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Major voices call for investment in collaboration and communities to prevent levelling up failing

Graeme Atherton

A new report released today brings together leading voices from across policy, politics, and academia setting out a bold agenda to address inequality ahead of the government’s Levelling Up White Paper warning the government that unless it is prepared to devolve significant resources and responsibility to communities and connect levelling up with its wider agenda then its policies will fail.

The report, Levelling Up – What is it and can it work, published by the Centre for Inequality and Levelling Up (CEILUP) at the University of West London, brings together 16 leading thinkers on levelling up including representatives of the All Party Parliamentary Group for ‘Left Behind’ Neighbourhoods, Rt Hon Justine Greening ex Secretary of State for Education; Rt Hon Baroness Armstrong of Hill Top; Lord Filkin; Policy Connect; Local Trust; Gordon Marsden former Shadow Minister for Further and Higher Education and Skills; The Salvation Army; Stoke-on-Trent City Council; and universities from across the UK.

Contributors argue that a hyper-local approach focused on the needs of the most challenged communities is needed to achieve change based on a holistic approach to tackling inequality.  The report also outlines a more system-thinking approach that connects policies to address levelling up together with broader policy agendas based on seven key principles. These principles are:

·‘Hyper devolve’ power to local communities and areas in greatest need: Devolution needs to be localised rather than ‘a reshuffling of the deckchairs’ at county or regional level.

·Make civil society partners in levelling up: Universities, charities, trades unions, and community groups all have a huge role to play in levelling up.

·No one model of place exists to ‘level up’ to: Looking at how levelling up is and could be working in Stoke, Derby and London shows how it requires new models of working where the strengths of all places are recognised.

·Invest in ‘social’ as well as ‘physical’ infrastructure: Public services, childcare, green spaces, health, and education are at the heart of how people feel and experience where they live.

·Focus on real economic and social outcomes: Higher wages and greater job security for those in the lowest paid work are essential if levelling up is to have any real meaning.

·Make long term financial commitments and monitor their progress: Contributors point to the need for a community right-to- buy scheme a community wealth fund, and for the new UK Infrastructure Bank to have broader measures of success.

·Avoid competition between places and people: True levelling up will not be achieved through a succession of beauty parades for small pots of cash, and nor should towns be pitched against cities or coastal communities. It is crucial to identify areas in most need and do it correctly, without excluding other areas. 

‘Levelling Up – What is it and can it work’ follows an earlier report from CEILUP exploring how the first round of levelling up funding was distributed, showing that five of the 10 poorest areas of the country were overlooked.

Editor Professor Graeme Atherton, Head of the Centre for Inequality and Levelling Up, said:

This report collection lays out a road map to deliver levelling up that is based on what we know works where addressing inequality is concerned and would also command support from the communities that need the most support and the organisations that work in them. “

Paul Howell MP co-chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for ‘left behind’ neighbourhoods said: “It is brilliant to see a range of influential voices coming together to support this agenda around looking local to level up from the bottom-up. A targeted approach is needed with investment prioritised for the places that need it most. This collection of essays sets out the key steps and approaches for how we can make levelling up work for everyone, and not just now but for the future, and as co-chair of the APPG for ‘left behind’ neighbourhoods I am very pleased to support it.”

Rt Hon Dame Diana Johnson DBE MP co-chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for ‘left behind’ neighbourhoods said:

There is a growing consensus around what is needed to truly level up ‘left behind’ neighbourhoods and it is about taking a hyper-local, neighbourhood level approach over the long-term.

“This publication, informed by people from across the political spectrum and from multiple disciplines, suggests levelling up needs to start at the grassroots and invest in people and places, something that must be recognised by the government’s upcoming White Paper.”

The report includes a preface from the joint chairs of the All Party Parliamentary Group for ‘left behind’ neighbourhoods, and contributions from the following: Rt Hon Justine Greening former Secretary of State for Education; Rt Hon Baroness Armstrong of Hill Top; Lord Filkin; Gordon Marsden, ex Shadow Secretary of State for Further, Higher Education and Skills; the Centre for Cities; TUC; Green Alliance; Institute for Economic Development; Policy Connect; Local Trust; the Commission into Prosperity and Community Placemaking; The Salvation Army; Stoke-on-Trent City Council; and the universities of Birmingham, Derby, London and West London.

The Centre and contributors will continue to push for the outlined principles and polices to be adopted by policymakers to help deliver real, lasting improvements for communities and individuals.

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