as the one of the main missions of his government when he became prime minister. But it was never entirely clear whether the main focus of this mission was reducing inequalities, or promoting infrastructure spending in left-behind areas in the north of England, and there have been reports suggesting that in practical terms the levelling up programme achieved little.

Key events

Keir Starmer posed for a photograph with the new intake of Scottish Labour MPs outside No 10 this morning.

Keir Starmer and Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar posing for a photograph with the new Labour MPs outside No 10. Photograph: Lucy North/PA

Speaking after the meeting of metro mayors in Downing Street, Kim McGuinness, the Labour North East mayor, said that having multi-year funding deals would make a big difference.

Asked what changes the mayors were requesting, she said:

Everybody’s got a different devolution deal, but it is simple things like single funding settlements over multi years so that we’re able to have more control of how we spend our money to get more out of what we’re doing.

We want to see more houses being built, and some of the constraints removed in order to do that around things like planning and funding of housing.

And for areas like mine, I really want to be bringing our buses back under public control.

Suella Braverman criticised for saying flying of Progress Pride flag was ‘monstrous thing’

Suella Braverman has attacked “liberal Conservatives”, saying she was angered by the flying of the Progress Pride flag in her department as UK home secretary, calling it a “monstrous thing”. Jessica Elgot has the story.

The proportion of primary school pupils in England who met the expected standard in this year’s Sats exams has risen slightly on last year but remains below pre-pandemic levels, PA Media reports. PA says:

The key stage 2 results, which assess attainment in literacy and maths in Year 6 in schools, showed 61% of pupils met the expected standard in reading, writing and maths combined, up from 60% in 2023.

In 2019, 65% achieved the expected standard.

The former Conservative government had set out an ambition for 90% of children in England to leave primary school at the expected standard in reading, writing and maths by 2030.

In individual subjects, scores were higher than last year, or the same.

Starmer’s message to metro mayors

Downing Street has released a full version of what Keir Starmer said in his opening remarks to the metro mayors at their meeting this morning. It is not on the No 10 website, so I will post it here.

Having this meeting four days after I was invited by the King to form a government is a real statement of intent on my part, on our part.

Because as we have said over and over again, economy and growth is the number one mission of this Labour government in 2024.

If it’s going to be growth that is worth having, it’s got to be across the country and in every single place and raising standards in every single place. And so, you are all absolutely central to it.

I’m a great believer in devolution, I’m a great believer in the idea that those with skin in the game – those that know their communities – make much better decisions than people sitting in Westminster and Whitehall.

I know you already have growth plans in place, some of you have shared them already, and that is fantastic – what we want to do is build on that with a real partnership where you feel the government is alongside you, supporting you, and working with you to achieve what you want to achieve.

And it’s that partnership we talked about a number of times before the election, but what I wanted to do today was to double down on that commitment and to do it really early on into the government, so it wasn’t weeks or months down the line before we had a chance to meet like today to get on with that discussion.

I think it is the first meeting like this in Downing Street, I don’t think all the metro mayors have come together in Downing Street like this so this is a first and that’s good, it’s what we want.

We will do regular meetings, probably around the country, because I think it’d be good to do it in different areas in each of your areas because there will be things that you will want to say this is what we do here. And it’s that cross collaboration and it’s about making sure that you are central to what we want to achieve. We will work alongside you to achieve it. That growth is so important – everything else hangs off it.

Keir Starmer at his cabinet roundtable with metro mayors this morning. Photograph: Ian Vogler/AP
Nicola Davis

Nicola Davis

Reports are emerging of concerns over the way in which clinically vulnerable people were treated during polling.

Clinically Vulnerable Families, a support group involved in the coronavirus inquiry, says an audit by 80 of its members of polling stations during the UK general election, has raised concerns over the ability for people to vote while attempting to avoid infection – or give Covid to others.

The data suggests that while 38% of those involved in the poll completed ID checks while wearing a mask, 42% were asked to take their mask off indoors. The team add 26% of all respondents removed their mask indoors, however 1% were unable to vote because they did not do so. The group adds that 33% of all respondents were able to de-mask outdoors, but only 29% were distanced from the person conducting the ID check.

