MARK Drakeford and his UK counteparts are being invited by the Westminster government to join what it hailed as a “new collective effort to level up” the whole of the United Kingdom.

The invitation to the first ministers of Wales, Scotland and Northern Irealand was announced as the Conservative administration at Westminster prepared to publish its Levelling Up white paper.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who has come under fire as a result of the “partygate” allegations, will attempt to divert attention from the ongoing saga by insisting the “defining mission” of his government is to “level up” the country so people have “access to the same opportunities” regardless of where in the UK they live.

Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove is to invite Mr Drakeford as well as his Scottish counterpart Nicole Sturgeon and Paul Givan and Michelle O’Neill from Northern Ireland, to take part in the project, calling for the four nations to work together in the same way as they did in the Covid vaccine roll out.

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The UK Government announced today the Ministry of Justice is to move 500 jobs to Wales.

Speaking ahead of the launch of the White Paper, the Prime Minister 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.”

He added: “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.”

The Prime Minister declared: “It is the most comprehensive, ambitious plan of its kind that this country has ever seen and it will ensure that the government continues to rise to the challenge and deliver for the people of the UK.”

While both the UK and Welsh Governments will state they are prepared to work together there have been significant disagreements between them over public spending and the loss of funds following Britain's withdrawal from the European Union.

Welsh economy minister Vaughan Gething has also previously said uncertainty over replacement programmes for EU funded schemes are putting job opportunities in Wales at risk.

In September Mr Gething said had the UK remained in the EU, Wales would have had new EU Structural funding averaging at least £375 million each year for seven years from January 2021 on top of funding from the current EU programmes. 

The UK-wide £4.8 billion Levelling Up Fund has set aside a total of £800 million for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland over four years.

READ MORE: What happened when UK minister visited the town ‘levelling up’ forgot

Mr Gove meanwhile described the UK as an “unparalleled success story with one of the world’s biggest and most dynamic economies”.

However he stated: “Not everyone shares equally in the UK’s success. Great cities like Glasgow, Belfast, Swansea and Manchester, and proud towns from Aberystwyth to Armagh, to Bangor and Yeovil, have huge potential but contain inequalities which hold too many back.

“Our ambitious plan to unite and level up the whole UK seeks to end that historic injustice and call time on the postcode lottery.”

But he added: “We will only succeed if all layers of government – UK, devolved, and local – work together.

“We have seen through the success of the vaccine roll-out what we can achieve when we pull together. United, there is no challenge we cannot meet.”

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Details of the levelling up agenda are to be announced in a White Paper though some proposals will be related to England only as they are responsibilities held by the devolved administrations.

In all, the White Paper includes 12 national “missions” to be achieved by 2030 to be enshrined in a flagship Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill.

The first is to improve pay, employment, and productivity across the board while narrowing the disparities between the best and worst performing areas.

A research and development mission promises to increase public R&D investment outside the Greater South East, of England, by at least 40 per cent by 2030.

Others include ensuring access to 5G broadband.

Mr Gove said: "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.”

Labour's, shadow levelling up secretary Lisa Nandy said the plan fell far short of what is needed.

“Ministers have had two-and-a-half years to get this right and all we been given is more slogans and strategies, with few new ideas,” she said.

“Boris Johnson’s answer to our communities calling for change is to shuffle the deckchairs – new government structures, recycled pots of money and a small refund on the money this Government have taken from us.

“This is not what we were promised. We deserve far more ambition this.”

READ MORE: The latest on Wrexham's 'levelling up' funds

The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) said research showed there were clear geographical inequalities across the UK, but stressed that they will not be fixed quickly.

IFS director Paul Johnson said: “Levelling-up economic outcomes between places must mean getting high-paid jobs more evenly spread – much easier said than done.

“Meanwhile, if people born in poorer areas are to see the full benefits of that then educational attainment in these areas must simultaneously be improved, or else many of the good jobs will be filled by graduates moving in.

“Decisions since 2010 to cut public spending in poorer areas more than in better-off ones will not have helped.”

The IFS and other critics pointed out that London should not be forgotten in the levelling-up agenda, with people in the English capital more prone to poverty due to a combination of low wages at the bottom end of the jobs scale and high housing costs.

READ MORE: 'Unionist vanity project': Councillor resigns over Levelling Up Fund

Paul Johnson added: “It is really important to remember in all this that, while high-paid jobs are unevenly spread, low-paid jobs, and indeed poverty, are not.

“A higher fraction of London’s population is in poverty than that in any other region. We need to worry about places, but we need to worry about people too.”

Meanwhile, Mike Clancy, general secretary of the union Prospect, said the white paper presented a “once-in-a-generation opportunity to reset the economy”.

He called for “action to deliver low-carbon jobs” and to build up skills across the country, along with opportunities to work in the defence sector.

“Levelling-up must be more than lofty rhetoric to distract from current scandals in Westminster – it requires sustainable, long-term and strategic investment in our communities,” he added.

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