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Gove unveils Levelling Up White Paper that will transform UK – Sector Response

Levelling Up
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Michael Gove to unveil the government’s flagship Levelling Up White Paper, setting out a plan to transform the UK by spreading opportunity and prosperity to all parts of it.

Today (2 February 2022) the Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove will unveil the government’s flagship Levelling Up White Paper.

This document will set out a plan to transform the UK by spreading opportunity and prosperity to all parts of it.

  • Twelve bold national levelling up missions, given status in law, will shift government focus and resources to Britain’s forgotten communities throughout 2020s
  • Biggest shift of power from Whitehall to local leaders in modern times announced – every part of England to get ‘London style’ powers and mayor if they wish to
  • Starting gun fired on decade-long project to level up Britain, with radical new policies announced across the board
  • Domestic public investment in Research & Development to increase by at least 40% across the North, Midlands, South West, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland

System change and missions

The White Paper will set out a complete ‘system change’ of how government works that will be implemented to level up the UK.

At the heart of this new way of making and implementing policy will be 12 bold, national missions – all quantifiable and to be achieved by 2030. These missions (in full below) are the policy objectives for levelling up, and thus form the heart of the government’s agenda for the 2020s. They will be given status in law in a flagship Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill.

These missions will be cross-government, cross-society efforts.

The first mission, for instance, will see pay, employment, and productivity grow everywhere, and the disparities between the top and worst performing areas narrow.

This is the first time a government has placed narrowing spatial economic disparities at the heart of its agenda before.

The Research & Development (R&D) mission will see domestic public R&D investment outside the Greater South East increase by at least 40% by 2030, with these funds leveraging a huge increase in private investment in these areas too.

By 2030, other missions will see:

  • the rest of the country’s local public transport systems becoming much closer to London standards
  • the large majority of the country gain access to 5G broadband
  • illiteracy and innumeracy in primary school leavers effectively eliminated – focussing the government’s education efforts on the most disadvantaged parts of the country

Other missions will see: hundreds of thousands more people completing high quality skills training every year, gross disparities in healthy life expectancy narrowed, the number of poor quality rented homes halved, the most run down town centres and communities across the country rejuvenated, a significant decrease in serious crime in the most blighted areas, and every part of England getting a ‘London-style’ devolution deal if they wish to.

The missions will be underpinned by a suite of public metrics to track progress and monitor the evolution of spatial disparities. The government will legislate such that it has a statutory duty to publish an annual report updating the public on the progress of these missions, with a new Levelling Up Advisory Council including members such as Sir Paul Collier, renowned economist at Oxford’s Blavatnik’s School of Government, providing further support and constructive analysis.

Other parts of the ‘system change’ include: all policy across Whitehall being aligned with the levelling up agenda and therefore subject to spatial analysis, and a transformation of the government’s approach to data and evaluation – with a new independent body created to improve transparency of local government performance.

Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove

Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove said:

“The United Kingdom is an unparalleled success story. We have one of the world’s biggest and most dynamic economies. Ours is the world’s most spoken language. We have produced more Nobel Prize winners than any country other than America.

“But not everyone shares equally in the UK’s success. For decades, too many communities have been overlooked and undervalued. As some areas have flourished, others have been left in a cycle of decline. The UK has been like a jet firing on only one engine.

“Levelling Up and this White Paper is about ending this historic injustice and calling time on the postcode lottery.

“This will not be an easy task, and it won’t happen overnight, but our 12 new national levelling up missions will drive real change in towns and cities across the UK, so that where you live will no longer determine how far you can go.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said:

“From day one, the defining mission of this government has been to level up this country, to break the link between geography and destiny so that no matter where you live you have access to the same opportunities.

“The challenges we face have been embedded over generations and cannot be dug out overnight, but this White Paper is the next crucial step.

“It is a vision for the future that will see public spending on R&D increased in every part of the country; transport connectivity improving; faster broadband in every community; life expectancies rising; violent crime falling; schools improving; and private sector investment being unleashed.

“It is the most comprehensive, ambitious plan of its kind that this country has ever seen and it will ensure that the government continues to rise to the challenge and deliver for the people of the UK.”

Sector Response

Matthew Fell, CBI Chief of UK Policy

Matthew Fell, CBI Chief Policy Director, said:

“The Levelling Up White Paper is a serious assessment of the regional inequalities which have hamstrung the UK’s economic potential for generations. It offers a blueprint for how government can be rewired and an encouraging basis for how the private sector can bring the investment and innovation to start overcoming those deep-rooted challenges, and power long term prosperity for every community, wherever they live.

“The picture it paints of a reinvigorated 2030 UK can inspire public and private sector partners to unite on shared missions for improving health, wealth, growth and opportunity across the country.

“Crucially, it accepts the CBI view that business-driven economic clusters – enabling every region and nation to build its own unique competitiveness proposition – can be a catalyst which brings levelling up ambitions to life.”

Steve Murrells, CEO of The Co-operative Group

Steve Murrells, CEO of the Co-op:

“From what I’ve seen, the White Paper appears welcome and it is important that the role to be played by business is fully realised. The unfairness that exists in every community means government can’t get anywhere near its goal to ‘level up’ the UK without the help of businesses, small and large, throughout Britain. We can achieve meaningful progress when we work together. 

“Businesses with purpose can be a force for investing into communities, rather than a means of extracting value from them. They can help individuals build the confidence and skills to prosper, irrespective of where they live or have come from. We have proven we can deliver in areas like apprenticeships, where we have the assets and capabilities to match the ambitions of the communities we serve. 

“So my message to government is: we are ready. So let’s get started, because this is a mission which is critical for our country, our communities and our members .”