Lara Wong, founder of Clinically Vulnerable Families, said guidance for returning officers must be reformed to ensure that everyone can vote safely.

Tracy Brabin, the Labour West Yorkshire mayor, said after the meeting at No 10 that if felt like a new dawn. She said:

It was such an extraordinary moment and the speed at which this meeting has been put in the diary shows the change that is at the heart of government.

Being able to have the tools and the freedoms and flexibilities that we discussed in that meeting, I think is going to be a game changer.

It does feel very upbeat, positive and very much like there’s a new dawn.

Here she is taking a selfie of all the mayors present.

The 11 metro mayors posing for a selfie outside No 10: Sadiq Khan, Nik Johnson, David Skaith, Dan Norris, Richard Parker, Kim McGuinness, Ben Houchen, Claire Ward, Andy Burnham, Steve Rotheram and Tracy Brabin (holding the phone). Photograph: Chris J Ratcliffe/Reuters

And here is the picture.

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Tory mayor Ben Houchen praises Starmer as ‘energetic’ after No 10 meeting and says he hopes they can work well together

Ben Houchen cut a lonely figure at the Downing Street meeting for metro mayor. The Tees Valley mayor was the only Conservative in the room. But in a post on X afterwards, he offered a positive endorsement of the PM, saying Starmer was fresh and energetic

“Keir Starmer was fresh, energetic, keen to get on with things”

The only conservative mayor Ben Houchen sounding positive about the new Prime Minister after first meeting at number 10… though not enough to tempt a defection pic.twitter.com/IhWW8wxGeA

— Helen Hoddinott (@helenhoddinott) July 9, 2024

Later, in an interview with BBC News, Houchen said that he had never met Starmer before and that Starmer was kind enough to spend 15 minutes with him privately so that they could have an introductory chat. Houchen went on:

[Starmer] was very keen to impress upon me that he wanted to put the country first, he wanted to work with me, irrespective of party politics, to get things done to deliver on his growth agenda.

And I was also very clear with him. I’ve always said that I’ll work with anybody if it’s going to help me deliver for the people of Teesside, Darlington, Hartlepool.

I said to the prime minister that he’s won the election, he is our prime minister, and if he succeeds, then the country will succeed.

So now the election is out the way, the business of governing takes over, we need to deliver both in local government and in national government, and hopefully that relationship will blossom into a constructive role where we can deliver for people in our communities.

The “our prime minister” line is reminiscent of a famous letter George Bush wrote to Bill Clinton after Clinton beat him in the 1992 presidential election.

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Only one of the 12 metro mayors in England missed the meeting with the PM in Downing Street. It was Oliver Coppard, the South Yorkshire mayor. He has Covid.

Sadly, after a day of coughing and spluttering, it seems I’m going to have to miss tomorrow’s meeting with Keir, Angela and the team.

I’m sorry not to be there, but I’ve written to Keir to set out just some of South Yorkshire’s priorities for the new government. pic.twitter.com/4G9Kbz1ofL

— Oliver Coppard (@olivercoppard) July 8, 2024

Sadly, after a day of coughing and spluttering, it seems I’m going to have to miss tomorrow’s meeting with Keir, Angela and the team.

I’m sorry not to be there, but I’ve written to Keir to set out just some of South Yorkshire’s priorities for the new government.

Keir Starmer is now chairing cabinet. Here are pictures of ministers arriving for the meeting.

Ed Miliband, the energy secretary, greeting Andy Burnham, the Greater Manchester mayor. Photograph: Chris J Ratcliffe/Reuters
Yvette Cooper, the home secretary. Photograph: Chris J Ratcliffe/Reuters
John Healey, the defence secretary. Photograph: Chris J Ratcliffe/Reuters
Lucy Powell, leader of the Commons. Photograph: Lucy North/PA
Jonathan Reynolds, the business secretary, and Anneliese Dodds, the minister for women and equalities. Photograph: Lucy North/PA
Peter Kyle, the science secretary. Photograph: Lucy North/PA
Angela Smith, leader of the Lords. Photograph: Lucy North/PA
Hilary Benn, the Northern Ireland secretary. Photograph: Lucy North/PA
Richard Hermer, the attorney general Photograph: Chris J Ratcliffe/Reuters
Darren Jones, chief secretary to the Treasury. Photograph: Lucy North/PA
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Housing ministry dropping ‘levelling up’ from its title because it was ‘only ever a slogan’, says minister

The government department in charge of housing and local government is dropping levelling up from its title, the communities minister Jim McMahon has said.

