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22/07/2021

MPs denounce government’s ‘levelling-up’ agenda

Words: Huw Morris
Boris Johnson

The government’s levelling-up agenda risks becoming an ‘everything and nothing policy’, according to MPs.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s flagship programme to “level up” run-down areas of the country with London and the South East was a key part of his manifesto commitment at the last election.

At a much-criticised speech last week, he described levelling up as the “yeast that lifts the whole mattress of dough, the magic sauce, the ketchup of catch-up.”

The Commons Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy committee cited a “lack of clarity” on what the government means by ‘levelling up’ and how it translates into coherent and specific initiatives. 

Its report states a lack of definition on how the government is going to achieve levelling up, an absence of detail on how success will be measured, and confusion over who is leading on delivery raises concerns that the agenda will fail to deliver meaningful change for people across the country.

The MPs call for clear direction from No.10 on which department will be responsible for delivering which levelling up outcomes and how. The report recommends the government establish a cabinet committee on levelling up and that it works closely with devolved, regional, and local leaders.

“Previous governments, of all political stripes, have sought to tackle the regional inequalities which exist in our country,” said committee chair Darren Jones. “For levelling up to be more than a political sound bite, it’s crucial the government’s white paper sets out what levelling up is, what the policy priorities are, and how Whitehall will work with local and regional governments to deliver meaningful change for people and communities across the country.

“Levelling up was a major part of the government’s offer to the British people at the last election, but it appears every possible funding stream from the government – be it about bus stops or football pitches is labelled as for levelling up. If levelling up is going to mean something above and beyond the normal day-to-day work of government, the prime minister needs to set out how he’s going to pay for it.”

The committee’s report also calls on the government to work with the Office for National Statistics, the Cities and Local Growth Unit – which reports jointly to the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government – and the National Audit Office to agree a set of metrics for the routine reporting of progress in delivering ‘levelling-up” priorities.

“The current available documents show a wide-ranging and disjointed programme of random policies from an obesity strategy, an increase in police officers, to funding on A-roads and the creation of freeports,” the report says.

“Although these policies are all very interesting and welcome, it is difficult to see how they all tie together under one overarching strategy. The cohesion of the whole has not been well described to identify how these fit together.

“If the government is serious about levelling up and for it to be a substantive strategy rather than merely a slogan, it must spell out a coherent plan as a matter of urgency.”

Post-pandemic Economic Growth: Levelling Up is available to read here.

Image credit | Alexandros Michailidis, Shutterstock

 

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