Stephen Evans, Chief Executive of Learning and Work Institute

Stephen Evans, Chief Executive at Learning and Work Institute, said:

“To truly ‘level up’ demands better investment in skills and jobs, greater local control and longer-term commitment. Whilst the metrics provide direction, unfortunately the White Paper falls short on all counts.

“On skills, the mission for 200,000 more adults to gain qualifications by 2030 takes us back to 2016 achievement levels, reversing only a quarter of the fall since 2010, and skills investment will remain £750m lower in 2025 than in 2010. Areas of focus must include Sandwell, North East Lincolnshire and Kingston upon Hull, which have the lowest share of the population with level 3+ qualifications.

“For the pay and employment mission to succeed, we need a clear plan to deliver the proposed improvements by 2030. This means boosting the average hourly earnings in places such as Boston, Melton and West Devon, and delivering job support in areas like Barking and Dagenham, Barrow-in-Furness and Birmingham with low employment rates – which our levelling up map shows in more detail. The local challenges areas face are deep-rooted and complex, and we continue to share our evidence and analysis of what works, to make levelling up happen in practice.

“Nevertheless, the Government needs to deliver a much bolder vision for how services work together to benefit people, otherwise the reality will fall short of the rhetoric.” 

Jane Hickie

Jane Hickie, AELP Chief Executive, said:

“Up until now, ‘levelling up’ investment has focused on places and infrastructure rather than people, so the fact the white paper includes strong ambitions around skills is of course welcome. If the levelling up agenda is to be a success, it needs to prioritise getting people work-ready and into jobs across the country.

“The success of ‘levelling up’ is reliant on a sustainable skills system. While we welcome many ambitions in the white paper, we remain concerned that these ambitions will not be realised without sufficient investment in the learning and employability programmes that are proven to deliver the skills that communities and local economies need. We need to see more detail on how the government expects to achieve this.”

Agata Nowakowska, AVP EMEA, Skillsoft

Agata Nowakowska, AVP EMEA at Skilsoft:

“Rapidly changing business models have had a profound impact on the learning and talent landscape in recent years, and even more so with the onset of Covid-19. With the skills crisis intensifying, it is great to see that the government is committing to providing more high-quality skills training in their latest ‘Levelling up’ initiative. 

“Today’s digital economy, characterised by change, requires an agile workforce that is able to keep pace. This means developing employees that help build innovative solutions to existing problems and share new ideas to keep business moving. When it comes to building skills for the future, technology training must be frequent and refreshed, instilled in a culture of lifelong learning. 

“Digital technology is making it possible for people to access learning content at a faster, more efficient and cost effective rate than ever before. However, while the content is key, true learning can only be achieved when richness and depth of experience is delivered through the content directly to the user.  This requires a learning platform that delivers personalised recommendations, gamification and badging, embedded tools for access within workflows, and pathways for building durable skills that adapt with the needs of individuals. Ultimately, investing in training tools that keep pace with the changing environment, ensures organisations are best prepared for the future.”

Dr Neil Bentley-Gockmann

WorldSkills UK CEO Dr Neil Bentley-Gockmann OBE said:

“It is really encouraging to see the government putting high-quality skills at the heart of plans to level up opportunities for people, whatever their background or location.

“We are keen to play our part in helping as many people as possible fulfil their potential. Our competition-based training programmes have a specific focus on opening up career opportunities to young people from all backgrounds, especially those who may traditionally have been denied them.

“We are uniquely placed to help deliver the high-quality skills that the government has rightly identified as vital in its mission to improve opportunities and create high-skill high-wage jobs. The White Paper represents a real opportunity for us to work with government, employers and educators to establish even more ways to cascade our knowledge and international best practice to learners in England and across the whole UK.

“Improving pay, jobs and productivity starts with identifying and plugging the skills gaps we need now and will in the longer term. Ministers are right to talk up the UK’s world-beating knowledge economy and the new Future Skills Unit – tasked with identifying and closing skills gaps – will be vital in developing our world-class skills economy.

“Our Skills Taskforce for Global Britain is currently exploring how we make sure more parts of the UK can develop these high-quality future skills. Complementing the government’s ambitious White Paper plans, our Taskforce will deliver a report in the spring setting out how to use world-class skills to attract inward investment and secure those high-skill, high-wage jobs by 2030.”

Sam Sims, CEO of National Numeracy says: 

“We are pleased to see that improving numeracy is at the heart the government’s plans to support both adults and children with the number skills they need to progress in life and welcome the emphasis on local support.

“We know that low numeracy effects different parts of the country in different ways, so taking a local approach is critical. Our work helping individuals and communities improve their numeracy over the past decade shows time and again that it’s not just about maths skills – it’s about improving confidence, attitudes and mindsets too.

“Our research has shown that if we want a more equitable nation with more evenly spread opportunities for individuals and more vibrant, resilient, highly competitive regional economies, investing in basic numeracy skills at the local level is essential.”

John Rogers, Global VP, Faethm AI (recently acquired by Pearson), said:

“This whitepaper gives us an insight into what ‘levelling up’ really means from a policy perspective. Infrastructure investment is undoubtedly essential to give Britain’s regions their fair shot at economic growth and prosperity, but funding skills training is key if the UKas a whole is to become a high skill, high wage economy.”

“As it stands, technology adoption and innovation could exacerbate the divide between different regions of the country over the next 5 years, with differing impacts from area to area.For example, 13.5% of Wales’ workforce could be affected by the adoption of technology by manufacturing employers, while Londonis more likely to be affected by automation in the financesector – 19.5% of finance work has a high propensity to be automated and this is reflective of over 60,000 workers. Without targeted investment in reskilling those in affected roles, automation could lead to job losses, making the economic disparity in particular regions even more pronounced, or creating a surplus of workers with skillsets that are no longer in demand.”

