From education to employment

Levelling Up London by 2030

It is a truth widely acknowledged that an election-winning slogan must become a White Paper. Since a promise to ‘Level Up’ helped the Conservatives sweep the Red Wall in 2019, there has been eager anticipation as to how such campaigning poetry will be turned into governing prose. And now, Michael Gove, the Secretary of State at the Ministry for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, has set out the path the Government intends to follow.

More Firepower for London

The ambition of levelling-up is right, and while the paper’s focus on bringing devolution to more places is good, this needs to be accompanied with real local powers, responsibilities and resources. In particular, local places need to keep more of the taxes raised locally and decide how they spend them to drive jobs and growth, without having to repeatedly make the case for small pots of centralised cash. Devolved authorities including London will need more firepower if we are to build back better from the pandemic.

If levelling up is to work, we need a competitive and more equitable capital to support its aims. The starting point for the slogan is that people are held back because of where they live: too few good jobs, inadequate education opportunities; poor infrastructure. And there is clearly truth in this. The UK has one large city where earnings are above the national average: London. Other comparable countries have several.

But the reality is more complicated. Averages often conceal more than they reveal. If you’re drinking in a bar and Bill Gates walks in, you’re now in a billionaire postcode. Similarly, while average income is higher in London than in the rest of the UK, average disposable income after housing costs isn’t.

Differences within London

The Prime Minister, when Mayor of London, noted how life expectancy declines, station by station, as the District Line weaves its way from prosperous west London through the East End to Barking. In central London boroughs like Camden, double-fronted mansions sit just minutes away from estates where the indicators of multiple deprivation are amongst the highest in the country.

Analysis by London First shows that on the one hand London has a higher share of its employment in high-skilled occupations compared with the rest of the UK, and its population has higher levels of qualification than any other region with more graduates than any other city in the world. However, on the other, there are high rates of residents with no qualifications, unemployment, including amongst young, Black and minority ethnic, and disabled Londoners, and in-work poverty. And these were only exacerbated during the pandemic.

Levelling within Regions

The first challenge of levelling up, then, must be that we look to real communities not at unwieldy regions. Local people are better placed to work out how to level up their own communities, so real devolution of powers and resources must be at the centre of successful levelling up.

And it will cost. Here government has a choice. Does it stop investing in those parts of the country that are on average prosperous and which produce a tax surplus for the Exchequer

– the East, South-East and London – to plough investment across the country? Or does it continue to invest in these areas so that it has the ongoing resources to invest in levelling up countrywide?

London Levelling Up England and the UK

Investment that flows into the UK via London does more for the wider UK than is often assumed. Analysis that we at London First undertook showed that roughly two thirds of the jobs and economic impact of investment into central London office development accrued elsewhere in the UK. Levelling up should go with the grain of the market and leverage our global strengths to support growth across the country.


Skills investment is a major component of levelling-up, and the White Paper acknowledges this with its mission to increase the number of people successfully completing high-quality skills training. Skills drives per capita income and high clusters of skilled people create high productivity, producing a virtuous circle.

That’s why levelling up must unlock an ambitious skills devolution programme in England to ensure that the Government’s proposals previously outlined in the Skills for Jobs White Paper make a difference across the country, including London. Regional employer-led skills commissioning boards in England should oversee and co-ordinate the new Local Skills and Improvement Plans.

Recommendation 1

Funding for the National Careers Service should be increased so that an effective all age Careers Service is developed and devolved to regional employer-led skills commissioning boards.

Recommendation 2

Funding from the National Skills Fund and the Adult Education Budget should be merged, increased and devolved to regional employer-led skills commissioning boards to support employees from sectors that have suffered the most during Covid-19 through adult retraining opportunities.

Recommendation 3

Cities in England should retain underspends from the apprenticeship levy so that regional employer-led commissioning boards can target apprenticeship funding at small firms and sectors most affected by Covid-19.

Mark Hilton, Policy Director, London First

Post-16 Education and Skills: Levelling Up Everyone, Everywhere

Campaign for Learning’s paper Post-16 Education and Skills: Levelling Up Everyone, Everywhere, is a collection of 18 articles and recommendations by leading stakeholders and thinkers across the post-16 education and skills sector.  

The paper covers six key considerations for the Levelling Up agenda – national and place based strategies, young people, lifelong training, lifelong learning and post-16 providers. 

As the articles show, from the perspective of post-16 education and skills policy, levelling up is about people as well as places – the policy canvas is vast, the perspectives diverse and the insights important.

Together, our authors demonstrate the need for strong, nationally based as well as place based strategies if everyone, everywhere aged 16 and over are to level up through education and skills’ 

Part 1: Levelling Up and National and Place

  • Andy Westwood, Professor of Government Practice, University of Manchester -  Levelling Up and the Department for Education  
  • Sam Freedman, Research Fellow, Institute for Government  – Levelling Up and Post-16 Education and Skills  
  • Fiona Aldridge, Head of Skills Insight, West Midlands Combined Authority  – Levelling Up the West Midlands by 2030  
  • Mark Hilton, Policy Director, London First  – Levelling Up London by 2030  

Part 2: Levelling Up and Young People

  • Geoff Barton, General Secretary, ASCL - Levelling Up and Education: Lots of Stuff but Little Substance  
  • Sam Tuckett, Senior Researcher, Education Policy Institute  – Levelling Up 16-19 Education   
  • Becci Newton, Director of Public Policy and Research, IES  – Levelling Up Participation by 16-18 Year Olds  
  • Kathleen Henehan, Senior Policy and Research Analyst, Resolution Foundation  – Levelling Up 18-24 Year Olds in England   

Part 3: Levelling Up and Lifelong Training

  • Olly Newton, Executive Director, The Edge Foundation - Placing Vocational Education at the Heart of Levelling Up   
  • Mandy Crawford-Lee, Chief Executive, UVAC  – Higher Technical Education, Higher & Degree Apprenticeships and Levelling Up  
  • Ewart Keep, Emeritus Professor, University of Oxford  – The Role of Employer Training in Levelling Up  

Part 4: Levelling Up and Lifelong Learning

  • Stephen Evans, Chief Executive, L&W  – Levelling Up in England through Lifelong Learning   
  • Susan Pember, Policy Director, HOLEX  – Levelling Up as a Nation of Lifelong Learning  
  • Simon Parkinson, Chief Executive, WEA  – The Future of Adult Learning is in the Hands of Local Leaders  

Part 5: Levelling Up and Post-16 Providers

  • David Hughes, Chief Executive, Association of Colleges  – Well-Funded Colleges to Serve Every Community   
  • Nick Hillman, Director, HEPI   – A ‘Higher Education Institute’ in Every Community   
  • Chris Hale, Director of Policy, Universities UK  – Levelling Up and Widening Participation into Higher Education   
  • Jane Hickie, Chief Executive, AELP  – Levelling Up is as much about People as Places   

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