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Levelling up: promising noises, but no new funds

Author: ICAEW Insights

Published: 03 Feb 2022

The UK government’s Levelling Up whitepaper sets out an ambitious vision for the future, but is based largely on existing initiatives and funding.

The government has released its Levelling Up Whitepaper, setting out some ambitious targets for addressing the economic and social inequalities in the UK. But it is more a statement of intent, with little in the way of new initiatives.

The whitepaper stresses the role of the private sector in achieving its targets around improvements to the economy, employment and living standards. ICAEW has welcomed that acknowledgement.

“For lasting change in deprived areas, it’s critical the government engages effectively with the private sector, and chartered accountants can be part of this solution,” says Iain Wright, ICAEW’s Managing Director, Reputation and Influence. “The accountancy profession as part of a wider professional and business services sector can be the bedrock of a modern local economy and add value by measuring and monitoring the progress and success of this mission.”

However, most of the initiatives mentioned within the whitepaper are already existing projects, and no new funding has been announced. This has been criticised by some commentators.

“Government priorities tend to come with extra public spending,” says Wright. “The White Paper fails to secure any additional investment that hasn’t already been announced. This will raise questions about whether the Government is really determined to level up and whether the much lauded ambitions will actually result in meaningful change.”

The plan lays out 12 levelling up ‘missions’, targeted to be completed by 2030. The government has described the 12 goals as “cross-government, cross-society efforts.”

The Levelling Up whitepaper does outline some plans to use the tax system to incentivise private sector investment, citing Freeports, Enterprise Zones and the Super-deduction as critical drivers. 

The government will also publish plans for increasing local investment, working with Local Government Pension Funds. This includes setting an ambition of up to 5% of assets invested in projects which support local areas.

Plans to revamp public procurement to simplify the process and prioritise UK growth and productivity: “We have already introduced a policy which allows smaller contracts to be reserved for UK suppliers and will legislate to put social value at the heart of government spending – weaving a thread of social improvement and civic responsibility through the UK Government’s £300bn annual expenditure on procurement.”

The whitepaper talks of a ‘devolution revolution’, with a new model for counties with mayors or governors. This will start with deeper devolution deals with the West Midlands and Greater Manchester combined authorities, as a ‘blueprint’ for future mayoral combined authorities.

Any changes, however, need to be definitive. Wright warns of the negative effect that periodically dismantling and re-erecting local and regional economic development structures can have on the regions and the wider economy. "We’ve seen this since the end of the Second World War. This tinkering reduces any impact and meaningful change coming from institutional continuity, and hinders business’ engagement with the process, as they know it will get changed again soon."

The 12 Levelling Up missions:

  1. Increase pay, employment and productivity in every area of the UK.
  2. Increase domestic public investment in Research & Development outside the Greater South East by at least 40% and at least one third over the Spending Review period..
  3. Local public transport connectivity across the country to be significantly closer to the standards of London.
  4. Create a nationwide gigabit-capable broadband and 4G coverage, with 5G coverage for the majority of the population.
  5. At least 90% of primary school children to achieve the expected standard in reading, writing and maths.
  6. Significantly increase the number of people successfully completing high-quality skills training (200,000 more people a year).
  7. Narrow the gap in Healthy Life Expectancy (HLE) between local areas where it is highest and lowest. Increase HLE by five years by 2035.
  8. Improve well-being will have improved in every area of the UK.
  9. Increase people’s satisfaction with their town centre and engagement in local culture and community.
  10. Give renters a secure path to ownership. Decrease the number of non-decent rented homes by 50%.
  11. Decrease homicide, serious violence, and neighbourhood crime, particularly in the worst-affected areas.
  12. Give every part of England that wants one a devolution deal with powers at or approaching the highest level of devolution and a simplified, long-term funding settlement.

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