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The Levelling Up White Paper

02 February 2022

Empowering Mayoral Combined Authorities is a positive step forward but ultimately additional public funding is needed to make Levelling Up a success. Read our commentary on the Levelling Up White Paper.

  • The Levelling Up White Paper (the "LUWP") is surely right to seek to define what 'Levelling Up' means. Only 29% of the voters in the North and Midlands surveyed[1] had a clear understanding what 'Levelling Up' means.
  • From comments trailed in the press thus far, Metro Mayors are to be given "control of the funds to improve local communities which the EU used to manage"[2] under the LUWP. This is a positive step forward.  In those areas with a Metro Mayor, elected officials are seen as being more effective than Central Government at delivering local improvements.
  • Fundamentally though whilst the devolution of powers to the regions is welcome, significant public funding is needed to make Levelling Up a success. Indeed, the Prime Minister has cited Germany as an example of Levelling Up[3], which invests eleven times as much to reduce regional disparities[4] as the UK.
  • Jonathan Branton, Partner and Head of Public Sector at DWF, said "The Prime Minister has described Levelling Up as the 'greatest project any Government can embark upon'. Cutting through the hyperbole, Levelling Up is indeed hugely important because the rewards for getting it right would be enormous.  However, Levelling Up can only be achieved with patience and commitment, and significant long term investment of public funding."

To better understand levelling up, DWF, the global provider of integrated legal and business services, commissioned a YouGov survey of just over 1,000 adults in the North and Midlands to find out what they might want to see as a result of 'Levelling Up', which is geared towards ensuring economic success and opportunity is more evenly shared across the country. 

Levelling Up Confusion

When respondents were asked how clear they were about what politicians mean by 'levelling up', only 29% said the message was clear.  An article written by Michael Gove and published in the Mail on Sunday on 30th January 2022 seeks to define the concept of Levelling Up stating: "We need to tackle, and reverse, the inequality that is limiting so many horizons, and which also harms our economy. The gap between much of the South East and the rest of the country – in productivity, health outcomes, wages, school results and job opportunities – must be closed. That is what levelling up means".

Overall, 64% of respondents felt that their areas received less investment that the South East[5].  When asked what would improve their local areas, the most popular response was more jobs (46%), especially high skilled and long-term jobs and improvements to the physical appearance of the town centre (34%).

Backing Metro Mayors 

Metro Mayors are popular with voters. In the Michael Gove article he states: "We will give existing mayors in our great cities new powers, create new mayors and strengthen the hand of local leaders across the country with new powers. We’ll also give them control of the funds to improve local communities which the EU used to manage and free them from the European bureaucracy that controlled how that cash was spent."  

In our survey, local leaders were seen as more effective at addressing local issues than Central Government. 

The need for additional Public Funding 

Although some new initiatives have been put forward (such as 20 'Boris Boroughs' which will be supported to grow[6]) the Treasury has not made meaningful additional funds available[7].

Jonathan Branton, Partner and Head of Public Sector at DWF, said: "Levelling Up is hugely important, because supporting other regions to become as highly productive as London and the South East would deliver benefits to the entire country. 

"However the Prime Minister must appreciate that right now the UK is one of the most regionally unequal countries in the developed world. Reversing the North-South divide will require highly ambitious and targeted investments to build up prosperity. That requires the Treasury to back him in targeted investments in a number of areas, including transport, skills and infrastructure to foster the dominant businesses of the future. Such investment comes with a cost, but it is surely worth it."

Further Reading