Levelling Up and a housing crisis: Jennifer Williams signs off from the Manchester Evening News

One of the country’s best-known regional journalists signed off from the Manchester Evening News with two investigations on subjects which will shape the future of the region.

Jennifer Williams has left her post as politics and investigations editor at the Manchester Evening News to take up a role covering the North for the Financial Times.

Jennifer had worked at the MEN and sister titles for 15 years, and in recent years had chronicled the promises made by successive government to the North of England, and the reality behind those promises.

As the Government doubled down on its commitment to ‘level up’ the North of England with the publication of a new plan, the MEN published ‘For Boris Johnson it is a slogan — for others, it is life and death: The puzzle of ‘levelling up’ by Jennifer.

Levelling Up as a concept was launched in Manchester two and a half years ago.

“What did [levelling up]mean?” wrote Jennifer. “According to his former adviser, Dominic Cummings, there was no thought behind it. Yet for the PM, a man disinterested in policy but — back then, at least — formidable on campaigning, it became a catch-all pitch to people from Bury to Bishop Auckland, whose votes he needed to win. And he did.

“What it meant afterwards remained unanswered and in that vacuum, the term ‘levelling up’ has since become all things to all people (apart from the large percentage of the public who haven’t heard of it).”

Looking at whether the latest Levelling Up plan had changed that, Jennifer found some support for the new framework, while others in the North were worried about the lack of ambition.

How much focus the plan will now get in Downing Street is also a concern.

Jennifer concluded: “Prolonged chaos in Number 10 is the backdrop for a mission that requires decades of focus, imagination, consensus and laser-like determination.

“However much of a fixer Michael Gove might be, there could hardly be a worse moment to get such an important agenda off the ground. George Osborne talked about fixing the roof while the sun was shining, but the roof is currently on fire.”

In a second special report, Jennifer looked at whether the housing price crisis which has gripped London for more than a decade was now being replicated in Greater Manchester.

Jennifer wrote: “Manchester, and therefore Manchester’s housing, is now seriously desirable. There were reportedly no empty units at all in the city centre a few months back, of any kind; however visible the scale of recent residential development has been, it still isn’t meeting demand.

“There has not been, for some years, a single ward in the city where average rents can be covered by Local Housing Allowance, the housing benefit for private sector tenants. That includes several areas that rank high among the UK’s most impoverished neighbourhoods.”

Evictions, said one councillor, are now handed out like sweeties as the private sector knows it can easily replace tenants.

You can read the special report here.

>> See the series so far, here

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