So you want to level up?

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.

Briefing published on 17 June 2021 by Paul Swinney

This Government has become synonymous with the phrase ‘levelling up’ since promising it to voters at the 2019 General Election. While it is a phrase that is much used in political circles, it hasn’t yet been defined.

In advance of the publication of the Government’s Levelling Up White Paper, scheduled for autumn, this briefing argues that levelling up should have two goals; firstly, to improve living standards and opportunity across the country, especially in places where it is lagging on a range of metrics and secondly, to help every place reach its ‘productivity potential’ with a focus on the underperformance of UK cities.

Productivity potential varies because different parts of the country play very different roles in the economy, due to the inherent advantages they offer to businesses. For this reason, not everywhere in the UK is equally productive.

The problem for the UK economy is that most of its big cities make poor use of their inherent advantages and so only through addressing the economic underperformance of these places, can the Government achieve its goals of levelling up the UK.

The briefing outlines that in order to deliver on its goals, the Government should:

  • Increase skills spending in parts of the country that trail the current national average.
  • End austerity for local government to improve the day-to-day services that people across the country experience.
  • Reform local government and devolve powers to give local areas more power over services and spending.
  • Facilitate bus franchising across the whole country to improve services, but focus transport infrastructure predominantly in and around big cities where pressure on the network is greatest.
  • Invest in struggling city centres through a City Centre Productivity Fund to make them more attractive places to do business.
  • Target R&D spending in places that currently underperform but have enough existing activity to suggest that increased public spending would have greatest impact.

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