“Emerging technologies should benefit us all equally, wherever we live and whatever our livelihood. If we’re to truly ‘level up’ the UK economy, then the government must identify current and skills needs across the UK, anticipate its future needs as technology takes on previously human-based tasks, and invest in training affected employees so they can hone the skills needed to fill more in-demand roles. That way, our entire economy will continue to grow and develop sustainable job opportunity, rather than simply extending the status quo, creating pockets of unemployment and excessive competition for certain kinds of job.”

Professor Elena Rodriguez-Falcon, President & Chief Executive of NMITE said:

“We are proud and motivated by the role that we are now playing in our wonderful city of Hereford and in the wider community.  Herefordshire Council has been a great supporter of NMITE and we look forward to working together to deliver our impact locally.  Our offer in terms of a unique way of learning, is all designed to provide a new generation of engineers with the knowledge and technical skills to improve their employability”.  

Levelling up is at risk unless we also level up key worker roles

Kirstie Donnelly

Kirstie Donnelly MBE, CEO of City & Guilds, said:

“If the Government truly wants to invest in and drive forward a levelling up agenda, they need to not just create job opportunities, but ensure that people have the right skills to do them. Our Great Jobs research, launched today, finds that the industries that keep our country running are already at risk of collapse, crippled by labour and skills gaps – from construction and food production to health and social care. From speaking directly to the UK workforce, we know that people are put off entering into these jobs due to a lack of the necessary skills and training, alongside low wages and inflexible working conditions.

“While education is a key pillar of the white paper, it still misses a vital point: that just focussing on schools and specialist sixth forms is not enough. People entering the workforce today will most likely be working fifty years, and the skills they have at 18 or 21 will most likely need a significant update throughout their careers. Access to high quality adult education and skills development is imperative to creating the skilled people needed to do the jobs available – both now and in the future.

“To support its levelling up rhetoric, the Government needs to provide additional funding to level up access to all ages education and promote the value of the jobs the pandemic proved were essential to the running of our society. The bottom line is that only when the government puts adequate investment into flexible lifelong training opportunities, making jobs more attractive and tackling the mismatch between supply and demand, will the country be able to get back on an even keel.”

Key findings from the Great Jobs report:

  • Just a quarter of working age adults would work in social care (25%) and healthcare (26%) and 22% would work in food production, agriculture or animal care
  • 3.1 million key worker job openings expected in next five years – making up 50% of openings in UK job market. But only around a quarter of Brits would consider working in many of those roles.
  • Low pay and a lack of relevant skills, experience or qualifications are two key reasons putting people off working in some of the most important jobs to our economy
  • Only when the government puts adequate investment into skills and training, creating desirability for a broader range of jobs and tackling the mismatch between supply and demand will the country be able to get back on an even keel. 

Katie Schmuecker, Deputy Director of Policy & Partnerships at JRF said:

“The Prime Minister has defined levelling up as delivering for the poorest, so this strategy should be assessed against its ability to reduce poverty across the country.

“A focus on rising employment, pay and productivity will only succeed if it delivers better jobs and pay for people on the lowest incomes. To make this happen we need to see investment in skills, childcare, local transport and affordable housing.

“Plans to reform the private rented sector are long overdue and really welcome to see. If done well, they will drive up standards and strengthen tenants’ rights, creating a more just housing system.

“We welcome the wide-ranging set of missions and targets but as ever, the proof will be in the delivery. Local areas must be trusted to make decisions about what is best for them, and crucially must be given the investment and powers they need to achieve this. The lack of new funding announced today, and an approach to devolution that appears to be quite centrally controlled, suggest more needs to be done before the reality of these plans meets the rhetoric.”

“The inequalities were so acute that when I became mayor in 2008 you could travel from Westminster to Canning Town on the jubilee line and lose a year of life expectancy with every stop and yet at the end of my time as mayor that was no longer true – life expectancy had increased across the capital – but the gains had been greatest among the poorest groups and that is what I mean by levelling up.”

– Excerpt from the Prime Minister’s levelling up speech on 15 July 2021

‘LEVELLING UP’ PLANS FAIL TO REVERSE THE GOVERNMENT’S OWN DAMAGE TO EDUCATION IN ENGLAND

NASUWT General Secretary Dr Patrick Roach

NASUWT – The Teachers’ Union General Secretary, Dr Patrick Roach, said:

“Education is one of the most powerful tools to level up outcomes for young people and communities, but the latest levelling up plans from the government risk diverting even more money away from the frontline in schools and colleges where it is needed most.

“Structural changes and academisation of schools are not a recipe for delivering better outcomes for pupils. Substantial additional investment is needed in the workforce in our schools and colleges.

“The Government will not deliver on its levelling up ambitions by threatening schools or by heaping yet more responsibilities onto teachers and school leaders. Extra resources need to be found to incentivise teachers to stay in the profession and action taken to remove the excessive workload burdens that are continuing to have a profoundly damaging impact on teacher recruitment, retention, and morale.  

“Teachers have been picking up the pieces of Government failures for more than a decade, as vital services for children, young people and families have been eroded and lost. Improving the life chances of children in all areas, especially those areas of greatest disadvantage, will require better coordination and the reinstatement of a statutory duty on schools and other children’s services to work together, reversing the damaging decisions taken by Ministers a decade ago.”

Dr Mary Bousted, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, said:

“There is much in the aspiration of levelling up that the NEU can agree with – but aspiration isn’t sufficient and there is little confidence in a government that has neither the right ideas nor the capability to implement them. Their answers of ten years ago, such as free schools and academies being the panacea to educational achievement, have proven not in themselves to be the answer that children, families, teachers, leaders and support staff need today.