McMahon is a minister in what is still, on its website, called the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities. But, in an interview with BBC Breakfast, he said this was changing.

Asked if levelling up would remain part of his job title, he replied:

No, it was firmly tippexed out of the department yesterday, so we are now the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government.

Why that is important for me is levelling up was only ever a slogan, it wasn’t a thing that people felt in their communities.

He also said it was important to include local government in ministry’s title, describing that as “a refocus, but frankly … also just grown up politics”.

In a separate interview on LBC, asked if the government remained committed to levelling up, he replied:

We certainly believe in addressing the regional inequalities that are holding our communities and our economy back.

But we don’t believe a slogan fixes it, we believe action fixes it, we believe building 1.5m new homes fixes it, we believe investment in the NHS does, investment in our schools system, investment in transport and skills does.

Boris Johnson popularised the phrase levelling up, and he described it as the one of the main missions of his government when he became prime minister. But it was never entirely clear whether the main focus of this mission was reducing inequalities, or promoting infrastructure spending in left-behind areas in the north of England, and there have been reports suggesting that in practical terms the levelling up programme achieved little.

Burnham welcomes ‘council of regions and nations’ as ‘very positive change’

Andy Burnham, the Labour mayor of Greater Manchester, has said setting up a “council for regions and nations” will be a very positive change. Speaking to the BBC after the meeting with Keir Starmer in Downing Street, he said:

That, honestl, is music to my ears. People may remember some of the interactions I had with previous governments. It was always struggling to get heard and struggling to get our perspective, from the north, under stood in Whitehall.

To have a council of the regions and nations, meeting regularly, just means we can be sure that the voice of Greater Manchester, of the north of England, is heard at the heart of Whitehall on an ongoing basis.

It’s a big change to the way this country is run, and it’s a very welcome change, a very positive change.

Burnham also said he would like to see rail services placed under local control in Greater Manchester. Using the trains in many parts of the country was “daily misery” under the current system, he said.

Andy Burnham speaking to the media after the meeting with Keir Starmer Photograph: Chris J Ratcliffe/Reuters

Starmer tells metro mayors he will set up ‘council for regions and nations’ so they can meet government regularly

Keir Starmer has confirmed the government will set up a “council for regions and nations” so that ministers can meet regularly with metro mayors. He was speaking at the Downing Street meeting this morning attended by almost all of England’s metro mayors.

Starmer told them:

I’m a great believer in devolution, I’m a great believer in the idea that those with skin in the game – those that know their communities – make much better decisions than people sitting in Westminster and Whitehall.

We will do regular meetings, probably around the country, because I think it’d be good to do it in different areas.

And referring to the proposed council for regions and nations, an idea put forward by the former PM Gordon Brown in his Commission on the UK’s Future report, Starmer said:

We will set up a council for regions and nations.

Now I don’t want to overly formalise it, but I do want a degree of formality so that it’s a meeting that everybody knows is a meeting where business is done, where decisions are properly recorded and actioned.

And where people know that we will all be there and we won’t be sending substitutes, or missing the meeting.

Starmer said the forum would be used to discuss “shared challenges” and “opportunities”.

Most of the 11 mayors who attended were Labour, but Ben Houchen, the Conservative Tees Valley mayor (and the only Tory metro mayor left in England) was also present.

