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Levelling Up White paper: “Blueprint for spreading opportunity more equally across the country”

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Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove today published the Government’s ‘Levelling Up White Paper’. This is said to be a “blueprint for spreading opportunity more equally across the country”. 

IFS director Paul Johnson 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.”

The initial IFS response to the Government’s Levelling Up White Paper

Summary of response from IFS researchers:   

  • Today’s White Paper marks a welcome first step, laying out the government’s thinking with a broad set of targets and much-needed detail on what levelling up is actually intended to achieve over the longer-term. 
  • The government’s twelve “missions” look sensible, if a little reminiscent of previous attempts to narrow geographic disparities, and in places perhaps overly ambitious. 
  • It is right to identify that “System change is not about a string of shiny, but ultimately short-lived, new policy initiatives. It is about root and branch reform of government and governance of the UK.” That is a measure of the scale of the ambition. 
  • There is a welcome focus on education, skills, health and transport connectivity. The White Paper also includes a range of metrics by which we can judge progress and success.  
  • The main challenge is that the funding and plan for how to actually deliver this progress is in relatively short supply. Indeed, many of the policy levers that lie directly within government control – tax policy, funding for councils, schools and public health – barely seem to get a look-in. The hope is clearly that new institutions and ‘system change’ can deliver over the longer term. 
  • The key question is whether the government can commit the funding, policy focus and reforms needed to deliver on its ‘national missions’. Otherwise, there is a risk that the government has chosen its destination with no sense of how it plans to get there. 

Sign up here for the event ‘Challenges for Levelling up’ at 10am this Friday 4th February, chaired by Paul Johnson.

The section addressing geographical inequalities has been produced as part of the flagship IFS Deaton Review of Inequalities in the 21st Century, funded by the Nuffield Foundation. Launched in 2019, this is an ambitious five-year project, initiated by IFS and funded by the Nuffield Foundation. With the Nobel Laureate Professor Sir Angus Deaton in the chair, the panel overseeing the project includes world-leading experts in sociology, demography, epidemiology, political science, philosophy and economics.

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