“This White Paper does not provide sensible solutions to the lack of school and college funding, nor the exam factory culture – driven by national policies – which undermines progress on the skills and education agenda in England. It contains no recognition of the effect on the profession over the last two years and the number of teachers questioning if they can continue with so little tangible support, leadership or flexibility from the Department for Education.

“The DfE does not appear to be reading its own reports about the impact of Covid on learning, children’s confidence, and on areas of young people’s development such as speech and language and socialisation with peers.The White Paper should contain a proactive national strategy on student wellbeing and explain how the DfE will prioritise students’ social and emotional learning; otherwise we will see exclusions rising, lower pupil attendance and more demand for specialist services.

“The DfE must do much better to understand what supports and retains teachers and boosts effective teaching, and this has to involve real action to address teacher workload and pay. Levelling up must include saving the vital support staff jobs which are disappearing, with huge damage for students with SEND, who need personalised support.

“The silence around child poverty will deeply frustrate heads and teachers. Whilst schools do everything they can to counteract the effects of poverty on children’s lives, the responsibility to reduce levels of child poverty year on year must sit with the Government. The levelling up agenda must include a robust plan, across Government, to eradicate child poverty through national policies.

“With funding levels currently at the levels of 2010, many schools and colleges are running on empty. This is a shocking situation. Primary class sizes are at their highest this century and secondary class sizes are the highest since records began in 1978, with almost a million children being taught in classes with more than 30 pupils. It is hard to see how schools will be able to achieve the targets set out without addressing the fundamental question of insufficient resources. The Government must restore funding to all schools to at least the level of 2015-16 and needs to fund a proper strategy for education recovery.

“We hope the DfE will engage with the Times Education Commission report released last week and the Independent Assessment Commission released today, which are packed with innovative ideas about skills and learning after Covid.”

Matt Jones, founder and MD of UK online college Oxbridge, said: 

“The skills attainment gap in the UK continues – demonstrating clearly how where you are born directly impacts your access to education and opportunity.

“While today’s pledges to boost access to skills training, particularly for those who have previously struggled to access it, is undoubtedly to be welcomed, the targets and the infrastructure do not currently add up. 

“The pandemic has brought unforeseen challenges to the education and skills sector, and many are still grappling with how to deliver remotely. The question of how a system already under pressure will suddenly deliver on the Government’s vision is yet to be answered. The devil, as always, will be in the detail. From how funding and opportunities will be deployed, to what the statutory powers will be awarded to local skills bodies and stakeholders.” 

“Disadvantaged pupils in England are 18.1 months of learning behind their peers by the time they finish their GCSEs. So while it is positive to see the focus on learning and skills, we need more detail on how they will tackle this growing divide.

“From improving education outcomes in the UK’s worst performing areas through targeted local support, to increasing high-quality skills training provision, the vision is a strong one. But practically, we need to know exact details and a tangible plan for the industry to rally behind.”

HUGE INEQUALITIES IN EDUCATION RESULTS IN A WASTE OF TALENT

Sir Peter Lampl, founder and chair of the Sutton Trust and chair of the Education Endowment Foundation, said:

“Education is the building block of everything, and it is right that the Levelling Up White Paper contains ambitious targets for education in the most disadvantaged areas of the country.

“There are huge inequalities in education which result in a waste of talent – and these have  been made much worse by Covid.  But any plan to address these problems needs significant long term resources to build on the evidence of what works.  This should be in line with the proposals put forward by Kevan Collins.

“We must also ensure there is a wider plan for those disadvantaged children outside of the 55 priority areas, especially in light of the massive disruption caused by the pandemic.  It is crucial that we keep the focus on recovery and on ensuring that initiatives like the National Tutoring Programme reach the poorest pupils, wherever they are in the country.  

“We also applaud the fact the government are focusing on skills. There needs to be many more high-quality alternatives to university available to young people.

“The aspirations set by the government are rightfully ambitious. We look forward to seeing the detail of how these ambitions will be achieved.”  

Stephen Phipson, Chief Executive of Make UK, said:

“Manufacturers will enthusiastically embrace this strategy which is a vital building block in spreading growth to all parts of the UK. The sector has a significant presence in exactly the areas which need levelling up and is playing a vital role in delivering high value skills. While there is substantially more to be done, this focus on skills and innovation, together with an emphasis on infrastructure and place, is the right starting point and one that industry will back.”

Writing exclusively for FE News, Prof Keith Ridgway, Commissioner on the Lifelong Education Commission, said:

“Not defining the final destination of levelling up has generally been seen as a weakness of the policy. However, the debate it has provoked has caused many of us in the education space to reflect on the many possible ‘roads to levelling up’ we could take. 

“Parity of esteem and funding for skills, further education and lifelong learning – these are roads in urgent need of repair. So, Lewis Carroll was almost right: it is not any road that will take you there, but many roads. It’s time we started building them.”

Nick Molho, Executive Director at the Aldersgate Group

Nick Molho, Executive Director at the Aldersgate Group, said:

“The Government’s 12 missions to level up the UK set a welcome ambition to spread economic opportunities, high quality education and a good quality of life across the country. A rapid transition to a net zero emissions economy is going to be absolutely essential to deliver these goals in practice. Growing investment in renewable energy, building insulation, electric vehicles, public transport and low carbon industrial clusters holds the key to creating jobs, improving productivity, driving private investment and skilling up the workforce across the country. If the Government is serious about its Levelling Up ambitions, it must proceed at pace with the implementation of its Net Zero Strategy.”  

