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The Centre for Inequality and Levelling Up response to the Levelling Up White Paper

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Co-ordination crucial if levelling up is to be achieved (@_CELUP)

The long-awaited white paper on levelling up includes a huge range of different funding streams and policies linked to its different missions. Its breadth is impressive and we welcome an approach that seeks to address the multi-dimensional challenges that underscore geographical inequality. There are a number of issues that the government will need to address though if inequality is to be reduced and progress made in levelling up. The 7 most important issues in our view are described below:

  1. Over £250bn of spend is linked to levelling up in the white paper. This include both monies already being spent and future allocated funding. Little of it is new funding to achieve the stated missions and around a half of this spend is related to transport only. It will be a significant task to ensure that this spend relates to the specific levelling up missions and supports communities who are experiencing the greatest social and economic challenges.
  2. Over 130 different policies are linked to levelling up transcending a number of different themes and departments – from investment in sports facilities to supporting drug users to the green industrial revolution. Again, bringing a laser like focus in the implementation of these policies to levelling up will require a well-developed and funded system of metrics, accountability and management of levelling up.
  3. To ensure that this large amount of spend and numerous policies impact on levelling up as well as the goals that they are designed primarily to achieve the new regime in place to oversee the strategy in particular the Levelling Up Advisory Council and its expert advisory committee will play a crucial role. It is vital that the Levelling Up advisory committees are appointed through the open, transparent process to ensure that best expertise available is drawn upon. The engagement of citizens and communities in co-design of policy implementation is also fundamental. More clarity is needed on how this will happen.
  4. Although the range of themes that relate to levelling up covered in the white paper is very large certain policy areas crucial to levelling up as identified in our recent report ‘Levelling Up: What is it and can it work?’ need more attention. They include childcare and early years; insecure work and worker rights, the role of civil society and higher education. Additional policy areas where more attention could be given include manufacturing and the welfare system. All these areas are vital to levelling up and need to feature in the missions and the policies that underpin them going forward.
  5. The commitment to greater devolution deals is welcome but it is a concern that the framework outlined in Section 2 includes only 3 out of 23 functions devolved to local authorities which would seem inconsistent with a commitment to the highest level of devolution possible. It is crucial that as indicated in the white paper, this framework is not seen as a minimum offer but a starting point for discussion.
  6. The metrics associated with the different missions would benefit from further detail and clarification. While some are precise and measurable i.e. improving the number of primary school children achieving the expected standard of English and Maths, narrowing life expectancy gaps and moving R & D spend out of the South East the majority are more vague or need further clarification e.g. how high quality skills training is defined. Given the paper’s emphasis on the mutually dependent nature of the 6 ‘capitals’ in driving levelling up it is crucial that progress and achievements in all the missions can be measured with equal capability.
  7. The paper makes a strong effort to show how all areas of the country are benefitting from investment related to levelling up yet also argues that certain places need more support than others. Exactly which areas should benefit most from levelling up needs to made clearer – although it does appear that London is far less of a priority. Moving forward the areas that need to benefit from levelling up the most need to be identified using the robust data that exits identifying deprivation and need enabling the focus to be concentrated on such areas.

On the evidence of the levelling up white paper the government’s ambitions in this area are large. It needs to be supported though by a coherent and co-ordinated approach that is well resourced. The array of different funding outlined in the paper is not explicitly linked to levelling up. If it is to connect to it, as argued above what is described in the paper as the new levelling up regime ‘will be critical. The Centre will continue to analyse the policies presented by government to address inequality and by acting as a forum for the generation of ideas related to levelling up will look to support the achievement of the missions in the white paper.

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