The Liberal Democrat leader of Richmond Council and the council’s Conservative leader have criticised the Government’s newly named Department of Levelling Up claiming it undermines local government.
Formerly The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG), the department was rebranded as the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) in late September, dropping ‘local government’ from its title.
Richmond Council unanimously passed a motion, put forward by council leader Gareth Roberts, criticising the decision on 28th September, with councillors from across the chamber condemning the move.
The leader of the Richmond Conservatives, councillor Paul Hodgins, said: “I do agree that the Government needs to do more.
“Too many people don’t know what a local council does, there isn’t the awareness and the Government doesn’t do enough to get that across.
“Local government matters, it matters who runs your council.
“I think that levelling up is really important for the country, I think there is a lot of work to do on it and it is really important that we support it, but we are local councillors, on our side we are London Conservatives.
“We are here to represent our residents and to make sure that London continues to thrive and that our communities continue to thrive and that that happens in local government.
“It is important that central government, who too often takes local government for granted, not only works with us but does communicate with people so they are aware of all that.”
Roberts said that he has spoken to council leaders of all parties from across the country about the issue and that all those he has spoken to are unhappy with the move.
He explained: “Some of the comments which I’ve heard from Conservative leaders have been far, far from glowing.
“Phrases which I have used and have been used by others include ‘a kick in the teeth’, ‘what the hell are they playing at?’ and ‘we are the guys who do the work and suddenly we find we are not important to the government of the day’.
“It might sound petty to the outside person, but what is the message it sends to the person in the street?
“It suggests that local government is not important and that it is all about the Government, all about number 10.
“We want to make sure people are aware that the Government is turning their backs on the work local governments have done over the last 18 months with the pandemic.”
A DLUHC spokesperson said: “Levelling up means empowering local leaders and communities to seize their own destiny, boosting living standards, particularly where they are lower, spreading opportunity and improving public services, particularly where they are weak, and restoring local pride across the UK.
“Our new departmental scope underlines the importance of working across all tiers of government to make levelling up a reality.”
Roberts added: “For the national government to simply toss us to one side through the renaming in favour of some old slogan, which sounds more like something from Harry Potter, it denigrates and diminishes what we have done.
“This is part of your traditional Johnsonian approach to government, three words just like “build back better”, it is government by sound bites.”
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been fervently promoting levelling up to his party and the country in recent months.
In his closing speech to the Conservative Party Conference, Johnson said: “To deliver that change we will get on with our job of uniting and levelling up across the UK – the greatest project that any government can embark on.”