Cabinet Office creates ‘levelling up’ team

Report of task force comes as Queen’s Speech sets out policies linked to flagship agenda
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By Richard Johnstone

12 May 2021

The government has created a dedicated team of civil servants focused on pledges to level up the country as the government aims to boost the recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.

The team, which was first reported by Politico, has been formed to coordinate policies across government, and will work closely with Conservative MP Neil O’Brien, who has been named as an adviser on levelling up by the prime minister, Boris Johnson.

The creation of the unit comes as yesterday’s Queen’s Speech set out plans for a levelling-up white paper, that the government said would contain “bold new interventions to improve livelihoods and opportunities throughout the UK".

"Alongside our continued support for businesses, we will invest in infrastructure, supporting growth and creating high-quality jobs,” the speech continued.

According to Politico, the levelling up task force will be comprised of 15 officials, and will report to cabinet secretary Simon Case.

The website reported that it could be led by Tom Walker, currently director of environment strategy at the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and former head of cities and growth in the Ministry of Housing.

In a briefing on the Queen's Speech, the government defined levelling up as “about improving living standards and growing the private sector, particularly where it is weak. It is about increasing and spreading opportunity, because while talent is evenly distributed, opportunity is not. It is about improving health, education and policing, particularly where they are not good enough. It is also about strengthening community and local leadership, restoring pride in place, and improving quality of life in ways that are not just about the economy."

“Levelling up means creating new good jobs, boosting training and growing productivity in places that have seen economic decline and the loss of industry – not through a one-size-fits-all approach, but nurturing different types of economic growth and building on the different strengths that different places have," it said.

As well as the levelling-up white paper, the government also set out a number of interventions under the umbrella, including a £4.8bn Levelling Up Fund. It also pointed to plans to move civil servants out of Whitehall, including the creation of an economic campus at Darlington and the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government’s second headquarters in Wolverhampton.

Investment in new hospitals and the recruitment of 20,000 police officers were cited as examples of “levelling up public services”. The briefing also highlighted spending on education and skills, broadband infrastructure, the HS2 rail link, and said bus reform would be among “our major acts of levelling up by ensuring there are more frequent, cheaper and more reliable bus services across the country which are easier to understand and use with integrated services and ticketing”.

The briefing also set out some of the disparities that the levelling-up agenda is intended to tackle. These include that the UK’s highest productivity region (London) is nearly 60% more productive than its lowest (Wales), and that 50% of the capital's in London have graduate-level qualifications, compared to 33% in Wales.

It added: “Certain types of spending, transport, R&D, housing, culture, are vital to boost productivity. Yet in Britain we have historically spent more on these things in 33 places where productivity is already high."

It noted that Between 2007-08 and 2018-19, capital spending on transport in London was around £6,600 per head, more than twice the average in the rest of England (£2,400); and that close to half of core research funding in England was spent in just three regions containing Oxford, Cambridge, and London.

CSW has contacted the Cabinet Office to ask for more details about the formation of the task force.

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