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Levelling Up 2.0: Navigating the Path to a Balanced Future

Levelling Up 2.0

In the third feature from the launch of the Levelling Up 2.0: A Blueprint for the Future book launch, Members of Parliament and Council Leaders discuss ways to effectively implement the levelling up agenda and future opportunities.

The launch of the book Levelling Up 2.0: A Blueprint for the Future brought together a panel of influential authors, including Chair of the 2022 Levelling Up Commission, Sir Robert Buckland KBE MP and Members of Parliament Bim Afolami, Katherine Fletcher and Jane Stevenson and Chair of the District Councils Network, Cllr Sam Chapman-Allen. The panel delved into thought-provoking discussions on the concept of levelling up and its implications for different regions of the United Kingdom. As the conversation unfolded, important questions were raised about how to balance the development of less privileged areas without neglecting the needs of established urban centres like London.

The panel’s thought-provoking exchange highlighted the need for collaboration between the public and private sectors, the importance of addressing inequalities, and the continuous nature of this ambitious endeavour.

This feature explores the key insights and proposals put forward during the panel discussion and the potential implications for the future of levelling up. Questions were posed to the panel by gathered attendees.

Addressing Regional Disparities

A student from UCL kicked off the discussion by raising the crucial question of levelling up without inadvertently levelling down London. The panel unanimously agreed that levelling up should not come at the expense of the capital. Instead, they emphasised the importance of recognising the untapped economic potential in regions outside London. Katherine Fletcher, Member of Parliament for South Ribble, highlighted the need to view regions like the North West as an economic opportunity rather than a burden. By providing support and infrastructure, these areas can thrive and contribute to the country’s overall growth.

“These things are generational projects, but that’s not an excuse. We’ve got to begin.” Bim Afolami MP

Transport infrastructure emerged as a key factor in achieving effective levelling up. Fletcher passionately advocated for improved transport connectivity in regions outside London, emphasising the need for better east-west and local connections. She called for devolving accountability and empowering local governments to address the specific needs of their regions. Jane Stevenson, another panellist and Member of Parliament for Wolverhampton North West, echoed this sentiment, stressing that every region has unique requirements, and it is essential to tailor solutions accordingly.

HS2 and Infrastructure Projects

The discussion took an interesting turn when the topic of HS2, a major infrastructure project, was raised. While acknowledging the importance of HS2 for connecting the country, concerns were voiced about the sluggishness of progress. Member of Parliament for Hitchin and Harpenden, Bim Afolami expressed frustration with the delays and emphasised the need for efficient project management and trust in local government. The panel emphasised that successfully delivering smaller projects would build confidence in the capability of central and local governments to execute larger initiatives like HS2.

The panel also addressed the challenges faced by rural communities in the levelling up agenda. A Wiltshire councillor highlighted the need for infrastructure projects to be extended to rural areas, enhancing connectivity and improving the quality of life for residents. Furthermore, the potential of the committee system in local government was discussed as a means to deliver a levelling up agenda effectively. With a focus on the committee system, it was suggested that local governments could take a more active role in decision-making, leveraging their knowledge of local needs and resources.

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Towards a Balanced Future

The panel discussion provided valuable insights into the multifaceted nature of levelling up. It emphasised the importance of recognising the unique requirements of different regions and empowering local governments to address those needs. Trust in local government was a significant theme highlighted by Chair of the District Council’s Network and Leader of Breckland District Council in Norfolk, Cllr Sam Chapman-Allen. Efficient project management, trust in local government, and a balanced approach to infrastructure development were identified as crucial factors for successful levelling up. By considering these insights and implementing inclusive strategies, policymakers can strive for a future where all regions of the United Kingdom can thrive and contribute to the nation’s progress.

“The challenge we face in local government is that our resources are finite.”

Cllr Sam Chapman-Allen

The Outcome of Levelling Up: Measures of Success

CEO of MTR in the UK, an infrastructure consultancy, Steve Murphy emphasised the positive impact of good railway and transport infrastructure on levelling up. He highlighted the dramatic improvements witnessed in London due to the Elizabeth line. Moreover, he stressed the potential of transport investment in boosting prosperity, increasing land values, and attracting private sector funding. Murphy’s call for leveraging the benefits of railway infrastructure resonated with the audience, suggesting that such a model could be adopted more widely to create a platform for investment.

