Boris Johnson pledges to ‘level up’ Britain

16 July, 2021 12:00 AM printer

LONDON: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson will pledge on Thursday to “level up” the economy by improving living standards across the UK amid a surge in hiring activity as the economy reopens.

Mr Johnson’s plan to boost living standards in the forgotten parts of Britain comes as unemployment fell to 4.8 per cent in June. The number of people on payrolls grew by 365,000 in the biggest increase since the start of the pandemic, according to the Office for National Statistics, report agencies.

It means the number of vacancies surpassed pre-pandemic levels in the three months to June with 862,000 jobs on offer, 77,500 more than the first three months of 2020. When he speaks in the West Midlands, Mr Johnson will say that his promise to level up the country – a key slogan during his 2019 election victory – will boost living standards, spread opportunity and improve public services in areas outside the traditionally prosperous London and South-East, according to 10 Downing Street.

“Levelling up is not a jam-spreading operation,” Mr Johnson will say.

He will also say that he does not want to simply transfer wealth from richer to poorer parts of Britain. “It’s not zero sum, it’s win win,” he will say. His plans aim to relieve pressure on other densely populated parts of the country. The British economy is dominated by London and the South-East, with a 2020 government report finding gaps in economic productivity between the capital and other regions of the UK as wide as they were in 1901.

However, the total number of people in work rose by 25,000 in the three months through May, with inactivity – those neither in work nor looking for a job – increasing by 71,000. That resulted in a 68,000 drop in the unemployment level.

Although payroll numbers are still 206,000 below pre-pandemic levels and a large number of workers are on furlough, some regions targeted by Mr Johnson’s levelling-up promise have already made up lost ground.

“We are bouncing back,” Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak said. “The number of employees on payrolls is at its highest level since last April and the number of people on furlough halved in the three months to May.”

The rise in vacancies confirms the ongoing challenges around hiring workers as several sectors complain of staff shortages.

“The recruitment difficulties faced by firms go well beyond temporary bottlenecks. Staff shortages may drag on any recovery,” said Suren Thiru, head of economics at the British Chambers of Commerce.