The current Government was elected on a pledge to address regional inequality and to level up the country. Two years on, the exact definition of levelling up remains vague and the task has been made even more challenging due to the impact of Coronavirus. Centre for Cities’ ongoing work sets out the nature of the levelling up challenge, proposes actionable policy solutions and offers a framework for success so levelling up the UK can become a reality.
Despite using it many times, the Government has not defined what levelling up means. This has led to confusion about what it is that the Government wants to achieve through levelling up, with even the Prime Minister struggling to answer the question.
Centre for Cities has set out its proposals on what levelling up should achieve. In brief, it says there should be two goals:
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.
The Government’s English Devolution White Paper has been replaced by the Levelling Up White Paper. This may suggest that devolution is now less of a priority for the Government than it was when it committed to doing the original White Paper, but the Prime Minister has said that the Government is considering plans for further devolution within England.
As part of this, Centre for Cities proposes a wholescale transformation of English local governance in which:
The Prime Minister has appointed Neil O’Brien, MP for Harborough, as his advisor on levelling up, as well as forming a levelling up unit within the Cabinet Office. Centre for Cities understands that other departments, such as BEIS and MHCLG are also helping to produce the White Paper.
Because the vast majority of UK economic activity takes place in the largest 63 cities and towns, they are crucial to the levelling up agenda. Our work analyses what levelling up is, what it 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.
Levelling up the economy should be about helping struggling places, but policy must recognise its limitations in how much it can do for different places.
The forthcoming white paper means that any detail was unlikely. But the reaction to the speech shows a growing impatience with the levelling up agenda.
Kathrin Enenkel explores the tense relationship between politics and economics within the Government's levelling up agenda.
Our latest podcast mini-series explores 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 latest four-part event series welcomes city leaders, policy makers and leading thinkers to unpick the levelling up dilemma from various angles. Book your place at upcoming events or watch previous events back to catch up on key insights and discussions.
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Online briefing and Q&A
Join us to explore the levelling up dilemmas
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As we near closer to the anticipated publication of the Government's Levelling Up White Paper, Chief Executive Andrew Carter summarises our most recent research on levelling up the UK's towns.
As the lockdown in response to the Coronavirus pandemic varies across the country, Centre for Cities tracks the recovery of high streets in Britain's cities and large towns.
Why investment in rural towns should focus on skills, health and social infrastructure.
Why transport policy shouldn’t be at the core of the levelling up agenda.
Senior Analyst Kathrin Enenkel on the relationship between UK cities and towns and the implications this has for people and policy makers.
Senior Analyst Kathrin Enenkel on how we can level up struggling towns and why improving the performance of cities will be crucial to levelling up towns across the UK.
Why levelling up towns must mean increasing investment in skills, housing stock and the attractiveness of a place – in conjunction with improving the performance of cities.
Ignoring the relationship between cities and towns makes it harder to bring greater prosperity to struggling towns.
Critics who attack city policy as ‘trickle out economics’ are hurting the people they are trying to help.
As part of levelling up, the Government should create a City Centre Productivity Fund. This is how it would work.