Voters want levelling up spending decisions made locally

Two-thirds of people living in areas prioritised for levelling up funding want decisions on spending in their communities made locally and not by Whitehall, according to a new study.

The Law Family Commission on Civil Society, chaired by former Cabinet Secretary Lord Gus O’Donnell, is calling on the government to empower communities to devise and deliver levelling up schemes in their areas.

Exclusive YouGov polling for the Commission shows that 65% of people in levelling up priority areas want decisions on how to spend levelling up funding taken locally, by local government or community groups and charities. Just 10% want decisions taken by national government.

In its latest report as part of a two-year programme of work, the Commission has called for greater investment in social infrastructure and grassroots initiatives to foster civil society in communities across the UK.

It argues that the charities, community groups and volunteers at the core of civil society should be empowered to bring lasting change to their communities, pointing to evidence showing that strong civil society helps increase social capital, neighbourliness and trust within an area.

The report highlights how the success of previous attempts at regeneration has depended on community involvement and the strength of civil society. Yet research shows that the areas most in need of levelling up across the UK are also the ones in which civil society is weakest.

Analysis of the NHS Volunteer Responders scheme by the Commission found that the most deprived parts of the country had twice the demand for help from NHS volunteer responders during the pandemic. Yet they had 3.7 times fewer volunteers, leading to many requests for support going unmet.

In a wide-ranging report, the Commission also raises concerns that 95% of the £172billion proposed levelling up funding has to date been earmarked centrally by government for physical infrastructure, such as rail, road and broadband investments.

The report, produced by Pro Bono Economics on behalf of the Commission, is the 14th publication released as part of the two-year study. It presents three key recommendations for government:

  • Directly invest to maximise the impact of civil society and reverse local declines
    Create a national Civil Society Catapult Centre, to identify social sector issues and fund solutions, and pilot local Civil Society Regeneration Centres in areas where civil society is weakest.
  • Create the conditions in which civil society can thrive by supporting local social infrastructure
    Fund social infrastructure to rebuild the spaces of community life, create new financing opportunities for social infrastructure via a Community Wealth Fund and build a single social infrastructure data repository to support a strategy for developing social infrastructure.
  • Empower local neighbourhoods and civil society to drive forward the levelling up agenda and restore pride in their locality
    Invest in a development programme for local leaders and launch a What Works Centre for Community and Neighbourhood Development. In addition, establish local levelling up partnershipsbetween local government, public services, civil society and the private sector to define priorities and develop levelling up spending plans.


Matt Whittaker, LFCCS Commissioner and CEO of Pro Bono Economics, said:

“Politicians of all stripes have attempted and failed to deal with the UK’s dire performance on regional inequality for several decades.

“The latest effort to ‘level up’ the country, while much needed, will suffer the same fate unless its architects learn from the past and give a full role to the local charities, community groups and volunteers that together form the nation’s civil society.

“The Law Family Commission’s polling clearly shows that residents in levelling up priority areas want regeneration decisions to be made locally, and the Prime Minister himself has said that local leadership is the most important factor in delivering success. What is needed now is the vision and commitment from government to make this happen.

“Our recommendations are designed to ensure civil society’s contribution to the government’s ambition is as full and effective as it needs to be.

“Succeeding where others have failed, and making a real difference to people’s lives, is possible if we make the right investment in civil society and social infrastructure, alongside a clear effort to empower local leaders.”