PROFESSOR STEVE WEST CBE, PRESIDENT OF UNIVERSITIES UK

Professor Steve West CBE, President of Universities UK and Vice-Chancellor of UWE Bristol, said: 

“The impact of universities on people and places can be truly transformational. Universities are crucial to levelling up, by bringing together student populations, research partners, local businesses and employers to create vibrant communities, jobs and opportunity across the UK.

“Universities are determined to reach out further and wider to students of all ages from low income households and other under-represented groups so they can benefit from a university experience. They are also working closely in partnership with colleges, local government, and LEPs in England to create a diverse range of rewarding learning opportunities that meet the needs of employers and communities. It is important that government creates the right conditions for universities to fully support business growth and skills development for all learners to ensure that graduates want to stay, work and contribute in every community.” 

Professor Karen O'Brien, Vice-Chancellor and Warden of Durham University

Professor Karen O’Brien, Vice-Chancellor and Warden of Durham University, said:

“We welcome the Government’s focus on Levelling Up and look forward to continuing discussions, locally and nationally, on how we can contribute to this important agenda.

“We are committed to raising educational attainment in North East England and expanding the work we already do with schools, including those in the Education Investment Areas, and supporting further development of post-16 providers in the region.

“We provide training and qualifications for teachers, many of whom continue to live and work in the region. Our flagship Maths School will benefit talented students who would not otherwise have access to post-16 mathematics education, and we are a major partner in the Laidlaw Teaching and Leadership Centre at Sedgefield Community College, which will provide additional classroom space as well as a hub for training secondary school teachers.

“Our Memorandum of Understanding with Durham County Council further outlines our commitment to support the local educational environment to encourage wider participation and diversity in the attainment of key educational qualifications, thus supporting the regional economic skills demand.”

Dr Joe Marshall, Chief Executive of NCUB

Dr Joe Marshall, Chief Executive of NCUB said:

“It’s positive that the Levelling Up White Paper recognises that research and innovation is central to the UK’s long term economic, social and environmental wellbeing. Together, universities and businesses across the country are delivering world class innovations and contributing to their local communities and regional economies. We applaud the Government for recognising the central role and important role that research and innovation plays in our future growth, right across the UK.” 

“Today’s White Paper recognises that our research base will be a key building block to drive real change across the UK. NCUB has long called on the Government to establish a network of ‘Innovation Collaboration Zones’ across the UK to help the country level up. The announcement of these three new Innovation Accelerators is therefore particularly welcome. However, the devil will however be in the detail especially around their selection, the expected impact and benefit but also where future ones will be located. What is clear is that the research and innovation that our universities and businesses deliver, is vital to building stronger places and is central to driving growth and opportunity.”

Carole Willis, Chief Executive at the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER), said:

“The National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) welcomes the Government’s commitment to providing extra investment to 55 local-authority areas in England with low education outcomes, and a renewed focus on tackling future skills gaps through extra high quality training. This needs to be of sufficient scale to tackle the challenges facing these areas.

“We particularly welcome the development of a Future Skills Unit to look at the data and evidence of where skills gaps exist, and in what industries, as the transformation of employment over the coming decades is predicted to be significant due to new technologies and major demographic and environmental change. In the absence of evidence to inform long term planning for educational provision to enable young people to develop the right skills – there is a real risk of extremely damaging effects of inaction, such as wider under-employment or unemployment and enduring social and economic problems”.

The nature of the change in the demand for skills in the labour market is not currently well-understood. This is why NFER are currently undertaking an important research programme, The Skills Imperative 2035: Essential Skills for Tomorrow’s Workforce which aims to explore what these changes will have, and specifically which key skills will be in greatest demand in future.

Public’s top priority for levelling up is more and better jobs

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady

Frances O’Grady, TUC General Secretary, said:

“If we don’t level up at work, we won’t level up the country.

“But the government has failed to provide a serious plan to deliver decent well-paid jobs, in the parts of the UK that need them most.

“Insecure work and low pay are rife in modern Britain. And for far too many families hard work no longer pays.

“With the country facing a cost-of-living crisis, working families need action now to improve jobs and boost pay packets – especially after more than a decade of lost pay.

“Ministers should have announced a plan to get real wages rising – starting with a proper pay rise for all our key workers and the introduction of fair pay deals for low-paid industries.

“And they should have delivered the long-awaited employment bill to ban zero hours contracts – as well as new, meaningful investment in skills and good green jobs of the future.

“Without a plan to deliver decent work up and down the country, millions will struggle on, on low wages, and with poor health and prospects.”

Lynsey Sweeney, Managing Director, Communities that Work

Lynsey Sweeney, Managing Director, Communities that Work

“We welcome the release today of the long-awaited Levelling Up white paper.  The Government’s ambition to narrow the gap for all is welcome, so too is the pace of delivery by 2030 and the focus on scrutinising and measuring progress.

“However, delivery on the White Paper must be sustained throughout the next decade and balanced across all parts of the country to help those that need it most.

“There is no North-South divide to poverty; we must level up communities according to where need presents itself. Today more than ever, a single parent on a minimum wage, zero hours contract in Watford has more in common with, and similar life chances to, a single parent on a minimum wage, zero hours contract in Wigan. 

“The challenge is urgent: the cost-of-living crisis is already shrinking household budgets across the UK – and, as ever, it will hit our poorest households the hardest, pushing more people into daily life poverty and leaving them more at risk of being left behind.

“Support therefore must be focused on providing help where it is needed most.  Levelling Up and the launch of the UKSPF is a once-in-a-lifetime chance for the Government to invest in our communities up and down the country, and provide new opportunities. 

