Levelling Up: Can it work?
The government’s domestic agenda includes a promise to spread wealth to ‘left-behind’ towns and improve the education and employment prospects of those living there; but can Number Ten move ‘levelling up’ from rhetoric to real life?
The UK has one of the highest rates of regional inequality in the developed world. The causes are multi-faceted and deep-rooted, covering urban, rural and coastal areas – and the inequalities within regions are often larger than those between them. However, this is not new; nor are government policies to tackle it.
Boris Johnson’s ‘levelling up’ is the latest attempt to tackle the issue of left-behind regions, primarily in the North; but how is this aspiration being turned into a strategy? And how will that strategy be monitored and assessed? Attempts to describe ‘levelling up’ include talk of more and better life chances, and improving productivity in the North.
A 2020 Onward report stated that levelling up will be measured on growth in employment and earnings in the bottom fifth and bottom half of local authorities, and closing the divergence with the national average. While the Institute for Fiscal Studies Green Budget 2020 holds that while “there is no single set of factors that characterise a ‘left-behind’ place”, it would use “pay, employment, formal education and incapacity benefits to identify areas that might be considered ‘left behind’ and in need of ‘levelling up’.”
The Chamber’s position on ‘levelling up’ is as follows:
- Hold the Government’s feet to the fire for their election commitments to ‘level up’ the UK
- Introduce (whether structurally or more probably emotionally) an increased sense of accountability of politicians to northern business communities.
- Ensure that our businesses and places are supported to recover from the economic impact of the pandemic via an accelerated ‘levelling up’ investment plan; this should include an articulation of what it means for the areas that we represent, rather than just generic commitments
- Generate a narrative (not another strategy) in relation to ‘levelling up’ that is created for and by businesses. This should be emotive and authentically demonstrate the breadth and diversity of our business communities
- Increase the profile of the Northern Chamber network as authoritative and impactful voices for businesses; this would hopefully result in more media coverage and assist with Chambers’ commercial objectives also.
We are also working (or planning to work) with the leaders of Keighley, Morley and Shipley Town Deal Boards. Town Deals aim to build on the government’s commitment to decentralise funding and decisions away from Whitehall, invest in the growth of local economies and devolve powers.