With the future of Boris Johnson’s “levelling up” agenda unclear under his successor as Prime Minister, Liz Truss, what have London businesses been thinking of whatever “levelling up” has been since being billed as a defining mission of the Conservatives when they won the 2019 general election?
The findings of a survey for the London Chamber of Commerce by pollsters Savanta ComRes, conducted during May and released today, reveal an intriguing mix of attitudes and perceptions towards the progress of the Johnson project.
Of 510 leaders of businesses of all sizes 82% had heard of “levelling up” of whom 30% said they “could not explain what the policy was”.
Awareness of it varied according to the size of the business, with “practically all” of the large companies – defined as having 250 or more employees – saying they “had at least heard of ‘levelling up'” and nine out of ten of these being able to give a brief explanation of it compared with only just over half of and small and medium sized (10-249 employees) or “micro” firms (0-9). Companies in the finance and insurance and the information and communications sectors were the most aware.
There were also significant variations in opinions about the effects “levelling up” polices were likely to have on businesses in the capital. “Some of these will be positive and some will be negative for the capital’s firms,” says the LLCI’s report about the survey, which found that although there was “no obvious leaning towards either a positive or negative impact” overall, larger firms are described as “much more likely than their SME and micro counterparts to say the policy would be positive for London businesses in general”.
Asked if they thought “levelling up” would mean London losing out, 45% of respondents said they thought levelling up could be achieved without “levelling down” the capital, with a larger proportion of larger firms holding that opinion. Even so, 32% of all business feared that London would lose out from the agenda as it stood. The LCCI notes that “the political framing of ‘levelling up’ has been adversarial” and that “communications around the policy agenda has pitted London and the Southeast against the rest of the country”.
The 510 business leaders were also asked what they thought would happen if they could not work with other businesses located outside the capital. Half of them said they would face “at least minor difficulties” under that scenario, a figure rising to 76% of leaders of larger firms.
LCCI chief executive Richard Burge described “levelling up” as “an admirable socio-economic goal, but it must not happen at the expense of London”. He added: “The policy will have a far greater chance of succeeding if London is recognised and treated as the economic engine room of ‘Global Britain’. A thriving London is good for the prosperity of the whole country. We need to get back to a collaborative mindset in charting the course of our economic future, not pitting regions against each other.”
Image from cover of LCCI’s report about the survey findings.
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