Levelling up

The problem of regional inequality

Substantial regional differences in economic performance exist across the UK. Whilst cities and large towns in the Greater South East of England are among the most productive and prosperous, many urban areas in the North and Midlands are struggling. At the extreme end of the scale, our research shows that London’s output is 2.5 times that of the North East of England.

The goals of levelling up

The aim of levelling up should be to reduce the inequalities between different parts of the UK by supporting places outside of London and the South East to be more successful economically. It should also aim to reduce the inequalities that exist between people within more successful places by making sure more people can take up the opportunities available to them.

What is the levelling up challenge?

The Government was elected on a pledge to address regional inequality and to level up the country. This task has been made even more challenging due to Covid-19. In fact, Centre for Cities research reveals the pandemic has made levelling up four times harder, with places like Birmingham, Hull and Blackpool among the most severely affected. What’s more, it has additionally created a new risk of ‘levelling down’ otherwise economically successful parts of the country.

How can we level up the UK?

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.

Measuring ‘levelling up’

Elena Magrini

This briefing presents two new indexes to summarise and compare the performance of the UK's largest cities and towns. The findings have implications for policy, particularly the Government’s ‘levelling up’ agenda.

Report 13 Feb 2020

How can the Government deliver on its promise to level up the country?

“Levelling up the North and Midlands and stopping the South’s levelling down will not be cheap and will require more than short-term handouts. Government support and investment for new businesses in emerging industries will be essential, as will spending on further education to train people to do the good-quality jobs created.”

Andrew Carter, Centre for Cities Chief Executive

Policy support will be required for levelling up to become a reality.

Investing in skills: The Government should boost investment in further education and invest in the skills of the people currently living in economically weaker areas, so that these places become more attractive to high-productivity businesses.

Creating jobs: In order for people to fully utilise their skills in their local area, adequate jobs need to be available. The Government should press ahead on supporting the creation of jobs in the green economy and in sectors of high demand such as social care and education.

Improving city centres: Struggling cities and large towns need more high-skilled, well-paid jobs and high-productivity businesses. A £5 billion City Centre Productivity Fund should be dedicated to making city centres more attractive places for high-skilled companies to do business.

Investing in transport: Improving the transport infrastructure of underperforming places would help to create job opportunities in the short-term and tackle congestion and pollution challenges and stimulate economic growth in the longer-term.

Investing in innovation: Innovation plays a central role in the creation of strong economies. The Government has signalled that it is to increase spending on R&D outside of the Greater South East – in 2021 it should set out exactly how it is going to do this, and what results it expects to achieve.

Pressing ahead with devolution: A one-size-fits-all approach to levelling up the country will not prove successful. The Government should press ahead with devolution, handing power and resources directly down to Mayoral Combined Authorities, so they can effectively promote local economic growth.

Our work on levelling up the UK

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