‘Don’t Look Back in Anger’: Gove Defends UK Levelling Up Record

(Bloomberg) -- Michael Gove, the UK cabinet minister in charge of the government’s flagship “levelling up” policy, called Britain’s widening wealth gap “concerning” and conceded that Westminster upheaval has damaged efforts to spread wealth and opportunity around the country.

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“It’s not ideal to have had some of the political turbulence we had last year,” Gove said in an exclusive interview with Bloomberg News on Wednesday. “The important thing is, paraphrasing Oasis, not to look back in anger, but to instead invoke Fleetwood Mac, and don’t stop thinking about tomorrow.”

Gove was responding to Bloomberg’s Levelling Up Scorecard, which shows that the poorer regions of the UK have been losing more ground to the richer region of London & the South East since 2019 — despite the Conservative government’s flagship promise to reverse that trend.

GRAPHIC: Levelling Up’ Scorecard Shows UK Regions Falling Further Behind

Gove said he didn’t have any regrets about how the levelling up project is being handled and that the coronavirus pandemic and Russia’s war in Ukraine — which has pushed up energy prices — have been the biggest headwinds.

“These twin troubles made the task of levelling up at once more challenging, but also more urgent,” he said. “It’s impossible to understand what’s happening in our economy without looking at both of those.”

The UK had four levelling up ministers last year due to the ongoing leadership crisis in the Conservative Party. Gove was sacked by then Prime Minister Boris Johnson and replaced by Greg Clark, who was then replaced by Simon Clarke during the short-lived premiership of Liz Truss, who was then replaced again by Gove when Rishi Sunak became leader.

That upheaval coincided with months of delays to allocating £2.1 billion of levelling up funding. That was finally announced this month, prompting criticism for not distributing enough to the most deprived areas of Britain.

Gove also defended the broader spending decisions of the UK government, after the Levelling Up Scorecard showed a widening advantage in favor of London & the South East since 2019 in areas such as transport investment.

“The data is absolutely vital but it’s important not to look in the rear-view mirror,” he said. “If you’ve had public spending that’s been concentrated in London and the South East for decades, it takes time for the rest of the country to reach a level where that investment can truly be said to be more equitably spread.”

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