“European funding made a difference, but its successor – the UKSPF – can do better.   It is vital that a more effective and less bureaucratic UKSPF is developed so it can truly support levelling up and ensure that no community is left behind. Social housing is a natural national partner in the design and the delivery of UKSPF outcomes. We need to cut the red tape, and set UKSPF up for success from the very start, from now.”

Interim Director of IPPR North, Arianna Giovannini

Dr Arianna Giovannini, interim director of IPPR North said:  

“After years of central government rhetoric and little in the way of meaningful policy to match it, the UK is more regionally divided than ever – with real, avoidable and unacceptable consequences for people. That’s the context of this white paper. 

“What we’ve seen so far suggests that the white paper is a step in the right direction – with a commitment to broadening and deepening devolution, and ambitious missions. What remains nebulous in the white paper is whether the policy plans set will have adequate investment behind them. Without it, government rhetoric will fail, once again, to turn into reality.

“This white paper sets the right ambitions, but it also requires a radical reimagining of where power lies. More devolution is welcome, but it should be open to all areas and not just a few selected on a competitive basis or cherry-picked by government.

“To truly empower localities, the government must let go. Regions like the North have the ability and resolve to level up for ourselves. Central government should recognise this. Our door is open to policymakers to work with us to achieve it”.

Paul Johnson, IFS director, said:

“This white paper recognises the scale of the levelling up challenge. That lack of quick fixes, the long term perspective, and clarity about objectives are all very welcome, as is the recognition that real progress will require a change in governance in Whitehall and beyond.

“This is all just a very first step though. The targets are largely in the right areas, but many look extremely ambitious – that is to say highly unlikely to be met, even with the best policies and much resource. There is little detail on how most of them will be met, and less detail on available funding. There is something for everyone, and hence little sense of prioritisation: ambition and resource will be spread very thin. 

“Meeting the core ambition of simultaneously improving education and skill levels and availability of high paying jobs in poorer regions will prove extremely challenging. Without that, levelling up will not happen. It will require the level of focus that has gone into this white paper being developed and maintained over decades.”

Speaking from the Centre for Social Justice’s North West office in Manchester, Kawika Solidum, Head of Region, said: 

“‘Levelling up’ the country and advancing social justice are intrinsically linked ambitions. And so, we are pleased to see the issues affecting those most struggling – whether crime on our streets, access to quality local jobs, drug and alcohol dependency, poor housing or low basic skills – given proper attention in today’s white paper, alongside plans for investment in physical infrastructure and place-based R&D and innovation. Restoring pride and productivity in our communities means ensuring that absolutely no one is left behind.

“Of course, the devil will be in the detail of how it is delivered – and we remain unconvinced the scale of ambition in the white paper has been met with commensurate resource to address the stark inequalities beyond London and the South East. However, we welcome this white paper as a positive step to addressing the deep regional imbalances that have held back opportunities for people across the country.”

Will Tanner, Director of the thinktank Onward, said:

“Today Michael Gove fires the starting gun on a regeneration revolution. Previous governments have tried and failed to halt the real decline of jobs, pride and opportunity in many parts of the UK and close the productivity gap between richer and poorer regions. This White Paper takes a big step further – by setting out a practical route map to reverse those trends and regenerate opportunity and belonging in every part of the country. 

“In the long term, the Government is crucially changing the rules of the game – by committing the entirety of government to a list of concrete missions to level up the UK by 2030, which will be underpinned by legislation and against which departments, including the Treasury, will be held to account. Just as the Office for Budget Responsibility drives fiscal discipline, so too will this regime create a rod for the Government’s back to ensure that opportunity is spread fairly around the UK.

“But the immediate steps are welcome too. It is encouraging to see the Onward blueprint for levelling up embraced, including steps to redirect R&D, transport, housing and cultural funding out of London; real powers for both regional mayors and a greater role for parish and town councils; a manufacturing strategy to revive regional industries; and steps to re-broker underperforming schools using multi-academy trusts.”

Adam Hawksbee, Deputy Director of Onward and research lead for Levelling Up, said:

“This White Paper could be the beginning of fundamental change for Britain. From my time working with Andy Street in the West Midlands I know that local leaders want more control and more cash. This White Paper sets out clear steps to give mayors the powers they need, and rebalanced spending on housing, culture, and R&D start to back it up with resources. 

The challenge now is delivery. With an election in two years there is little time to waste. Whitehall won’t be able to do it alone, so a big test will be how the Government’s ‘missions’ galvanise action amongst businesses, charities, and community groups. At Onward, we’ll be ready with the practical ideas to support rapid progress.’

Ashwini Bakshi, Managing Director of Europe and Sub-Saharan Africa at Project Management Institute, said:

“The Levelling Up agenda will be one of the biggest tests for project management in a generation. The taxpayer has been scarred by broken promises – HS2, to name one high-profile example – and tolerance for threadbare excuses has reached the end of the road. The government must get this one right.

“The standard of project management will be the battlefield upon which the Levelling Up agenda is won and lost. Faced with running multiple initiatives simultaneously across the UK, project leadership must be watertight to avoid the swamp of timeline, financial and strategic issues that drowned past failures.

“Each Levelling Up initiative will be unique – with varying budgets, risks, and timelines – but its legacy will be judged against the same criteria: how it affects local people. Transparency is non-negotiable. Project managers must engage in regular, honest conversation with those that will most be impacted by the end result. They are responsible for demonstrating the integrity that can get communities pulling in the same direction.  

“This calibre of leadership can be hard to find, especially in the midst of the project skills crisis currently faced by the UK. The changes wrought by the pandemic call for a significant strengthening – or modernisation – of the traditional project skillset, and there is now a significant deficit between those responsible for managing projects and those that have been suitably trained to do so.

