Andy Haldane, the former Bank of England chief economist appointed on Sunday as the head of the government’s levelling up taskforce, has described his new task as “one of the signature challenges of our time”.
He said that addressing regional disparities had been a “personal passion” throughout his career and he was looking forward to working with the private and voluntary sectors “to design and deliver an economy that works for every part of the UK”.
The surprise appointment, which was presented as highly significant by ministers, came alongside confirmation that what was the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government will be renamed.
It will become the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities. Michael Gove was appointed to run it in the reshuffle in what has been seen as a sign that Boris Johnson is finally determined to show levelling up is more than just a slogan.
But if Johnson is looking for quick results before the general election, he may be disappointed. Earlier this year the Industrial Strategy Council, an independent advisory body chaired by Haldane, published a report that said “levelling up requires time and cross-party consensus on key policies”.
The research, which looked at factors linking four international cases where levelling up has been successful, said one common feature was that “economic policy direction has remained constant regardless of local or national election results”.
Another important factor was “sustained and large-scale public investment”, the report said. At the time Haldane said the lessons from the report needed to be “embedded in the UK government’s strategy for levelling up”.
Haldane, who was born in Yorkshire and went to university in Sheffield, had a reputation as an independent thinker during his time at the Bank of England. In 2014 he was named by Time magazine as one of the 100 most influential people in the world, partly for his willingness to blame bankers for their role in triggering the financial crash.
Unlike other central bankers, Haldane was willing to side with the Occupy Wall Street protesters, saying their analysis of the causes of the crash was essentially right.
Haldane left the Bank of England this year and was due to take over as chief executive of the RSA thinktank. Instead he will head the government’s levelling up taskforce on a six-month secondment from the RSA.
He will be based in the Cabinet Office, at permanent secretary level, and he will report jointly to the prime minister and to Gove.
Gove said on Sunday that he was “thrilled” to be secretary of state for levelling up and that he and his team would work with “relentless focus” on “delivering for those overlooked families and undervalued communities across the United Kingdom”.
As well as taking on all the old housing ministry responsibilities plus levelling up, Gove will retain responsibility for governance and elections, two portfolios he used to have in his old Cabinet Office job.
And he will remain the government’s lead minister for coordinating with the devolved governments, holding the additional title of minister for intergovernmental relations.