City chief slams Boris Johnson for 'deciding to go on holiday and play with jets' as fears rise for Levelling Up agenda

Boris Johnson has been accused of “deciding to go on holiday and play with jets” as North East leaders fear for the future of the levelling up agenda.

By Daniel Holland
Sunday, 31st July 2022, 7:11 pm

The outgoing Prime Minister, who was recently pictured donning a pilot’s uniform and flying in a Typhoon fighter, came under fire from Sunderland Council leader Graeme Miller.

There have been fears that the impending end of Mr Johnson’s premiership could spell doom for his flagship policy to boost investment in left-behind areas and disrupt negotiations over a new £3 billion devolution deal for the North East.

Meanwhile, a new report has revealed that per-person public spending in the North has in fact fallen behind the England average since 2019.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaking at the the Commonwealth Business Forum in Birmingham.

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Cllr Miller told a North East Combined Authority (NECA) meeting in South Shields last week that local leaders were “looking on with interest and concern” after the chaos in Westminster over recent weeks, with Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss now battling to take over in Downing Street.

He accused Mr Johnson of “deciding to go on holiday and play with jets” while the contest to replace him continues, adding: “We all know that the true success of levelling up will only be when there is visible improvement in people’s lives.”

Both remaining Tory leadership candidates have previously backed the levelling up agenda since the start of their leadership campaigns and during a televised debate.

Sunderland CIty Council leader Graeme Miller

There have been particular concerns in the North East about the impact that the upheaval in the Government will have on a long-awaited devolution deal for the region, which could bring £3 billion of investment over 30 years and see a new mayor elected to cover Gateshead, Sunderland, South Tyneside, Newcastle, North Tyneside and Northumberland.

Talks over the agreement, which could reunite councils on either side of the Tyne after a bitter political split going back to the collapse of a previous deal in 2016, had been at an advanced stage before the mass resignation of ministers that prompted Mr Johnson to step down earlier this month.

Cllr Miller told the NECA meeting that greater devolution of funding and powers to the North East would deliver impactful change “if we can agree the right deal”.

He added: “We need, more than ever, an enhanced relationship with the UK government to provide the fiscal and policy development that will allow us to deliver a step change in economic growth.”

The proposed new mayoral combined authority would not include County Durham at this stage, with the coalition council administration there keen to explore the possibility of a single-county devolution package.

It remains unclear at this stage whether that option, announced by the Prime Minister a year ago, will still be pursued, or whether Durham could yet try to link up with the other six North East authorities, or even join with the Tees Valley mayor.

The Local Democracy Reporting Service understands that Durham County Council is yet to hold talks with Greg Clarke since he replaced the sacked Michael Gove as levelling up secretary.