“The government’s plans must, therefore, include investment into a skills refresh. The project managers leading these initiatives have taxpayer money in their hands and will be responsible for turning promises into results. If they are expected to rely on a limited or out-dated set of project management skills, the Levelling Up agenda could be over before it has begun.”

What are the factors that will help drive levelling up?

Levelling up requires a focused, long-term plan of action and a clear framework to identify and act upon the drivers of spatial disparity.

Evidence from a range of disciplines shows these drivers can be encapsulated in six “capitals”:

The 6 drivers of levelling up:

  1. Physical capital – infrastructure, machines and housing.
  2. Human capital – the skills, health and experience of the workforce.
  3. Intangible capital – innovation, research and patents.
  4. Financial capital – resources supporting the fnancing of companies.
  5. Social capital – the strength of communities, relationships and trust.
  6. Institutional capital – local leadership, capacity and capability.

Huge shift of power from Whitehall to local leaders

The government recognises that if it tries to level up the UK alone, it will fail. That is why the White Paper will detail the largest devolution of power from Whitehall to local leaders across England in modern times.

The government recognises the strong local leadership mayors like Andy Street, Ben Houchen and Andy Burnham have shown, and wishes to replicate this success across England.

Fundamental to this ‘devolution revolution’ will be a new model for England with more mayors for those areas that want one.

We will invite the first 9 areas to agree new county deals and seek to agree further MCA deals, extending devolution across England.

The first 9 areas invited to begin negotiations will be:

  1. Cornwall,
  2. Derbyshire & Derby,
  3. Devon, Plymouth and Torbay,
  4. Durham,
  5. Hull & East Yorkshire,
  6. Leicestershire,
  7. Norfolk,
  8. Nottinghamshire & Nottingham, and
  9. Suffolk.

The White Paper announces negotiations for a new Mayoral Combined Authority deal for York and North Yorkshire and expanded Mayoral Combined Authority deal for the North East, as well as negotiations for ‘trailblazer’ devolution deals with the West Midlands and Greater Manchester to extend their powers – with these deals acting as blueprints for other Mayoral Combined Authorities to follow.

By 2030, every part of England that wishes to have a ‘London-style’ devolution deal will have one.

The local devolution mission is relevant in England only, but the wider policy programme will see decentralisation of the UK Shared Prosperity Fund to local areas in Scotland and Wales.

Radical new policy to level up announced

The White Paper represents a long term plan to transform the UK, but it also sets out the first steps the government is taking to achieve this.

This new policy regime is based on five mutually reinforcing pillars:

  1. First, the UK Government is setting clear and ambitious medium‑term missions to provide consistency and clarity over levelling up policy objectives.
  2. Second, central government decision‑making will be fundamentally reoriented to align policies with the levelling up agenda and hardwire spatial considerations across Whitehall.
  3. Third, the UK Government will empower decision‑makers in local areas by providing leaders and businesses with the tools they need.
  4. Fourth, the UK Government will transform its approach to data and evaluation to improve local decision-making.
  5. Fifth, the UK Government will create a new regime to oversee its levelling up missions, establishing a statutory duty to publish an annual report analysing progress and a new external Levelling Up Advisory Council.

Boosting pay and productivity, especially in places where they are lagging

  • To contribute towards domestic public investment in R&D outside the Greater South East increasing by at least 40% by 2030, the Department for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) have committed to invest at least 55% of their domestic R&D funding outside the Greater South East by 2024/5. Commitments to increase public investment have been made by DHSC, MOD, DfT and Defra. For instance, the Department for Health and Social Care will be increasing their medical research investment outside London, Oxford and Cambridge.
  • The White Paper also announces 3 new Innovation Accelerators, major place-based centres of innovation, centred on Greater Manchester, the West Midlands, and Glasgow-City Region. These clusters of innovation will see local businesses and researchers in these areas backed by £100 million of new government funding to turbo-charge local growth, learning from the MIT-Greater Boston and Stanford-Silicon Valley models.
  • The document further sets out the government’s intention to mobilise £16 billion of the Local Government Pension Scheme for investments in local projects – recognising that too much at present is invested outside the UK.
  • The government will fund ambitious plans for bus improvements in areas where this can make the most impact, including the mayoral city-regions, Stoke-on-Trent, Derbyshire and Warrington.

Spreading opportunities and improving public services, especially where they are weakest

  • 55 Education Investment Areas (EIAs) will be designated in local authorities in England where school outcomes are currently weakest. These areas, 95% of which are outside London and the South East, will benefit from intensive investment and support. This will ensure the worst off schools of the North, Midlands, South West and East of England receive the most support over this decade. They will be supported by the Department for Education (DfE) offering retention payments to schools in these areas ensuring they can retain the best teachers. And will be prioritised for new specialist sixth form free schools that will ensure talented children from disadvantaged backgrounds have access to the highest standard of education this country offers.
  • Local Skills Improvement Plans will be rolled out with funding across England, giving local employer bodies and stakeholders a statutory role in planning skills training in their area, to better meet local labour market needs.
  • The government will set out its strategy to tackle the core drivers of health inequalities through a new White Paper on Health Disparities published this year.
  • Recommendations will be taken forward from Henry Dimbleby’s review towards a National Food Strategy. DfE will work with the Food Standards Agency to pilot measures to ensure greater compliance with the school food standards. The government will pilot the Community Eat Well programme, enabling GPs to prescribe exercise and healthy food.