Paul Bachelor from UCLan and UCL raised a critical question: How can we measure the success of levelling up? He aptly pointed out the growing inequality in people’s lives over the past decade, urging the panel to define tangible outcomes that demonstrate real improvements. The complex nature of levelling up initiatives makes it challenging to pinpoint a definitive moment of success. However, the panel acknowledged the importance of taking concrete steps and implementing continuous projects to address societal disparities.

Improving Health Outcomes: A Priority for Levelling Up

The issue of population health and health inequalities was raised by a representative from the University of Leeds. Highlighting the alarming health disparities faced by children in Bradford, the audience member emphasised the need to integrate health outcomes into the levelling up agenda. The panel acknowledged the significance of health in achieving a level playing field and recognised that economic and skill-based improvements alone are not sufficient. The discussion underscored the importance of holistic approaches to levelling up, encompassing education, economics, and health initiatives.

Education, Skills, and Housing: Key Pillars of Success

Afolami stressed the crucial role of education and employment opportunities in levelling up. He argued that creating high-paying, high-quality jobs near residential areas is essential to provide better educational prospects for individuals across the UK. The conversation also touched upon the importance of rural connectivity, access to broadband, and the necessity to densify towns and cities for economic vitality.

“The transfer back into T-levels where you can earn and learn the skill and don’t have to go down a primary academic route, makes a big difference.”

Jane Stevenson MP

Chapman-Allen highlighted the challenges faced by young people and emphasised the need for good standards of open spaces, affordable leisure facilities, and safe, secure accommodation. The role of local authorities and councils in providing these amenities was acknowledged, albeit with the recognition that limited resources often hinder their efforts. The discussion shed light on the multifaceted nature of levelling up, calling for co-ordinated action across various sectors to address the needs of communities comprehensively.

The Role of Criminal Justice in Levelling Up

Anita Dockley from the Howard League posed an important question regarding the absence of criminal justice from the levelling up agenda. As former Justice Secretary, Buckland assured the audience that criminal justice was indeed a vital aspect and explained its inclusion in the key metrics outlined in the White Paper. Recognising the downstream effects of policy failures in areas such as education and social care, Buckland emphasised the importance of early interventions to prevent the strain on the.

Final Thought

The panel discussion on Levelling Up 2.0: A Blueprint for the Future provided valuable insights into the complexities of achieving a levelled-up society. It emphasised the need for collaboration between the public and private sectors, addressing inequalities, and the continuous nature of this ambitious endeavour. The discussions highlighted the crucial role of infrastructure investment, education, health outcomes, and criminal justice in levelling up.

Infrastructure investment emerged as a catalyst for prosperity, with transport infrastructure being a key focus. The positive impact of railway and transport infrastructure on levelling up was emphasised, along with the potential to attract private sector funding. The panel recognised the importance of tangible outcomes to measure the success of levelling up, acknowledging the need for concrete steps and continuous projects to address societal disparities.

“I’d like to see us think more broadly through devolution about creating smaller scale transport schemes.”

Katherine Fletcher MP

The significance of health outcomes and holistic approaches in achieving a level playing field were also emphasised. Education, skills, and housing were identified as key pillars of success, stressing the need for high-quality jobs, rural connectivity, and safe, secure accommodation. The role of local authorities and councils in providing amenities for communities was acknowledged, despite the challenges posed by limited resources.

The discussion also highlighted the importance of including criminal justice in the levelling up agenda. Early interventions and addressing policy failures in education and social care were outlined to prevent future strains.

The panel discussion shed light on the multifaceted nature of levelling up and the need for a comprehensive, balanced approach. It underscored the importance of collaboration, tangible outcomes, and continuous efforts to address regional disparities and create a levelled-up society. By considering the insights shared during this discussion, policymakers can work towards a future where all individuals and communities have equal opportunities for success and prosperity.

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