"Levelling up" plan aims to boost UK regions

The government has laid out its blueprint for its 'levelling up' agenda aimed at closing the economic gap by 2030 between the affluent South East and other regions and nations across the UK.

map of UK regions
Unveiled on Tuesday, the 12-point plan includes proposals to create 'globally competitive cities' outside London, boost skills training and productivity, and increase R&D investment in the regions.

Prime Minister statement on "levelling up"

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said, "From day one, the defining mission of this government has been to level up this country, to break the link between geography and destiny so that no matter where you live you have access to the same opportunities."It is the most comprehensive, ambitious plan of its kind that this country has ever seen and it will ensure that the government continues to rise to the challenge and deliver for the people of the UK."

Majority of proposals similar to the ones in Theresa May's Industrial Strategy, abandoned by Mr Johnson when he became PM

However, critics pointed out that the majority of the proposals were very similar to the ones in Theresa May's Industrial Strategy, which Mr Johnson abandoned when he replaced her as prime minister.The Levelling Up White Paper laid before parliament on Tuesday includes aims to:
  • Increase pay, employment and productivity in all areas of the UK, with each region or nation containing at least one 'globally competitive city'.
  • Raise public investment in research and development outside London and SE England by 40%.
  • Increase the number of people completing high quality skills training - in England, this will mean 200,000 more people a year.
  • Eliminate illiteracy and innumeracy by refocusing education spending on the most disadvantaged parts of the country.
  • Bring the rest of the country's public transport systems up to London standards.
  • Provide access to 5G broadband for the large majority of households.
  • Create more first-time homebuyers in all areas.
  • Offer every part of England a 'London-style' devolution deal with more regional powers and simplified, long-term funding.

Confederation of British Industry: the white paper "offers a blueprint for how government can be rewired"

Reacting to the proposals, Matthew Fell, chief policy director of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), said the white paper represented a serious assessment of the regional inequalities that have "hamstrung the UK’s economic potential for generations".He added, "It offers a blueprint for how government can be rewired and an encouraging basis for how the private sector can bring the investment and innovation to start overcoming those deep-rooted challenges, and power long term prosperity for every community, wherever they live.“The picture it paints of a reinvigorated 2030 UK can inspire public and private sector partners to unite on shared missions for improving health, wealth, growth and opportunity across the country.“Crucially, it accepts the CBI view that business-driven economic clusters – enabling every region and nation to build its own unique competitiveness proposition – can be a catalyst which brings levelling up ambitions to life.”
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Smaller first must be "front and centre"

Mike Cherry, national chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), said that smaller firms had to be "front and centre" of the plan if levelling up was to be a success.Small businesses needed improvements to connectivity, business support and skills development across the UK, he said."The focus the government has put on locality, rejuvenating town centres and high streets, where the majority of businesses are small, is pleasing to see," Mr Cherry added.He said the "acid test" would be whether small firms feel better supported. "With potentially debilitating tax rises on the horizon, levelling up must now deliver lasting change; it cannot just be a worthy intention or partisan slogan.”

London Chamber of Commerce and Industry: the Government's plans would "disadvantage the capital"

But Richard Burge, chief executive of the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry, warned that the government’s plans would disadvantage the capital."The white paper’s recommended steps to devolve power to regions and cities, establish new mayors, improve transparency and performance management of local government, are all well-founded and will have significant impact," he said."However, we are disappointed that the core of the white paper’s proposals amount to levelling down London. By forcing investment in areas like R&D, education spending, and cultural grants away from London, as this white paper recommends, the government is choosing to cut London out of productive investment for the sake of optics and for political gain."

National Audit Office criticises the UK government for having a "limited" understanding

Meanwhile, a report from the National Audit Office - the official body charged with scrutinising public spending - criticised the government for having a "limited" understanding of what has worked effectively in its initial efforts to boost regional economic growth.It said that, by November last year, the government had committed to spend £11 billion for regional regeneration by 2025-6 but the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities appeared not to know if the spending would have the intended impact.Gareth Davies, the head of the NAO, said, "With its focus on levelling up, it is vital that the department puts robust evaluation arrangements in place for its new schemes to promote local growth."

Read more news and views from David Sapsted.

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