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Boris Johnson will make a speech on Thursday on his plans to “level up and unite the country”, something the prime minister has previously described as “the central purpose of his premiership”.

In the Conservatives’ 2019 general election-winning manifesto, the party said its focus would be “levelling up every part of the UK” and the term has since become a key slogan for Mr Johnson’s government.

The term was a key tenet of the Queen’s Speech, the prime minister now has a ‘levelling up adviser’ and Chancellor Rishi Sunak has unveiled a £4.8bn ‘levelling up fund’.

People walk at High Street, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Windsor, Britain January 10, 2021.
The regeneration of the high street is expected to form a key part of the PM’s speech on Thursday

In the party’s manifesto, the PM said it would involve investing in towns, cities and rural and coastal areas, using apprenticeships to balance out skills, giving areas more control over investment and creating new freeports.

Andy Street, the Conservative Mayor of the West Midlands – where the PM will be making his speech on Thursday – has said it should mean “a level playing field for the UK’s regions” in terms of opportunities.

And more recently, the term ‘levelling up’ was heavily referenced in the Hartlepool by-election in May – which saw a Tory MP elected for the first time in the current constituency’s history.

But what does the phrase really mean?

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Levelling up is ‘not just getting a shiny new high street’

Conservative MP Simon Fell, one of the many new party representatives elected in the 2019 snap general election, said placing more decision-making locally and investment in education is key to levelling up.

“I think we are seeing good progress on levelling up with towns deals, the Levelling Up Fund, high street bids, all that sort of stuff,” the MP for Barrow and Furness told Sky News.

“But what I am really interested in seeing is more local decision-making, pushing decisions back closer to people, and I am hoping that we will see with that some of what will deliver long-term levelling up.

“I look at my own patch, some of the real challenges we have are around education and health.

“So how we drive changes there, that we are not just getting a shiny new high street – I would happily take a shiny new high street – but actually giving young people the opportunities both in terms of the skills they can pick up and the education they receive, but also the health outcomes which are just lacking at the moment.”

Owner Isatu Funna from Dar Leone displays a "we're open" sign designed by artist Timothy Hunt, which has been created as part of the American Express Shop Small campaign and to help welcome people back to our high streets
Conservative MP Sir John Redwood says investment in small business and enterprise is key to levelling up

‘Harnessing public and private sectors to create sustained progress’

Conservative MP Sir John Redwood says levelling up to him is investment in “training, education, support for small business and enterprise”.

“To me, the aim is very clear: it is primarily about more people going on worthwhile personal journeys so that we end up with many more people who are in worthwhile and well-paid work where they find more enjoyment and reward from it in every sense,” the MP for Wokingham told Sky News.

Mr Redwood added that the key to effective levelling up is “harnessing public and private sectors” to create “sustained progress for a community”.

“You are not going to get a sustained recovery or a noticeable levelling up if you just put one or two large public sector projects into a place,” he said.

“It has got to be much more comprehensive than that and a lot of the action is going to be private sector led. “

Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak during a visit to Teesport in Middlesbrough. Picture date: Thursday March 4, 2021.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced eight new freeports in England in March.

‘Rebalancing the economy and bringing high-quality, well-paid jobs to the regions’

Conservative MP and former minister Simon Clarke says levelling up is about “creating jobs and opportunity and restoring pride in place”.

“My priority for the future is very clear – delivering more good jobs, growth and investment for the area I was brought up in,” the MP for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland told Sky News.

Mr Clarke added: “Here on Teesside, our new freeport is already bringing the first high-quality, well-paid jobs to our region with huge investors such as GE Renewables choosing Teesside for their new manufacturing operations.

“The Towns Fund, the Future High Streets Fund and the Levelling Up Fund are all enabling our local authorities to deliver investment and kick-start shovel-ready projects to make the improvements that will unlock future investment in our towns and communities.

“The government is rebalancing the economy to give communities which have felt ignored and let down a greater share of investment and greater control over how these investments are made.”

The research is looking at the activation of white cells
Giles Wilkes, senior fellow at the Institute for Government, said Boris Johnson sees R&D (research and development) as key to his levelling up promise

‘What the state should be doing is what the levelling up debate is all about’

Giles Wilkes, senior fellow at the Institute for Government and former special adviser to Theresa May, says the levelling up debate for Mr Johnson’s government is about two things – investment and research and development (R&D) spending.

On the latter, he said: “This is the idea that if you try to situate your brainy industries outside of these regions that normally benefit from it, the south east and so on, then you will be able to generate new clusters that will become the Seattles and Bostons of the future.

“All I can say about this is that it is extremely difficult.

“The agglomeration benefits of being around where the existing clever people are is incredibly powerful and there is a long list, perhaps 100 long, on Wikipedia of places that decided to call themselves Silicon something-or-other and failed – because there is only one Silicon Valley.”

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Samourai Wallet shutdown: implications for other privacy & self-custody tools




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The seizure of the Samourai Wallet website and the indictment of its founders might have implications for other privacy-preserving self-custodial tools.

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Turkey targets crypto with new 0.03% transaction tax




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How Beth Rigby prepared a ‘narrative’ for Starmer and Sunak grilling – and why an early jog almost ruined everything




How Beth Rigby prepared a 'narrative' for Starmer and Sunak grilling - and why an early jog almost ruined everything

Beth Rigby has revealed how she decided on a “narrative” before quizzing the Labour and Tory leaders at Sky News’s special event – and how a morning run almost scuppered everything.

Sir Keir Starmer and Rishi Sunak took turns for a 45-minute grilling at Sky News’ Battle For Number 10 in Grimsby, with questions coming from a representative audience.

First to interrogate both leaders was political editor Rigby, who has lifted the lid on what it’s like to prepare, execute (and almost miss) the big event.

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“Kay Burley told me when I first came into telly ‘fail to prepare, prepare to fail’,” she told former Labour MP Margaret Hodge on the Electoral Dysfunction podcast.

“So, I took these two mottos into this very intense interview prep… you get loads of information and you start to try and work out what’s the narrative that you want to tell.”

The secret, she said, is to look at everything and then “distill it” until you have a clear “narrative arc”.

“With Starmer, the thing really was – how can you trust this guy? That was the premise,” she said.

“But for Sunak, it was like, you say you’ve got a clear plan, you say you’re going to deliver… so, what’s the Conservative record? But more importantly, what’s your record?

“Because you’ve actually been prime minister. You made five pledges, and then there was a broader question about what were the betrayals to the British people.”

Sir Keir Starmer leaders' debate
Beth Rigby in action

Read more:
How the Sky News event unfolded online
What we learnt at leaders’ event

But disaster almost struck before the event had even started.

“The night before, I woke up at, like, five in the morning, fully awake,” she said, adding she could “feel the adrenaline”.

So, she decided to go for a run.

“I just saw I’m coming to the end of the road. And I went to turn round, and, as I turned, I nearly ran into a moving car. So, I nearly got run over,” she explained.

Not the kind of car crash anyone would have expected that day.

Email the team, post on X to @BethRigby, or send a WhatsApp voice note on 07934 200 444.

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