Government unveils flagship levelling up white paper

Critics say the document contains no new funding and "recycled" plans
Michael Gove announces the new levelling up white paper in parliament

By Tevye Markson

02 Feb 2022

The government has unveiled its levelling up white paper, which sets out 12 “missions” to reduce the gap between richer and poorer parts of the UK by 2030.

Levelling up is the flagship policy of Boris Johnson’s government and the prime minister said it will “break the link between geography and destiny so that no matter where you live, you have access to the same opportunities”.

Announcing the white paper, which includes plans to improve education, broadband, transport and “pride in place”, the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities said this is the first time a government has placed narrowing spatial economic disparities at the heart of its agenda.

All 12 missions are quantifiable and are to be achieved by 2030, the department said, although one of the missions does include a 2035 target.

The 12 missions will be “cross-government and cross-society”, with policies in all departments tested on how they will reduce the gap between richer and poorer parts of the country.

Public metrics will track progress and monitor the evolution of disparities across UK areas. The government will publish an annual report on progress and a new Levelling Up Advisory Council will be set up to provide support and analysis.

The government says it will also transform its approach to data and evaluation. Earlier today, the National Audit Office released a report criticising the government’s approach to evaluating its levelling up plans.

A key aspect of the plan is to devolve more power to local government in England, giving each area access to “London-style” powers which could include their own mayor.

To monitor use of these new powers, the government will create a new independent body aimed at  "improving transparency of local government performance".

The 12 missions

1. To increase pay, employment and productivity in every part of the UK, with each area containing a globally competitive city and the gap between the top performing and other areas closing.

2. For investment in research and development outside the greater south-east to increase by at least 40% and at least one third over the Spending Review period, with that additional government funding seeking to leverage at least twice as much private sector investment over the long term to stimulate innovation and productivity growth

3. For local public transport connectivity across the country to be significantly closer to the standards of London, with improved services, simpler fares and integrated ticketing.

4. Nationwide gigabit-capable broadband and 4G coverage across the UK, with 5G coverage for the majority of the population.

5. A significant increase in the number of primary school children achieving the expected standard in reading, writing and maths. In England, this will mean 90% of children will achieve the expected standard, and the percentage of children meeting the expected standard in the worst performing areas will have increased by over a third.

6. To significantly increase the number of people successfully completing high-quality skills training in every area of the UK. In England, this will lead to 200,000 more people successfully completing high-quality skills training annually, driven by 80,000 more people completing courses in the lowest skilled areas.

7. To narrow the gap in healthy life expectancy (HLE) between local areas where it is highest and lowest and for HLE to have risen by 5 years by 2035.

8. Improving well-being in every area of the UK and closing the gap between top performing places and other areas.

9. A rise in “pride in place”, such as people’s satisfaction with their town centre and engagement in local culture and community, with the gap between the top performing places and other areas closing.

10. To secure a path to ownership for renters, with the number of first-time buyers increasing in all areas. Additionally, the number of non-decent rented homes will fall by 50%, with the biggest improvements in the lowest performing areas.

11. A fall in homicide, serious violence, and neighbourhood crime, with a focus on the worst-affected areas.

12. Every part of England that wants one will have a devolution deal with powers at or approaching the highest level of devolution and a simplified, long-term funding settlement.

‘Recycled’ plans and ‘no new money’

Johnson said the levelling up white paper is “the most comprehensive, ambitious plan of its kind that this country has ever seen”.

But the plans have been called a “rebrand” of previous strategies and criticised for the lack of new funding.

Germany spent around £1.7tr euros between 1990 and 2014 on levelling up measures, according to Centre For Cities analysis, compared to the UK’s commitment so far of £11bn over the next five years.

Alexander Rose, a former senior solicitor in the Government Legal Department, has called for the government to announce catch-up funding, while former No.10 chief of staff Gavin Barwell said the money is insufficient but a step in the right direction.

Germany spent around “£1.7 trillion euros between 1990 and 2014 on levelling up measures, according to Centre For Cities analysis, compared to the UK’s commitment so far of £11bn over the next five years.

Exhibit C is from @ukonward’s report showing the disproportionate amount of public funding allocated to London, the UK’s richest city.

We need “catch up” funding to be announced in the Levelling Up White Paper.

In terms of sums, Germany spends eleven times more on Levelling Up. pic.twitter.com/va8XmrDFs7

Shadow levelling up secretary Lisa Nandy said the white paper is full of “recycled, watered-down ambitions”, saying one of the better announcements was made by Gordon Brown in 2008.

Darren Jones, who chairs the business, Environment and Industrial Strategy committee, pointed out the similarities to the recently abandoned Industrial Strategy in a tweet.

The Industrial Strategy was scrapped in March 2021, with the “best elements” of the industrial strategy absorbed into the government’s Plan for Growth.

The levelling up agenda is part of this economic plan, which aims to support growth through significant investment in infrastructure, skills and innovation, and to pursue growth that benefits every part of the UK, enables the transition to net zero, and supports the government’s Global Britain vision.

Unveiling the white paper today,levelling up secretary Michael Gove said the UK is an “unparalleled success story” but “not everyone shares equally” in its success.

“For decades, too many communities have been overlooked and undervalued. As some areas have flourished, others have been left in a cycle of decline. The UK has been like a jet firing on only one engine.

“Levelling up and this white paper is about ending this historic injustice and calling time on the postcode lottery.

“This will not be an easy task, and it won’t happen overnight, but our 12 new national levelling up missions will drive real change in towns and cities across the UK, so that where you live will no longer determine how far you can go.”

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