Long-awaited plans to close the gap between rich and poor parts of the country have been announced by the government.
The strategy, unveiled by Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove, will take until 2030 and aims to improve services such as education, broadband and transport.
Mr Gove said it would “shift both money and power into the hands of working people”.
But Labour said the plans contained no new money and little fresh thinking.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson put “levelling up” at the heart of the Conservatives’ election-winning manifesto in 2019.
The launch of the strategy sees the government try to return to its key policy agenda after weeks of pressure on the prime minister over reports of parties held at Downing Street during lockdown restrictions.
The government has previously launched a number of schemes aimed at boosting regional development – but has faced claims the policy lacks definition.
At the heart of the strategy is a plan to create more regional mayors, such as existing posts like Labour’s Andy Burnham in Greater Manchester, or the Conservative’s Andy Street in the West Midlands and Ben Houchen in Tees Valley.
Every part of England would have access to “London-style” powers and a mayor if they want it, according to the levelling-up strategy.
Mr Gove’s plans would bring all existing initiatives together into 12 “national missions” and set up a system for measuring progress.
Among the 12 missions are promises to refocus education spending on disadvantaged parts of the country and eliminate illiteracy and innumeracy; bring the rest of the country’s public transport up to London standards, and provide access to 5G broadband for the “large majority” of households.
Derelict urban sites in 20 towns and cities will be targeted for redevelopment, with Sheffield and Wolverhampton the first places selected.
Many of Mr Gove’s missions are existing government policies, with funds already allocated to them, but he says they will be enshrined in law for the first time.
Most of the policies in the White Paper apply to England only, but the government insists levelling up is a UK-wide initiative and it wishes to work with the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to achieve this.
The plan includes £100m of new government funding for “innovation accelerators” to boost research and development in Greater Manchester, the West Midlands and Glasgow City-Region.
Mr Gove told the BBC: “For far too long, the United Kingdom – England in particular – has had an economic powerhouse in London and the south east but not everyone has shared in that success.”
He said the Brexit referendum in 2016 had been “a wake-up call” from overlooked and undervalued communities to the Conservative government, giving a “clear instruction” to change the country’s economic model.
The 12 ‘levelling up missions’ in full
- Increase pay, employment and productivity in all areas of the UK, with each one containing a “globally competitive city”
- Raise public investment in research and development outside the south-east of England by 40%
- Eliminate illiteracy and innumeracy by refocusing education spending on the most disadvantaged parts of the country
- Increase the number of people completing high quality skills training – in England, this will mean 200,000 more people a year
- Bring the rest of the country’s public transport up to London standards
- Provide access to 5G broadband for the “large majority” of households
- Create more first-time homebuyers in all areas, and reduce the number of “non-decent rented homes” by 50%
- Narrow the gap of healthy life expectancy between the areas where it is lowest and highest
- Improve “well-being” in every area of the UK
- Increase “pride of place”, such as people’s satisfaction with their town centre and engagement in local culture and community
- Reduce murder, manslaughter, serious violence and neighbourhood crime, especially in the worst-affected areas
- Give every part of England that wants it a devolution deal with more regional powers and simplified, long-term funding