Oliver Coppard invites Boris Johnson to South Yorkshire for levelling up talks

New South Yorkshire mayor Oliver Coppard has invited Boris Johnson to the region to discuss how the Government’s levelling up ambitions can be met.

By Chris Burn
Monday, 9th May 2022, 6:18 pm
Updated Monday, 9th May 2022, 6:18 pm

The Labour politician, who was sworn in as mayor yesterday after winning election last week, said in an open letter to the Prime Minister that he welcomes the Government’s ambition of tackling regional inequality and supported the “breadth and depth of the Levelling Up White Paper”, which has set a deadline of 2030 to achieve 12 key missions in areas like educational performance and local transport links.

But Mr Coppard said the scale of the task in South Yorkshire is “significant” with less than 400 weeks left to achieve the targets.

Mr Coppard said while the Government has set an ambition for London-style public transport connectivity, currently in South Yorkshire the region’s bus network has shrunk by 13 per cent in the last decade while London’s has grown. He also highlighted that a train journey between Sheffield and Manchester takes over 50 minutes - the same journey time experienced by rail passengers in 1954.

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Another key levelling up aim is to reduce the gap in healthy life expectancy between the richest and poorest areas, and to have increased the nation’s healthy life expectancy by five years by 2035.

Mr Coppard said: “In parts of our region, people have a healthy life expectancy that is six years shorter than the national average.

“People living in some of South Yorkshire’s most affluent neighbourhoods have a healthy life expectancy that is 20 years longer than people living in the most deprived parts of the region.”

The new mayor added: “South Yorkshire is a place with limitless potential.

“We have two globally leading universities, businesses working at the cutting edge of advanced manufacturing and green technologies, world-class cultural assets, as well as heritage and landscapes that are the envy of the rest of the country.

“While we do face considerable challenges, none of the challenges we face are inevitable or insurmountable.

“Across the 12 missions articulated in the Levelling Up White Paper, the evident disparities between the position in South Yorkshire and the ambitions you have so clearly articulated are all the result of political choices over the last 40 years.

“If we are to overcome those disparities in just 400 weeks, then your Government must finally recognise and respond to the needs of our communities.”

He said: “South Yorkshire must take charge of its own future and under my leadership we will put forward ambitious plans to designed to move this region forward across all those areas articulated in your Levelling Up White Paper.

“But if you are indeed serious about fundamentally rebalancing this country then I expect your Government to offer us the support, investment and powers needed to deliver on those plans, so we can finally restore the pride, purpose and prosperity of South Yorkshire.”

Levelling up 'more important but more difficult' as prices rise

Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove has warned that rising prices are making the Government’s plans to reduce regional inequalities both more difficult and more important.

Mr Gove said it was vital the Government stuck to completing the 12 missions set out in the Levelling Up White Paper. “Unless we stick to those missions, then the cost of living issues that we face at the moment will deepen inequality,” he said.

Lisa Nandy, the Shadow Levelling Up Secretary, said: “By their own admission, their mismanagement of the economy is going to make levelling up harder.”