Restoring local pride

  • The government will support 20 of our towns and city centres, starting off with Wolverhampton and Sheffield, undertaking ambitious, King’s Cross-style regeneration projects, transforming derelict urban sites into beautiful communities. This work will be spearheaded by Homes England, which will be repurposed to, in addition to its existing functions, regenerate towns and cities.
  • The ‘80/20 rule’ which leads to 80% of government funding for housing supply being directed at ‘maximum affordability areas’ – in practice, London and the South East – will be scrapped, with much of the £1.8 billion brownfield funding instead being diverted to transforming brownfield sites in the North and Midlands. The Metro Mayors will be allocated £120 million of this funding.
  • The government will announce a plan that for the first time ever, all homes in the Private Rented Sector will have to meet a minimum standard – the Decent Homes Standard. Section 21 ‘no fault’ evictions will further be abolished, ending the unfair situation where renters can be kicked out of their homes for no reason. We will consult on introducing a landlords register, and will set out plans for a crackdown on rogue landlords – making sure fines and bans stop repeat offenders leaving renters in terrible conditions.
  • Home ownership will be boosted due to a new £1.5 billion Levelling Up Home Building Fund being launched, which will provide loans to SMEs and support the UK government’s wider regeneration agenda in areas that are a priority for levelling up.
  • The government will further commit to building more genuinely affordable social housing. A new Social Housing Regulation Bill will deliver upon the commitments the government made following the Grenfell tragedy in 2017.
  • The White Paper will commit the government to significantly increasing cultural spending outside the capital, and commit that 100% of the Arts Council England funding uplift agreed at the latest Spending Review will be spent outside London.
  • A new National Youth Guarantee will be launched so that by 2025 every young person in England will have access to regular out of school activities, adventures away from home, and opportunities to volunteer.
  • A review of the Community Ownership Fund will occur so that more fans can take control of their vital local assets such as football club grounds. A £230 million investment in grassroots football will be delivered, with funding this year to deliver 850 pitches in England alone with further funding to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
  • £44 million will be unlocked from the Dormant Assets Scheme to support charities, social enterprises, and vulnerable individuals. With a consultation on the best causes for a further £880 million later this year, which will include a community wealth fund, youth and social investment.
  • The White Paper will announce 68 more local authorities to be supported by the High Streets Task Force to transform their town centres.
  • The government will give local authorities the power to require landlords of empty shops to fill them if they have been left vacant for too long.
  • £50 million from the Safer Streets Fund will be invested every year to give Police and Crime Commissioners, local authorities, and also certain civil society organisations in England and Wales the resources they need to tackle crime and anti-social behaviour.
  • To ensure those who transgress repair the damage they cause, £93 million will be invested in scaling up the amount of unpaid work that offenders to around 8 million hours per year – 1.75 million hours higher than any time since records began in 2015. Police officers will also gain the power to deal with noise nuisance.
  • Building on investment from the 10-year Drugs Strategy, the government will work intensively with the local authorities of 10-20 areas most affected by prolific neighbourhood crime.

Empowering local leaders

In addition to the policies announced above, such as offering a ‘London-style’ devolution settlement to every part of England:

  • Announcing for the first time a new devolution framework which sets out a clear menu of options for places in England that wish to unlock the benefits of devolution, whether that is moving towards a London-style transport system to connect people to opportunity, improving local skills provision, or being able to act more flexibly and innovatively to respond to local need.
  • The £2.6 billion UK Shared Prosperity Fund will be decentralised to local leaders as far as possible, with investments set to regenerate communities, boost people’s skills, and support local businesses.
  • A commitment to vastly simplify the local growth funding landscape to allow local leaders to drive tangible, visible change in their communities.

The 12 Missions to Level Up the UK

The government will do whatever it can to achieve these 12 missions. Government’s resources, energy, and focus throughout the 2020s will be re-oriented around achieving them – and thus squarely focussed on helping the people and parts of the country most struggling.

Whilst the missions are UK-wide ambitions, in the many instances where they are driven by devolved policy levers, the UK government wishes to work hand in hand with the devolved governments to achieve them by 2030.

1. Pay, employment and productivity will have risen in every area of the UK, with each containing a globally competitive city, with the gap between the top performing and other areas closing.

2. Domestic public investment in Research & Development outside the Greater South East will increase by at least 40% and at least one third over the Spending Review period, with that additional government funding seeking to leverage at least twice as much private sector investment over the long term to stimulate innovation and productivity growth.

3. Local public transport connectivity across the country will be significantly closer to the standards of London, with improved services, simpler fares and integrated ticketing.

4. The UK will have nationwide gigabit-capable broadband and 4G coverage, with 5G coverage for the majority of the population.

5. The number of primary school children achieving the expected standard in reading, writing and maths will have significantly increased. In England, this will mean 90% of children will achieve the expected standard, and the percentage of children meeting the expected standard in the worst performing areas will have increased by over a third.

6. The number of people successfully completing high-quality skills training will have significantly increased in every area of the UK. In England, this will lead to 200,000 more people successfully completing high-quality skills training annually, driven by 80,000 more people completing courses in the lowest skilled areas.

7. The gap in Healthy Life Expectancy (HLE) between local areas where it is highest and lowest will have narrowed, and by 2035 HLE will rise by 5 years.

8. Well-being will have improved in every area of the UK, with the gap between top performing and other areas closing.

9. Pride in place, such as people’s satisfaction with their town centre and engagement in local culture and community, will have risen in every area of the UK, with the gap between the top performing and other areas closing.

10. Renters will have a secure path to ownership with the number of first-time buyers increasing in all areas; and the government’s ambition is for the number of non-decent rented homes to have fallen by 50%, with the biggest improvements in the lowest performing areas.

11. Homicide, serious violence, and neighbourhood crime will have fallen, focused on the worst-affected areas.

12. Every part of England that wants one will have a devolution deal with powers at or approaching the highest level of devolution and a simplified, long-term funding settlement.

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