A group of senior UK business leaders has urged the government to define what it means by its professed mission to “level up” the country and urged it to recognise that deprivation, worsened by the pandemic, exists in all parts of the UK, including London, where the overall poverty rate is shown to be the nation’s highest for a region at 29 per cent.
In a newly-published report, the Covid Recovery Commission, chaired by Tesco and Barratt Homes chairman John Allan, concludes from new data that “solely focusing policy on and funding on broad geographic areas will not create a ‘ladder of opportunity’ for people living in some of the most deprived communities in the UK.”
In his Introduction, Allan writes: “To be successful, we conclude that the government’s approach must be about supporting communities at the individual and neighbourhood level, not just rebalancing the economic fortunes of relatively wide geographic areas like regions. A levelling-up agenda which solely focuses on the North will not be enough”.
The report, which draws on findings from consultants WPI Economics, stresses that “deprived neighbourhoods are found in every part of the UK,” with the North West having greatest number of people living in the UK’s 10 per cent most deprived neighbourhoods while at the same time “some of the highest levels of deprivation are found in some of the wealthiest areas of the country”.
The report follows criticism of the government’s “levelling up” programme from the Industrial Strategy Council, an independent advisory body which evaluates the government’s progress in that policy area.
The Council’s annual report, published last month, said the “levelling up” element of the Boris Johnson administration’s Plan for Growth “appears over-reliant on infrastructure spending and the continued use of centrally-controlled funding pots spread thinly across a range of initiatives” is “unlikely to be a recipe for success.” It urged a “comprehensive reorientation” including through the long-delayed White Paper on devolution, which is reportedly to be published soon after the 6 May elections.
The government’s Towns Fund and Levelling Up Fund have been strongly criticised for allocating funds according to criteria which have resulted in money being funnelled largely towards affluent areas with Conservative MPs. At the same time, the government’s National Infrastructure Strategy states that it will entail “pivoting investment away from London.”
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