Devolution looks like it will be the Government’s chosen delivery device for levelling up
The Government’s current approach to levelling up is dominated by investment prioritised and controlled from Whitehall, but a more devolved approach looks to be on the cards
Our previous analysis identified £171.5bn of investment that has been earmarked for levelling up spending, all of which is firmly controlled by central government. Whitehall has the final say over how the funds are designed, the spending priorities, the parts of the country where the money should go and what projects will be invested in.
However, there are very strong signs that the Government is looking to change tack in its approach to who holds the reins when it comes to levelling up.
First was the announcement in May that the White Paper on English Devolution was being superseded by a newly-revealed Levelling up White Paper to be spearheaded by Neil O’Brien MP.
Second was Boris Johnson’s levelling up speech in July in which he memorably described local leadership as:
In doing so he praised the Metro Mayor model, floated the idea of a new deal for counties and invited local leaders to approach government with their vision for how devolution would drive levelling up in their area.
The third clear sign was the recent decision to absorb levelling up into what was formerly the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, now titled the Department of Levelling up, Housing and Communities. With local government dropped from the name but retained within the departmental portfolio, this move clearly indicates the intention to integrate levelling up with any further plans for devolution and local government.
These three factors combined demonstrate that not only is the government getting serious about levelling up, but it is also getting serious about shifting the balance of power in how it is delivered.
Our polling suggests this is exactly what people want, with history showing that this could make the difference between success and failure
The idea of a devolved delivery of levelling up is one that the public are definitely behind. Those responding to our survey overwhelmingly want national government out of the picture and would strongly prefer local government and civil society to be in charge of the purse strings.
Figure 1. People want more power over spending decisions to be devolved to local government and civil society
If the government were to provide more money to “level up” the place where you live, who do you think should be in charge of deciding how the money should be spent?
This shift in emphasis from central control to local ownership looks like it could pay dividends.
Analysis of the New Deal for Communities programme recently published by Onward explores the link between the underlying strength of civil society in areas designated for improvements and the success of regeneration schemes. It demonstrates that places with more civic assets and greater levels of community participation showed the greatest reductions in relative deprivation and were more able to sustain these improvements over time.
Meanwhile, Analysis by the Institute for Community Studies shows that despite over £50bn of investment over the past 20 years, economic interventions have failed to reduce deprivation in the most deprived local authority areas. It suggests that a lack of community and local involvement played a big part in local people being dissatisfied with the outcomes.
As the Lord David Blunkett concluded in his essay to mark the launch of the Law Family Commission on Civil Society:
“Throughout past efforts by successive governments to bring about substantial restoration of the fabric of communities, long-term benefit has not been sustained because the people to whom the investment was committed were neither in a position to act as, nor embraced as, key partners in the driving force for change.”