Levelling up: North/South divide was real but we’re bridging gap, says Red Wall Tory MP

Boris Johnson outlines plans to help UK 'level up'

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Stockton South’s Matt Vickers acknowledged the reality of the so-called North/South divide – but claimed the Government was bridging the gap – and “delivering for Teeside”. Mr Vickers, who was elected to the previously safe Labour seat in 2019, was speaking prior to Mr Johnson’s speech yesterday, in which he set out his plans for widespread investment in a bid to stimulate regional economies.

Asked why so many voters turned their back on Labour two years ago, he told Express.co.uk: “I think when you look at Teesside as well as the rest of the north-east, you are looking at years and years of Labour domination.

“We have Blair from this part of the world, we have Peter Mandelson from this part of the world, we had Alan Milburn and we’ve got nothing to show for it really.

“And I think that’s why people made the leap this time.

“I think the Government is delivering a hell of a lot for Teeside.”

He explained: “Look at the Treasury jobs in Darlington, the civil service jobs.

“We aren’t just moving great jobs to this part of the world, we are moving decision-makers to this part of the world, people who will understand our way of life and that we’ve felt very disconnected from London.

“In my own constituency, we had one of these town deals, £23.9million of that is going to be spent on real life-changing local priorities determined by local people.

“It might be taking down some rotten building people have been looked at for decades, sorting out infrastructure and cycle routes, or bringing up-skill so we’ll get those great jobs – real change that people can see.”

Asked about the reality of the north/south divide, an expression which was popularised during the Eighties, Mr Vickers acknowledged it as a common perception in the north of England.

He added: ”Boris talks about the fact that the talent across the country is distributed fairly evenly but the opportunities aren’t.

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“It’s about creating those opportunities, creating those great jobs.

“And actually, this is where the growth is going to come, the economic growth that we need, it’s going to be happening on Teesside.”

Asked whether his constituency had lost out in the past in comparison with southern England, Mr Vickers said: “I think that’s the case but also in Teeside, because we are not a city as such, if people brought something to the north, they brought it to Leeds or Manchester but they didn’t quite come as far as us.

“Now we are seeing that because of the Treasury jobs because of the Freeport, and actually all of these things are not about Government creating jobs, necessarily.

“It’s about encouraging investment, encouraging growth and creating the landscape, the environment for private investment.”

In his speech, the Prime Minister vowed to ensure local leaders in towns would be “given the tools to make things happen for their communities”.

He added: “To do that we must take a more flexible approach to devolution in England.

“We need to rewrite the rulebook with new deals for the counties and there is no reason why our great counties cannot benefit from the same powers we’ve devolved to city leaders.”

He added: “One possibility is a directly elected mayor for individual counties.

“And if you can think of a better title than mayor for somebody who represents a county then please send me an email.”

However, not everyone was convinced by Mr Johnson’s remarks.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer described it as “all soundbites and no substance”.

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