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Can Levelling Up Restore Local Pride? Conservative Party Conference 2022

The phrase ‘levelling up’ was first used by the Conservative Party as part of their 2019 manifesto when they set out their plans to ‘level up’ the least prosperous areas of Britain. There is a stark contrast between the wealth in parts of the South East of England when compared to parts of the North of England and the Conservatives outlined that they wanted to bridge this gap.

While the idea behind this manifesto pledge was laudable, little has been done over the past three years to suggest much ‘levelling up’ has actually occurred. In fact, many areas in the country sunk to new levels of poverty under Boris Johnson’s Conservative Government, with food bank usage in the United Kingdom reaching an all-time high.

Watch the full episode of Levelling Up the Conversation here

With the Conservative Party conference taking place this week in Birmingham, Chamber UK organised a panel featuring MPs, council leaders and a packed audience to discuss the levelling up agenda and what the future looks like for the policy agenda.

The panel was hosted by Aubrey Allegretti, Political Correspondent for the Guardian, and featured the Welsh Secretary, Sir Robert Buckland KC MP, Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Jane Stevenson MP, former Deputy Speaker of the House of Commons, Natascha Engel and Leader of Breckland Council, Cllr Sam Chapman-Allen.

Rural vs urban areas

One of the biggest talking points during the panel was the discussion around how the Government can go about ensuring rural areas, where access to certain jobs is limited, can level up at the same rate as urban areas.

Sir Robert Buckland, Welsh Secretary and Conservative MP, told the audience: “I do think that we mustn’t forget that there have already been some reforms to the dreaded green book process which we’ve heard so much about. We are now required to consider the geographical impact of proposals. That gives me course for optimism that as we work into a system that is about working alongside people and organisations, rather than doing things to them or for them, then you’ll start to see this disparity between regional and urban areas being broken down.

Robert Buckland on levelling up
Secretary of State for Wales, Robert Buckland KC MP

Former Deputy Speaker, Natascha Engel, said: “This isn’t about value for money on the ground. Different parts of the country are blessed with different geographies, industries and talents and I think we really need to start looking at this as bottom-up rather than top-down. Until we do that, I think that the difference between rural and urban areas is always going to be ‘who is the poorer relative”.

“It’s time that we started to celebrate what happens in these rural areas.”

Levelling up in action

One of the biggest problems with levelling up is that many people are unsure as to how it is measured. For the past three years, it has been used as a stick to beat the Conservatives with due to the fact that it has appeared more ‘levelling down’ has taken place rather than levelling up.

Jane Stevenson, MP for Wolverhampton North East, said: “One of the very clever things the government has done in Wolverhampton has been to target investment at anchoring a specific industry – and in Wolverhampton, that is home building. The government has heavily invested in the new technologies needed for home building which has seen a rise in the range of jobs needed.

Additionally, the National Brownfield Institute was opened this week in Wolverhampton, the Ministry of Housing’s second base is now in Wolverhampton and we’ve got a government task force set up in the city to develop new housing technologies. It is all knitting together and I think that is something that is sometimes missed.

I think targeted investment, bespoke to the area is key for levelling up success.”

Final thought

Levelling up has been on the Government’s agenda for some time now and yet we are still to see significant improvements to the most deprived areas in the country.

It’s unclear as to whether Liz Truss will continue to use the ‘levelling up’ buzzword while she is Prime Minister, but the early indications from her tenure suggest she would rather level up those who are already in a privileged position than those struggling to make ends meet.

To find out more about Curia’s Levelling Up Commission, visit: https://chamberuk.com/levelling-up-commission/  

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