Last November, I was invited to give evidence to the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) Committee for their inquiry on ‘Post-pandemic economic growth: Levelling up’. MPs explored how local and regional government structures could be better equipped to deliver growth, with specific reference to the Government’s ‘levelling up’ agenda. Last week saw the publication of their report.
Giving evidence alongside other mayors, the Northern Powerhouse and Western Gateway, I made the point that too often the Government introduces new funding for cities and local authorities to compete over. This process undermines our ability to fund and secure private investment. The parliamentary report picks up this point, with MPs also recognising the challenge around capacity of local areas to bid for government funds.
They put a bunch of money out there and say to us, “Fight for that.” It is a limited pot of money. We are in a zero-sum game with other authorities when we are trying to collaborate across the country. We cannot have that as an approach. That undermines our ability to fund.”— Post-pandemic economic growth: Levelling up (page 20)
In response to the recent speech by the Prime Minister, I said that if levelling up is to translate into coherent and specific initiatives, as the MPs argue it must, it is vital that it targets those living in deprivation. The report agrees, noting that any levelling up agenda must seek to tackle inequality within regions, not least in cities that are seen to be well performing.
I also echo the select committee’s disappointment on how little detail has been put forward to explain what the Government sees ‘levelling up’ to mean and how it will be delivered, or indeed measured. The lack of a coherent framework risks undermining our ability to plan and, ultimately, deliver. As our One City Plan and focus on delivering the Sustainable Development Goals demonstrates, it’s vital to have measurable outcomes if any ambitions around tackling inequalities are to be fully realised.
A friend of mine is a senior Army officer. He says, “Make a plan, any plan. Just make a bloody plan.”
We do not have one. We have no real coherent national framework with which to work. I do not [know] what we are pointing at, as a country, at the moment, and that undermines our ability to plan.— Post-pandemic economic growth: Levelling up (page 17)