Nik Johnson, mayor of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, David Skaith, York and North Yorkshire mayor, and Dan Norris, West of England mayor, arriving at No 10 for the meeting with Keir Starmer this morning. Photograph: Chris J Ratcliffe/Reuters

Blair urges Starmer to embrace AI to stop UK facing ‘triple whammy of high taxes, heavy debt and poor outcomes’

Good morning. During the general election campaign the Institute for Fiscal Studies repeatedly said that neither of the main parties were being honest about the public spending problems the government would face over the next five years. There would have to be higher taxes or deep spending cuts, it said. Today Tony Blair, the former prime minister, is in part endorsing this analysis. His thinktank, the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change, is holding a conference on the future of Britain and it has published a paper saying that, without change to the way government operates, taxes would have to rise by 4.5 percentage points, as a share of GDP, by 2040. It says a 0.9 point rise is already baked in, another 1 point rise would be needed by the end of this parliament to avoid austerity, another 0.6 point rise would be needed by 2040 to compensate for the loss of fuel duty (as people switch to electric cars) and another 2 point rise would be needed by 2040 because of the ageing population.

Chart showing pressure on public finances Photograph: Tony Blair Institute for Global Change

But Blair says the government can avoid the need for this if it embraces the opportunities provided by technological change, and particularly artificial intelligence (AI). In his speech at the conference he will say:

Britain is facing an unenviable triple whammy of high taxes, heavy debt and poor outcomes. And worse is to come with the demographics of an aging population against us, deep structural health problems and rising numbers of long-term sick.

The simple and unavoidable truth is that unless we improve growth and productivity, and drive value and efficiency through our public spending, we’re going to become poorer. Much poorer.

This explains the mood of pessimism evident in much of the election campaign.

But I do not share the pessimism. On the contrary I don’t think there has ever been a better time to govern. A better time to effect change. A better basis for optimism and a surer reason for hope.

But only if we understand how the world is changing and how we use that change to change our country.

Stable government and some clear early wins can definitely help.

But there is only one game-changer. Harnessing effectively the 21st century technological revolution.

There is absolutely no doubt that this is an era of transformation. Things which were impossible will become possible; advances which would have taken decades, will happen in a few years or even months; the value we can add, the improvements in efficiency we can make, the radical benefits in outcomes we can secure, could be truly revolutionary.

Blair has also given an interview to the Guardian urging Keir Starmer to “close off the avenues” of the populist right by keeping tough controls on immigration.

Blair provides a good guide to some of the problems facing the government. But the country is expecting the new prime minister to provide the answers, not an old one, and today Keir Starmer will be in the Commons speaking for the first time from the Treasury bench in his new role. It won’t be a major political speech; that will come in the king’s speech debate a week tomorrow, because today MPs are just electing a speaker. But as we see Labour’s 412 MPs try to squeeze onto the government benches, and the 121 Tory MPs barely able to fill the space on the opposition benches, we will get a clear insight into just how dramatically the election result has reshaped the Commons.

Here is the agenda for the day.

9.15am: Metro mayors hold a meeting following their earlier meeting with Keir Starmer at No 10.

9.25am: Tony Blair gives a speech on “Governing in the age of AI” at the Future of Britain conference run by his Tony Blair Institute for Global Change thinktank. Other speakers included Wes Streeting, the health secretary, at 12pm, and William Hague, who is in conversation with Blair at 1.40pm.

9.30am: Keir Starmer chairs cabinet.

10.30am: Suella Braverman, the former home secretary, is among the speakers at the Popular Conservatism conference. Jacob Rees-Mogg and Lord Frost are aslo due to speak.

11.30am: Downing Street holds a lobby conference.

2.30pm: The Commons sits for the first time since the election to elect a speaker. Lindsay Hoyle is expected to be chosen again. There will be short speeches, including from Starmer and Rishi Sunak. Then MPs will start the process of swearing in.

Afternoon: Starmer flies to Washington for the Nato summit.

Also, Streeting is meeting the BMA junior doctors’ committee today.

If you want to contact me, please post a message below the line (BTL) or message me on X (Twitter). I can’t read all the messages BTL, but if you put “Andrew” in a message aimed at me, I am more likely to see it because I search for posts containing that word. If you want to flag something up urgently, it is best to use X; I’ll see something addressed to @AndrewSparrow very quickly. I find it very helpful when readers point out mistakes, even minor typos (no error is too small to correct). And I find your questions very interesting too. I can’t promise to reply to them all, but I will try to reply to as many as I can, either BTL or sometimes in the blog.

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