Government ‘levelling up’ adviser admits ‘re-tilting’ against London underway

Government ‘levelling up’ adviser admits ‘re-tilting’ against London underway

“Levelling up” is about unlocking the “potential of people and place everywhere,” not “re-slicing the pie so London has less”,  government adviser Andy Haldane sought to assure the capital yesterday.

But it was a limited reassurance only from the former Bank of England chief economist, who co-authored the levelling up white paper and was this week appointed as chair of the independent council advising government on implementing the flagship policy.

Haldane was speaking at a Bush House event organised by Centre for London as the think tank launched its report on  the challenges of the government agenda for the capital, in which it warns that ignoring inequalities in the city could lead to “reductions in government funding…making life even harder for the most vulnerable”.

Levelling up is not a “re-distributional agenda,” Haldane said, but all about “expanding the pie”, though he admitted that communications announcing the policy had not been effective enough in making that point: “We should have gone even further in saying this is not an anti-London agenda.”

Centre for London’s report highlights London’s stark poverty statistics – the highest rates of poverty of any region in England, taking into account housing costs, at 27 per cent, and even higher for children, at 40 per cent, with Tower Hamlets having the highest rate of child poverty in the country.

Those challenges must be recognised, Haldane said, while adding that economic growth should not be the only success measure for the policy. “Despite being by a country mile top of the productivity league table, London is bottom of the wellbeing and happiness table,” he said. “Levelling up is every bit as much about levelling up wellbeing and tackling poverty and deprivation in London as it is about levelling up productivity across the country.”

But answering a question from London Sport chief executive Emily Robinson about funding from government programmes already being diverted from the capital, Haldane offered her a response he said she “might not like very much”.

While many government departments “didn’t know” where they were spending their money, there had historically been “quite a strong tilt towards London and the south east,” he said, citing spending on arts and culture, research and development, transport and housing. “Some re-tilting is now underway,” he said, adding that “my hope would be that this wouldn’t be redirecting money away from local projects serving local communities in need. That would be the wrong way to go.”

Haldane would not be drawn on a timescale for extending the power to raise money to local or regional authorities, conceding there is a “reluctance to let go” in Whitehall. However, he argued that levelling up policy is not dependent on public money and he called for increased investment in local projects by local government and private pension funds. And regional mayors needed to “crack on”, he said. “Levelling up will fail if it is about waiting for the next move from government.”

The recipe for success, he said, was “central and local government, private enterprise, local civic society, local education institutions. all working together”. London’s success in transforming parts of the city could be an example for the rest of the country.

Haldane also revealed that boosting home ownership,  one of the white paper’s 12 key “missions”, would not have been one of his personal policy priorities. “For me it’s all about quality and price, not about tenure”.

Alongside its report, Centre for London has produced a set of fact sheets outlining levelling up challenges borough by borough. The Haldane event can be viewed here.

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