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Public transport and 5G broadband improvements touted in ‘levelling up’ plan

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Improvements to public transport in areas outside of London and wider availability of 5G broadband will come to the UK as part of the government’s latest “levelling up” agenda.

Levelling up secretary Michael Gove unveiled the plans as part of the government’s flagship Levelling Up White Paper, which documents the plan to transform some parts of the UK that have fallen behind economically.

The plans will see the country’s local public transport systems “becoming much closer to London standards” and enable a “large majority of the country” to gain access to 5G broadband.

The 2019 Conservative manifesto promised the installation of full-fibre, gigabit-capable broadband in every home and business across the UK by 2025. This pledge was later downgraded to just 85 per cent of premises in the UK, although this 5G expansion could help to fill some of the remaining gaps.

The White Paper also outlined plans to boost domestic R&D investment outside the South East by at least 40 per cent by 2030, with hopes that the funds could also drive an increase in private investment in these areas too.

Gove’s Labour counterpart, Lisa Nandy, said the new paper was merely a “series of rehashed announcements, some of which are so old they were actually originally made by Gordon Brown when he was the Labour prime minister in 2008”.

The government said it would do “whatever it can” to achieve these goals and much of its resources, energy, and focus throughout the 2020s will be re-oriented around achieving them.

The timing of the announcement follows weeks of scrutiny over Boris Johnson’s activities during the Covid-19 lockdowns that have destabilised his position as Prime Minister. The revelations have particularly hit confidence in the Tory Party amongst 'red wall' voters in the North – some of the very people that the 'levelling up' plans claim to be targeting.

The plan will be assessed through public metrics that track the progress and monitor the evolution of the proposals.

Other parts of the “system change” include a realignment of all policy across Whitehall towards the new agenda and a transformation of the government’s approach to data and evaluation – with an independent body created to improve transparency of local government performance.

“Not everyone shares equally in the UK’s success,” Gove said, “For decades, too many communities have been overlooked and undervalued. As some areas have flourished, others have been left in a cycle of decline. The UK has been like a jet firing on only one engine.

“Levelling Up and this White Paper is about ending this historic injustice and calling time on the postcode lottery.

“This will not be an easy task, and it won’t happen overnight, but our 12 new national levelling up missions will drive real change in towns and cities across the UK, so that where you live will no longer determine how far you can go.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: “From day one, the defining mission of this government has been to level up this country, to break the link between geography and destiny so that no matter where you live you have access to the same opportunities.

“The challenges we face have been embedded over generations and cannot be dug out overnight, but this White Paper is the next crucial step.

“It is a vision for the future that will see public spending on R&D increased in every part of the country; transport connectivity improving; faster broadband in every community; life expectancies rising; violent crime falling; schools improving; and private sector investment being unleashed.”

Labour MP Yvette Cooper said that, despite previous promises, those in the North of England have yet to see any changes.

Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s 'Today' programme, she said: “There’s an awful lot of talk about levelling up, but it’s not what people are actually seeing on the ground.

“We want to see support for our towns, support for our transport systems.”

She said that investment in Castleford in her constituency announced in the Government’s plan “doesn’t outweigh the huge scale of cuts” in the area over the last decade, adding that cuts to buses and trains have recently been announced.

“We are not getting a fair deal across Yorkshire and everybody knows that,” she said.

“And instead what we’ve seen is promises made and actually the services being withdrawn, so look, let’s have something real on improving buses and improving trains across Yorkshire because right now Yorkshire is getting one of the worst transport deals in the country.

“We’ve not seen that from Michael Gove or from anybody in Government at all.”

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