Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has insisted his Government has not given up on “levelling up” and has made “great progress”, during a visit to the North of England on Friday.

Mr Sunak, who said there will be a general election this year, spoke to local Conservative activists at an Italian restaurant, La Dolce Vita, which means the good life in English, in Marple, Stockport, in the Hazel Grove constituency – a Tory/Lib Dem marginal.

He was challenged on falling life expectancy and widening GCSE grades in schools in the North compared to the South of England, but he denied the Conservatives have given up on trying to redress the North-South divide.

Mr Sunak said: “No, I’m a northern MP. I represent a community over in the North East.

“For me, levelling up is about making sure that everyone, no matter where they live in our country, feels like they and their family had every opportunity to build the life that they want for themselves, and that they feel enormous pride in the place that they call home.”

Rishi Sunak
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak at La Dolce Vita in Marple, Stockport (Jacob King/PA)

The Prime Minister, accompanied by Paul Athans, the Conservative candidate in Hazel Grove standing to replace current Tory incumbent William Wragg who is standing down, said there has been more investment in transport, health and high streets in the North.

He added: “We’ve made great progress over the past few years, but obviously we’re going to keep going because I want to keep making sure that everyone, as I said, wherever they live in the UK, feels that they have those opportunities they need to succeed and they have enormous pride in the place they call home, and that’s what we’re driving towards.”

Mr Sunak claimed local councils on average have 10% more to spend this year than last, with extra funds for social care and cash directly invested in local communities.

He added: “So whether it’s right here with the £20 million of levelling up funding right around the corner from here for the community hub, whether it’s in Stockport, where the high street is also getting money, or whether it’s places like Oldham and others that recently received £20 million in long-term funding for their local communities to decide how to invest, that’s all examples of us investing directly in local communities for the benefit of residents.

“I actually think when I go out and about, the thing that people talk to me a lot about is the quality of their high streets in the town centres, and they can see that we’re putting money into them.”

Mr Sunak also claimed “every penny” saved with the scrapping of the northern leg of the HS2 rail project will also be spent in the North.