The chair of London Councils, the cross party body representing the capital’s 33 local authorities, has repeated London government calls for greater devolution of powers and funding in order to best address poverty and unemployment deepened by the pandemic.
In comments anticipating the government’s “levelling up” White Paper, expected later this year, Georgia Gould, who is also Leader of Camden Council, underlines that “the economic impact of Covid-19 has hit London hard”, producing the highest unemployment rate of any UK region with “thousands of communities living in poverty” and facing “serious barriers to finding work such as lack of digital skills or difficulty accessing the labour market.”
Gould is one of eight leading figures in urban government in England to offer thoughts to think tank Centre for Cities about the government’s “levelling up” agenda, which many in the capital regard as largely a political project feeding anti-London attitudes. Gould insists that it should embrace the capital as well, arguing that “strengthening community and local leadership is essential if London is level up with the rest of the country”
Other contributors include Tracy Brabin, Mayor of West Yorkshire, Philip Broadhead, the Deputy Leader of Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole Council, Abi Brown, the Leader of Stoke-on-Trent City Council and Peter Lamb, Leader of Crawley Borough Council.
Lamb takes issue with “the myth of a poor North and rich South”, writing that “pockets of wealth and deprivation exist everywhere” He says Crawley’s “aviation-heavy economy” has been badly damaged by Covid and adds that “levelling up means rebuilding the skilled work in light industry on which the New Town was founded, only this time focusing on green technology”.
The idea that only the North of the country needs “levelling up” is also rejected by Broadhead, who stresses the cost of living challenge faced by people in many southern areas and the need to ensure “we are curating the right set of skills for our young people in the future.”
Brabin states that “levelling up is not just about closing regional gaps between the North and South, it’s also about narrowing the unacceptable socio-economic inequalities between communities and groups within our region” and Brown’s forthright message to the government is “if you really want to level up places like this city, it won’t be achieved by a succession of beauty parades for small pots of cash for centrally-directed pet projects”.
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