Levelling Up Where are we now?

The government approach to tackling regional inequality, known as Levelling Up, has the potential to address geographical disparities in the economy and create growth opportunities for UK business. However, despite multiple financial commitments made by the government since 2019, analysis by Bloomberg shows that public spending per capita has actually fallen behind London in every region of England.

In the 2022 Queens Speech, the government announced a Levelling up and Regeneration Bill. The bill is intended to deliver bespoke devolution for all areas of the UK, providing more control over budgets, transport, and skills. According to the government, the bill will empower local leaders to deliver regeneration of both towns and cities. Improvements to the planning process have also been outlined, including full digitalisation of the system. To ensure greater transparency, the bill will also place a legal duty on the government to set Levelling Up missions and produce an annual report on their delivery.

In February this year, further detail of government plans was announced in a Levelling Up White Paper, which outlined four key objectives for addressing regional inequality in the UK by 2030:

1. Boost productivity, pay, jobs and living standards by growing the private sector

2. Improve public services

3. Restore a sense of community and local pride

4. Empower local leaders and communities

The White Paper details how private sector partnerships will be essential in enabling Levelling Up, with the government keen to provide an environment within which UK business can flourish. They will attempt to create this environment by, establishing a skilled labour pool, ensuring digital and physical infrastructure is in place and appropriate finance is made available. By providing these foundations locally, the government hopes to catalyse private sector innovation and investment across all regions of the UK.

The National Audit Office has warned that the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities is not monitoring closely enough how it is spending the £11bn Levelling Up fund, and whether its approach in different areas is working. The White Paper has now outlined how vital data will be, in both monitoring and informing the progress of Levelling Up. Quality data should inform all levels of government, enabling them to tailor policy to local needs. Data will also be essential in allowing both the public and businesses to scrutinise the impact of policies and monitor whether they are getting value for money.

Announcements made this year, in both the Queens Speech and the Levelling Up White Paper, are in addition to multiple commitments made by the government since 2019:

• £5 billion for Project Gigabit to bring gigabit-capable broadband to 85 per cent of the UK by 2025, and £1 billion for the Shared Rural Network delivering 4G coverage to 95 per cent of the UK by the end of 2025.

• Total government investment in skills of £3.8 billion in England planned by 2024-25, including a Lifetime Skills Guarantee, enabling 11 million adults to gain an A Level or equivalent qualification for free.

• £5 billion of funding for buses and active travel over this Parliament; and £96 billion for the Integrated Rail Plan in the North and Midlands. However, Lisa Nandy, Shadow Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, raised concerns that the government has already scrapped rail promises for the North of England and halved the funding for bus services. The eastern leg of HS2 from Birmingham to Leeds was also scrapped in 2021.

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