Chief Executive Andrew Carter on what the next prime minister must prioritise to successfully level up the country.
Levelling up was one of the cornerstones of the Conservative Party’s election campaign that delivered a huge majority in 2019 and has remained a flagship policy for this Government ever since, yet so far progress has been slow.
Commitments to continuing this agenda from both leadership candidates have been most welcome, as the next prime minister will need to deliver from day one. However, we have so far had no pledge from either campaign to stick to the distinct plan published in the Government’s Levelling Up White Paper in February.
As millions of people across the country contend with spiralling food and energy prices, it is vital that the ongoing cost of living crisis is not treated as another distraction from levelling up, but rather as a clear indicator for why it is so important. As things stand, economic divisions across the UK are widening at an alarming rate, with research from Centre for Cities showing that inflation is already up to 30 per cent higher in the North than in the South.
Giving struggling places the tools they need to reach their full potential would ensure they are more resilient to times of financial hardship; yet, as it stands, these places will only risk falling further behind – unless the Government acts now. To successfully level up the country the next prime minister must take on three key priorities.
Firstly, they must set levelling up as the key domestic policy of their premiership in their first speech as leader. This project cannot be abandoned now with such a huge mandate and voters who put their faith in this Government in 2019 are waiting for what they were promised.
Second, the new leader must commit to implementing the existing Levelling Up White Paper, rather than taking more time coming up with new policies. We waited more than two years for this document to outline a clear agenda to tackle spatial inequalities across the UK and help left-behind areas deliver their full potential. Another two-year delay would take us to the next election with no progress.
There is no need to go back to the drawing board. The White Paper was agreed by a government of which both leadership candidates were senior members and, by championing devolution, favouring innovation, and prioritising growth in big cities, it has laid out a clear plan for success. It is now imperative that we stick to that plan and prioritise its delivery without delay.
Finally, the next prime minister will need to appoint a strong and experienced operator in as the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities. This policy needs to be driven by an effective manager, who believes in the cause, understands the task at hand and recognises that decentralising control is the way to boost our regional and national economies.
The appointment of Michael Gove to this position last September was welcomed across the political spectrum, if he is now to step back from this role then he must be replaced by another leading political figure who can make swift and effective progress.
Levelling up is a long-term policy that transcends politics for the greater good, and its era-defining legacy will be decided by the actions taken over the coming weeks and months. There is a desperate need for it; it has a clear mandate; and there is already a strong plan in place. Now is the time to push on with that plan to encourage growth, spread opportunities across the UK, and abolish the inequalities that have plagued the country for more than 100 years.
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