Levelling Up - White Paper

The much anticipated Levelling Up White Paper has finally been published this week as the Government sets out its plans to level-up the UK including defining the concept, setting out what this will mean for communities, people and businesses across the UK.

The Prime Minister introduced the concept of “levelling up” in the Conservatives 2019 manifesto, saying his Government would be “levelling up every part of the UK”. Understandably Covid19 and the implications of the pandemic have caused delays in finalising the White Paper, however as we consider the UK’s post-Covid recovery, economically as well as societally, levelling up is more important than ever.

So, what’s in the White Paper that we should take note of:

  • New Mayors with powers like London by 2030 and new powers for exisiting Mayors – no not replacing Andy Burnham and Andy Street but rather bringing Mayors to areas where they don’t already exist. The proviso is “if” those areas want it, which may mean a discussion about no mayor = no new powers & access to funds. And how do some new areas neatly fit together? Greater Manchester might make sense as geography but what about other areas, there’s also a reference to “recast the geography of MCAs”. New powers for existing Mayors too as part of the White Paper.
  • UK Shared Prosperity Fund – de-centralised to local areas in Scotland and Wales as well as local leaders (Mayors) in England. Executed correctly this should allow local leaders to target funding where it’s most needed and can have the biggest impact.
  • R&D investment outside the South East – this is good news. techUK identified in our LDC Index the disparities in terms of R&D spend on tech in the regions. This could bring more jobs, investment and business growth.
  • 5G to people and communities – this is to be welcome and re-affirms existing government commitments. 5G helps not only bridge the digital divide in terms of connectivity but allows businesses to innovate further. That said it needs to be linked with business application and adoption, not just residential usage. This forms one of the Departments 12 missions, “By 2030, the UK will have nationwide gigabit-capable broadband and 4G coverage, with 5G coverage for the majority of the population.”
  • End illiteracy and innumeracy – We know from report after report from different bodies, local and national, that early years intervention is key to improving life chances. It would be welcome to end digital illiteracy too and ensure children are leaving school with digital skills. This could and would support improving literacy and numeracy and helps ensure children have the skills they need for future careers in an ever-changing world.
  • Creation of UK National Academy – free online service supporting students from all backgrounds supporting the work of schools to help students acquire knowledge and skills.
  • Public metrics used to track success & new independent bodies to improve local government performance – for the data lovers out there this is music to their ears. techUK has supported and campaigned for better public open and accessible data. This is good for government, governance and accountability; within the White Paper there’s a reference to “rigorous comparable data on performance”. The devil as always is in the detail and the metrics should reflect communities not just UK wide, local authorities or the mayoral boundaries. Mayors with potential new powers and big budgets need to be accountable too and this allows us to probe and scale up what’s working and reform what isn’t.
  • New Innovation Accelerators in West Midlands, Greater Manchester and Glasgow – researchers and businesses backed by £100million of new Government funding – from health innovation and advanced materials in Greater Manchester to the future of mobility and data-driven population health in the West Midlands and to the growing Advanced Manufacturing Innovation District in Glasgow.
  • Private Sector Led Partnerships – these will be encouraged by the UK Government bringing the private, public and third sectors together. Example proposals include “collaboration to foster a fintech/cyber cluster in Belfast; a WMCA led public-private sector partnership to realise the ambition of the West Midlands to become a “smart city” region”.
  • Bus Improvements - funding plans for bus improvements in the mayoral city-regions, Stoke-on-Trent, Derbyshire and Warrington. There’s little detail on this.

The White Paper also includes 55 new Education Investment Areas (EIAs) - the 12 former Opportunity Areas will be designated EIAs – to ensure the worst-off schools receive the most support. Local Skills Improvement Plans with funding and giving employers and boards a statutory role. Nine new Institutes of Technology. 20 Town & City centres supported with Kings Cross style regeneration projects to transform derelict areas starting with Wolverhampton and Sheffield. Brownfield funding to the North and Midlands, an increase in culture spending outside London, 68 more local authorities supported with High Street Taskforce.  £44m from Dormant Asset Scheme to support charities and social enterprises across the UK. A new White Paper is planned for later this year on health disparities to tackle health inequality. Alongside Government reporting back on progress, there will be a new Levelling Up Advisory Council to oversee the missions and their impact.

Commentary:

The White Papers lists “six capitals” for levelling up, all of which are included in techUK’s Local Digital Capital Index demonstrating that the tech sector has and will play a vital role in levelling up.

The White Paper lists 12 missions as markers to judge the success of levelling up, covering productivity, health, education, crime, local pride and digital connectivity. The inclusion of digitally connectivity related to gigabit coverage and 5G is welcome, but perhaps there’s a missed opportunity to acknowledge the wider tech sectors role in levelling up.

The emphasis on skills was expected and shows the pivotal role techskills and engagement with highly credible training and accreditation will have in the national and regional plans for skills.

There’s a lot of ambition set out in the White Paper and no great pot of new funding. That said orientating existing spending better, more regional R&D and innovation, targeted skills support and access to finance can all aid people, place and business across the UK.

 

techUK CEO, Julian David, said “The Levelling Up White Paper is a welcome step forward in offering a more balanced economy across the UK. Technology and the rapid growth of digital will play a vital part in that journey, supporting people from the earliest years of a child’s life through their career to wellbeing in old age. 

While today’s announcement is a step in the right direction, we must ensure that the funds are allocated to support the UK’s most overlooked communities. The UK needs a ready pipeline of talent across all its nations and regions to ensure its workforce has the skills to compete internationally.  

That’s why techUK produced our Local Digital Capital Index. To aid the sector and policy makers in the delivery of actions that will help the UK to level up.  

The UK tech sector will continue to be engaged and look to improve connectivity to the areas that need it, to develop the skills for those who require them, aid regeneration, and developing smarter towns and cities, and use data to drive performance and reform.  We will play our part in Levelling Up.” 


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Matt Robinson

Matt Robinson

Head of Nations and Regions, techUK

Matt is techUK’s Head of Nations and Regions.

Matt is leading techUK’s work with members and stakeholders across the UK to increase the Local Digital Capital across the UK’s nation and regions, build communities and to ensure that digital technology plays a key part the post-COVID-19 levelling-up recovery.

Prior to joining techUK, Matt worked for several national education charities and membership bodies to develop their regional partnerships with schools, academy trusts, local authorities, and other stakeholders. He’s also worked with local authority leaders and other stakeholders to engage communities, work with elected members and improve public services.

He holds a BA in Politics from the University of York and an MA in International Relations from the University of Leeds. Away from work he’s a keen football fan and golfer.

If you’d like to find out more about our work in the nations and regions please get in touch with Matt:

Email:
[email protected]
Website:
techuk.org,,techuk.org,

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