ECONOMY

Andy Haldane to head UK’s levelling-up task force

UK politics & policy updates

Andy Haldane, former Bank of England chief economist, has been hired by Boris Johnson to head a task force to deliver the government’s hazily-defined levelling up agenda, with a seat at the heart of government.

Haldane, a longtime champion of “left behind regions”, will report both to Johnson and to Michael Gove, who runs a new Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities.

The former chief economist, who grew up in Leeds in a working-class household, was admired by Dominic Cummings, Johnson’s former adviser, who wanted Haldane to become Bank of England governor.

That post ultimately went to Andrew Bailey, but Haldane now finds himself as a permanent secretary in the Cabinet Office, on secondment from his job as chief executive of the Royal Society of Arts for six months.

Haldane will play a key role with Gove and Neil O’Brien, a new minister at the levelling up department, in defining and delivering what is intended to be Johnson’s flagship domestic policy.

A “levelling up” speech by Johnson in July was widely criticised for lacking concrete policies to narrow the economic gap between the south and the north.

Haldane said: “Levelling up the UK is one of the signature challenges of our time. It has also been a personal passion throughout my professional career.” A white paper on the issue is expected this autumn.

Johnson said: “Andy is uniquely qualified to lead our efforts to raise living standards, spread opportunity, improve our public services and restore people’s sense of pride in their communities.”

Haldane, who taught himself maths, took a keen interest in levelling up even as chief economist at the Bank of England, which has no mandate to examine regional inequalities. 

He led a flagship report by the now defunct Industrial Strategy Council into levelling up and issued what he said was a call to arms just before the pandemic to address “the interlocking issues of productivity, skills and place” that meant some regions were “steaming ahead” while others had been “left behind”.

Seen as a free thinker but not a team player at the BoE, Haldane did not subscribe to the idea that levelling up could be achieved quickly, pointing out frequently in speeches that regional inequalities had been troubling the UK for decades and were just as serious 100 years ago as today. 

When leading the industrial strategy council, he also criticised Johnson’s reliance on infrastructure spending as the route to levelling up, saying this had a long history of failure in the UK and other countries. He wanted a more local strategy that involved capital spending, skills, culture and education. 

Placing Haldane in the Cabinet Office will give the government an in-house expert to evaluate its plans, but will also remove the threat of him becoming a powerful external critic who might have criticised Johnson’s levelling up plans after having left the BoE. 

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