Northern Ireland news

First Ministers urged to join British Government in ‘levelling up' the country

DUP First Minister Paul Givan said the executive must survive until an EU-UK meeting on February 21
Katrine Bussey, PA Scotland Political Editor

The First Ministers of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are being invited by the British Government to join what it hailed as a “new collective effort to level up” the whole of the United Kingdom.

The move 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 Scottish First Minister Nicole Sturgeon, as well as her Welsh counterpart Mark Drakeford 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.

In addition, the Glasgow city region is to be one of three new Innovation Accelerator areas, and will receive a share of £100 million of British Government funding in a bid to encourage innovation and research and development work and boost local opportunities

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.”

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.”

Scottish Secretary Alister Jack urged Holyrood ministers to work with the British Government towards “improving lives across Scotland”.

The Tory added: “Initiatives such as the Glasgow City region becoming an Innovation Accelerator, unlocking access to a share of £100 million of new funding, will help Scotland continue its vital role in keeping the UK at the forefront of global science and research.

“Thanks to locally led partnerships working closely with the British Government, the region will become a major innovation cluster delivering high end jobs.

“This, along with the UK Government’s commitment to invest £20 billion research and development budget outside the greater south east of England, is great news for Scotland and the wider UK as we deliver on our levelling up commitments.”

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