On 2 February 2022, the Government published its long-awaited Levelling Up White Paper, presenting an ambitious, decade-long policy agenda to change the UK’s economic geography and narrow the country’s regional inequality.
In this white paper the Government recognised that bridging the country’s long-standing economic divides is its most important job. The focus on issues that really matter to people – education, pay, life expectancy – should be applauded. So, too, should its willingness to look beyond quick fixes and short-term political gimmicks.
That being said, a programme that makes the whole country more prosperous will need to last beyond 2030. It needs the backing not just from this Government, but also from future governments – irrespective of their political composition. Without this, it risks being discarded like past programmes when there is a change of Government. The onus is now on everyone to make it work.
Centre for Cities has measured the effectiveness of the Levelling Up White Paper against five key tests.
Is there a clear mission statement?
Yes – the white paper may lack a crisp definition, but it does include 12 missions designed to act like anchors for policy.
Is it strategic?
Yes – the intention for it to be strategic is there, although if the white paper is designed to steer future government economic policy then it will need to be articulated with more clarity.
Is there a long-term plan?
No – the white paper doesn’t look beyond 2030 which is only eight years away. Centre for Cities research has shown that a much longer-term commitment will be needed for the agenda to be successful.
Is it backed with funding, and what are the mechanisms for spending it?
No – there is a notable lack of long-term funding and a missed opportunity to set out what outline funding would be put in place beyond 2025.
Are there clear metrics for measuring success?
Yes – there are 12 missions with targets to 2030 and a 50-page technical appendix with 49 metrics attached. However ultimately, the purpose of these metrics is blunted by poorly defined targets.
Back to top
Based on our comprehensive body of research on levelling up, Centre for Cities has set out two goals of what the agenda should strive to achieve.
Ahead of the Levelling Up White Paper, Centre for Cities outlined three key metrics to measure the agenda’s success.
The Prime Minister has created a new Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities, which is responsible for delivering the Levelling Up White Paper. He has appointed Michael Gove, MP for Surrey Heath, as Secretary of State and Neil O’Brien, MP for Harborough, as Parliamentary Under Secretary of State.
Back to top
The Levelling Up White Paper was published on Wednesday 2 February, 2022.
In advance of its publication, Centre for Cities spoke to three policy experts on what they had made of the levelling up debate so far.
Back to top
The systems reform chapter is at the centre of the Levelling Up White Paper. It marks the end of the beginning of devolution in England, confirming the status of mayors as permanent parts of the constitution in England and setting out a roadmap for English devolution which sets out the future of local government in England.
Back to top
Centre for Cities has collated an anthology of short essays from eight mayors and urban council leaders on what they need from the Government’s upcoming white paper to help level up their cities. The contributions bring together perspectives from urban leaders right across England, reflect a breadth of political opinions and focus on practical measures that they say will level up their areas.
Back to top
In September 2021, Centre for Cities’ conducted polling in partnership with ITV News and FocalData to gain a deeper understanding of the public’s views on levelling up.
We found that 42% of the public understood what levelling up meant, but this varied in different nations, with people in Wales and Scotland reporting the lowest understanding of it (31% and 29% respectively).
In terms of public confidence in the Government’s flagship agenda, 42% of those polled lacked confidence that their area would be levelled up. This was highest in Scotland, Yorkshire and the Humber and North West England.
When it came to what people wanted the levelling up agenda to achieve, 48% of people ranked better job opportunities as a top priority, this was followed by town centre regeneration and local transport improvements.
Back to top
To level up left behind places the Government should move away from centrally controlled funding pots and devolve power and money to local leaders. However, there are several areas where the Government and local areas should focus spending to level up:
Cities and large towns in Northern England and the Midlands are among the places most in need of levelling up. Many lag far behind places in the Greater South East of England on a range of levelling up measures. For example:
Skills and productivity in particular directly impact people’s personal prosperity: People in London are paid £16,150 more per year on average than people in Burnley.
Note: Four local authorities that border a city have been classed as more rural because of their size. These are County Durham, Northumberland, Scottish Borders and Powys.
The pandemic has made this north-south divide even worse. Our 2021 Cities Outlook research found that Covid-19’s economic damage makes the promise to level up the North and Midlands four times harder and risks levelling down prosperous places in southern England. Birmingham, Hull and Blackpool face the biggest challenges.
