Boris Johnson boosts ‘leveling up’ plan with yet another task force

LONDON — Boris Johnson will try to make good on his “leveling up” election slogan with a new dedicated team of civil servants, POLITICO has learned.

“Leveling up” has been widely used since Johnson’s 2019 election victory to frame the U.K. prime minister’s ambition to tackle regional inequality. It was placed front and center of Johnson’s latest legislative program in the Queen’s Speech Tuesday.

In an expanded take on its meaning, the government has badged much of its domestic policy agenda as part of the “leveling up” plan, including its housing, education and climate goals.

Neil O’Brien, a Conservative MP and former Treasury aide, was recently recruited to advise Johnson on honing a strategy some have accused of lacking focus. 

In the latest bid to drive the program, officials have confirmed that a new “leveling up” task force is being set up, with responsibility shared between No. 10 Downing Street and the Cabinet Office.

It is understood the unit’s director will report directly to Simon Case, the cabinet secretary and head of the civil service, and will lead a team of around 15 staff hand-picked from within the civil service, working in concert with O’Brien.  

One name being linked to the job of director is Tom Walker, currently director of environment strategy at the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and former head of cities and growth in the Ministry of Housing. 

One former colleague of Walker said: “He is one of the only ones at the top level who is both brilliant and able to work the machinery, respected by regional leaders and by the Tories.”

The move places yet another big policy conundrum under the remit of Michael Gove’s Cabinet Office, which has already claimed responsibility for a COVID-19 task force, a Union unit to try to stave off the threat of Scottish independence, and a review of vaccine passports.

A “delivery” unit was also added to No. 10 last month to oversee progress on manifesto policies.

The government on Tuesday spelled out its intention to publish a white paper this year with detail of how different policies under the “leveling up” umbrella are affecting living standards in the U.K.

A Whitehall official said the timing of the next election will depend on “defensible progress” made by O’Brien and civil servants against the agenda, which is perceived as key to cementing Conservative gains in traditional Labour-voting areas.



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