Levelling up – Expert demands concrete action

Levelling up - Expert demands concrete action

In the election-winning manifesto of 2019, Boris Johnson laid out a ‘levelling up’ strategy to diminish disparities between businesses outside of London and Southeast. Whilst many believed this was purely political rhetoric – a mechanism for the Conservatives to consolidate their post-Brexit electoral gains in the north of England, their recent whitepaper publicly detailed their commitment to the slogan.

The secretary of state outlined twelve ambitious missions to level up the country by 2030, ranging from improving education and opportunities to housing and infrastructure. While these policies are welcome in theory, with the UK needing to address growing regional inequality in economic output, this steadfast commitment must ultimately be matched with significant funding and concrete action.

Westminster has consistently been accused of southern bias, and successive governments have responded through cabinet reshuffles, political epithets, and ambitious policies such as the northern powerhouse in 2014 and HS2. With both bold economic plans failing to deliver the intended outcomes, it is unsurprising there is scepticism over this new pledge, particularly given the ambitious nature of the twelve missions taking into account the short time period and the shortage of new money included. 

While the government is welcome to reiterate their commitment to infrastructure, a necessary pledge against the backdrop of scrapping HS2, greater attention needs to be devoted to small businesses outside of London in the new levelling up agenda.

SMEs are the backbone of our economy, making up 99% of the UK business population and three-fifths of employment. Therefore, it is vital that suitable measures are taken to promote these businesses and provide them with the capability to gain a competitive advantage alongside their London/Southeast counterparts.

There are plenty of exciting industries with immense scale-up potential outside of London. If the government wants to ‘build back better’ post-pandemic, these businesses will be integral. The government need to make sure that money and advice is readily available to the companies and individuals who need it. Doing so will create employment and growth, furthering opportunity and social mobility outside of London.

As the whitepaper notes reversing history requires long-lived, sustained and consistent policy efforts. In other words, the successful levelling up of the UK is not just about a one-time payment or an improved broadband network but rather a consistent and robust evaluation of how these policies are working in real-time, adapting these schemes as needs must. Improved services, financial support and continued monitoring, must work in tandem if this strategy is to truly help SMEs to thrive across the country.

Whilst businesses need to be given the necessary support; they also must have access to the correct talent to fully level up and flourish. The UK like many other countries, is facing a digital skills shortage, and whilst the government have previously used strategies such as the National Skills Fund to attempt to solve the widening skills gap, more needs to be done. Investing in infrastructure is great and much needed, but the government also need to invest in people if the country is to truly level up by 2030.

Neil Debenham
Neil Debenham

Share via
Copy link