‘Devolution revolution’ at the heart of Levelling Up plan

By Ged Henderson

02 Feb 2022

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The government’s long-awaited Levelling Up White Paper will today set out its plan to “transform the UK” by spreading opportunity and prosperity to all parts of it.

It will include a complete “system change” of how government works, with the “biggest shift of power from Whitehall to local leaders” and will offer regions the chance to get ‘London style’ powers, and a mayor, if they want.

Nine areas are being invited to agree new county deals. Negotiations will begin with Cornwall, Derbyshire and Derby, Devon, Plymouth and Torbay, Durham, Hull and East Yorkshire, Leicestershire, Norfolk, Nottinghamshire and Nottingham, and Suffolk.

The White Paper also includes an expanded Mayoral Combined Authority deal for the North East, as well as negotiations for ‘trailblazer’ devolution deals with the West Midlands and Greater Manchester to extend their powers - with these deals acting as blueprints for other Mayoral Combined Authorities to follow.

By 2030, every part of England that wishes to have a ‘London-style’ devolution deal will have one.

And the £2.6bn UK Shared Prosperity Fund will be decentralised to local leaders as far as possible.

The county’s 15 local authorities are currently working towards the goal of striking a ‘Greater Lancashire’ devolution deal with Westminster, which would not include an elected mayor.

At the heart of the government’s levelling up policy are 12 “national missions” which it says are all quantifiable and to be achieved by 2030. They will be given status in law in a flagship Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill.

These missions include narrowing the disparities between the top and worst performing areas in pay, employment and productivity, narrowing healthy life expectancy and the rejuvenation of town centres and communities.

They will see 5G broadband coverage for most of the UK by 2030 and 90 per cent of primary schoolchildren achieving the expected standard in reading, writing and maths, as well as a significant increase in high-quality skills training.

The White Paper, which will be formally announced by Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove later today, includes three new “Innovation Accelerators”, major place-based centres of innovation, centred on Greater Manchester, the West Midlands, and Glasgow-City Region.

And 55 Education Investment Areas (EIAs) will be designated in local authorities in England where school outcomes are currently weakest. These areas, 95 per cent of which are outside London and the South East, will benefit from “intensive investment and support”.

The government has also pledged to support 20 town and city centres, starting off with Wolverhampton and Sheffield, undertaking “ambitious, King’s Cross-style regeneration projects”, transforming derelict urban sites into “beautiful communities”.

The ‘80/20 rule’ which leads to 80 per cent of government funding for housing supply being directed at ‘maximum affordability areas’ - in practice, London and the south east - will be scrapped, with much of the £1.8bn brownfield funding diverted to transforming sites in the north and midlands. The Metro Mayors will be allocated £120m of this funding.

Home ownership will be boosted through a new £1.5bn Levelling Up Home Building Fund being launched, which will provide loans to SMEs.

And 68 more local authorities will be supported by the High Streets Task Force to transform their town centres.

The government will give local authorities the power to require landlords of empty shops to fill them if they have been left vacant for too long.

And £50m from the Safer Streets Fund will be invested every year to give Police and Crime Commissioners, local authorities, and certain civil society organisations in England and Wales resources to tackle crime and anti-social behaviour.

The Research & Development mission will see domestic public investment outside the Greater South East increase by at least 40 per cent by 2030, with these funds leveraging “a huge increase in private investment”.

Michael Gove said: “For decades, too many communities have been overlooked and undervalued. As some areas have flourished, others have been left in a cycle of decline. The UK has been like a jet firing on only one engine.

“Levelling Up and this White Paper is about ending this historic injustice and calling time on the postcode lottery.

“This will not be an easy task, and it won’t happen overnight, but our 12 new national levelling up missions will drive real change in towns and cities across the UK, so that where you live will no longer determine how far you can go.”

Stephen Phipson, chief executive of Make UK, said: “Manufacturers will enthusiastically embrace this strategy which is a vital building block in spreading growth to all parts of the UK.

“The sector has a significant presence in exactly the areas which need levelling up and is playing a vital role in delivering high value skills.

“While there is substantially more to be done, this focus on skills and innovation, together with an emphasis on infrastructure and place, is the right starting point and one that industry will back.”

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