Politicians love a pithy phrase to make a message stick. Whether you believe Donald Trump was destined to ‘Make America Great Again’ or not, it was a terrific line – albeit borrowed from Ronald Reagan’s 1980 campaign. There’s no doubt that ‘Get Brexit Done’ landed well with the UK electorate in 2019 and ‘Build Back Better’ is currently finding favour on both sides of the Atlantic. But my favourite comes from a local candidate in the Philippines whose campaign ran with the slogan ‘I’ll do my best, but I can’t promise anything’.
‘Levelling Up’ certainly seems to be one of those sticky phrases, and it clearly resonates with officials across the public sector. For Deloitte and Reform’s latest State of the State report, we interviewed more than forty leaders from government and public services on their hopes for life beyond the pandemic. Most see levelling up – raising the fortunes of the UK’s less affluent places – as the right way forward for regional economies, even if some went on to say they’d like to see a clearer definition of how it will be delivered and how progress will be assessed.
While the views of officials matter enormously – they will ultimately deliver levelling up – the UK public will be the final arbiter of whether their region has felt the benefit. That’s why The State of the State also set out to assess what levelling up would mean to UK citizens. To do that, we commissioned a survey to understand how people compare their region to the rest of the UK and how they would target local investment.
The UK’s geographical disparities go beyond economic data – it is felt by citizens in their daily experience.
The results show wide differences by region. Londoners, for example, believe the capital is better off than the rest of the UK for jobs, public transport and transport links, but worse off in terms of crime, housing and the quality of the local environment. In contrast, comparisons are less balanced across the North East, North West and Yorkshire and Humber where people see their regions as worse off in a range of ways and better off in none. The graphic below gives a topline view of how the public compares their region to others.
Our survey went on to explore how people in each of these regions would prioritise government investment where they live as well as their levels of satisfaction with local services, the local economy and local infrastructure. It found some commonalities throughout the UK: satisfaction with public services is pretty buoyant, most people would prioritise investment spending on healthcare, and the single biggest cause of dissatisfaction where people live is availability of local jobs.
Beyond those similarities, each region is a myriad of nuanced differences. People in the West Midlands, for example, want to see greater spending on social care and adult skills while those in the North East would pump extra money into creating job opportunities. People in Yorkshire and Humberside are less satisfied with their local transport than the UK average while people in the East Midlands want to see better transport links to the rest of the county. The list goes on, so take a look at our regional dashboards for the full picture.
For levelling up, our survey points to three overarching conclusions. The first is that the UK’s geographical disparities go beyond economic data – it is felt by citizens in their daily experience, it shapes their world view and it affects their quality of life. That’s the best argument of all for levelling up and suggests the agenda needs to keep both people and place at the centre of what it wants to achieve.
Second, one size does not fit all and every region will require different interventions, investment and support from government. That’s why levelling up needs to be owned and shaped from within the region itself, with businesses, local government and other partners all pursuing the same goals in concert with Whitehall.
Finally, our State of the State survey shows that infrastructure investment alone won’t level up our regions. Transport links to the rest of the country matter enormously of course, and the National Infrastructure Strategy will be a huge step forward in upgrading mobility and connectivity around the UK. But other factors matter too, including the availability of local transport, digital infrastructure and access to skills. Again, understanding regional needs and delivering a programme that plays on regional strengths will be vital to make an authentic difference to every region’s economic potential and genuinely level up the UK.
The State of the State 2020-21 by Deloitte and Reform is online here.
Ed Roddis is director of Public Sector Research, Deloitte