Source: ONS, claimant count March 2020 and November 2020, population estimates 2019. Data is not seasonally adjusted.
However, policy makers should not forget that some places in the south also need to be levelled up, particularly due to the pandemic. Many southern cities that were previously reliant on the aviation industry are now struggling – in particular Crawley, Slough and Luton.
Back to top
Yesterday’s white paper is good in its intentions, but falls down on its longer-term vision and funding to support this
What the Levelling Up White Paper means for devolution and the future of local government in England.
The indicators and datasets in the white paper show the challenges of tracking levelling up in near real time, but it is ambiguous about the how to measure the progress across different places
Director of Policy and Research Paul Swinney assesses the long-awaited Levelling Up White Paper
While the white paper's inclusion of ambitious and measurable targets across education, skills, and health is welcome, the programmes laid out aren’t sufficient.
Cosmetic interventions alone will not revitalise our high streets. To truly level up, the onus must be placed on making city centres better places to do business, in turn boosting footfall and consumer demand.
A collection of our most prominent work on the Government’s levelling up agenda, covering the nature of the challenge faced, proposing actionable policy solutions and offering a framework for success.
Here's everything you need to know about the Levelling Up White Paper.
In advance of the Government’s forthcoming Levelling Up White Paper, this briefing sets out what the levelling up agenda should aim to achieve and a strategy for achieving it.
This report outlines how Mayors provide the Government with the opportunity to develop a new effective set of regional economic development policies to level up across the country and contribute to increasing the UK’s rate of economic growth.
This report examines whether intra-urban public transport plays a role in the underperformance of big British cities and sets out the implications that transport has for the levelling up agenda.
Andrew Carter speaks to policy experts Will Tanner, Carys Roberts and Nick Bowes, to get their views on what should be included in the upcoming Levelling Up White Paper.
A collection of views from urban leaders across the country in advance of the Levelling Up White Paper.
Centre for Cities’ recent research has explored in-depth the lessons that policymakers can learn from the German experience when it comes to levelling up the UK economy.
UK policymakers can learn lessons from the German experience to help level up the UK economy
Andrew Carter is joined by three experts to discuss what the German experience can teach the UK about levelling up.
Our levelling up podcast mini-series explored the regional inequalities that different parts of the UK face, with a focus on which policies the Government should implement to bridge these divides and level up the country.
Analyst Valentine Quinio discusses the challenges faced by our high streets and city centres, and how the levelling up agenda should support them.
Director of Policy and Research Paul Swinney on the effects of austerity and the policies needed to reverse them.
Senior Analyst Elena Magrini on what the Government needs to do in skills policy to level up the UK.
Researcher Tom Sells on how to reform the transport system to level up the UK's largest cities and towns.
Our levelling up events have welcomed city leaders, policy makers and leading thinkers to unpick the levelling up dilemma from various angles.
We reflected on the contents of the Levelling Up White Paper, discussed which policies have been prioritised, and debated the agenda’s commitment to delivering meaningful long-term change.
Online briefing and Q&A
Join us for this online event
Online briefing and Q&A
Join us to explore the levelling up dilemmas
Showing 1–10 of 224 results.
Introducing compulsory rental auction policy could be a good start, but more needs to be done to ensure businesses thrive
The new levy needs to ensure more certainty for developers and more freedom for local authorities.
As the COVID-19 pandemic sends shockwaves through the labour market, Centre for Cities tracks the latest unemployment claim statistics across the UK's cities and largest towns.
The publication of the white paper has been followed by 100 days of inaction. Now the Government is fast running out of road to do anything before the next election.
What does the Queen’s Speech really mean for levelling up, the Government’s flagship policy agenda?
Centre for Cities tracks the recovery of high streets in Britain's cities and large towns from the Coronavirus pandemic.
Centre for Cities’ Realising Regional Growth event brought together Lord Sainsbury, Andy Burnham and Gordon Brown, alongside other local leaders to discuss the future of Manchester’s economy and its potential as an innovation hub.
Amid a cost of living crisis and a shifting political landscape, there is a lot at stake for the main parties on Thursday 5 May.
This May, residents of South Yorkshire will head to the polls to elect their city region mayor. What are metro mayors and what do they do?
This briefing sets out three policy priorities for the new metro mayor after the election to address the biggest issues facing South Yorkshire's economy.