Creating the conditions for delivering Levelling Up
Alongside Levelling Up investment in infrastructure and public services, government must invest in ‘building bridges’ between decision-makers and practitioners in central government, local government and communities, says John Copps.
Levelling Up is the government’s rallying call to change the economic and social geography the UK, and transform opportunities for people in places left behind. As Neil O’Brien, incoming parliamentary undersecretary of state for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities described it in a recent article for the Guardian:
The objectives of levelling up are clear. To empower local leaders and communities. To grow the private sector and raise living standards – particularly where they are lower. To spread opportunity and improve public services, particularly where they are lacking. And to restore local pride, whether that is about the way your town centre feels, keeping the streets safe or backing community life.
Levelling Up can’t be just one thing. We know that it will span a wide range of policy areas, from investment in infrastructure to measures to support local business and the needs of vulnerable people. To do this will need to involve the public, private and third sectors.
Crucially, delivering Levelling Up relies on these different parts of government and society working together.
Much recent debate has centred on the issue of devolving power – or who actually is responsible for delivering Levelling Up. The LGA has called for more powers and money for councils, think tank New Local argues for a new ‘community paradigm’, and ten of the 2019 intake of Conservative MPs have set out a vision of a 'double devolution', from Whitehall to councils and communities.
Where the government goes on this is not yet clear. But whatever happens, in practice, decision-making power will always be a mix between the central and local.
We know then, if Levelling Up is to succeed, there needs to be healthy and productive working relationships between central government, local government and communities. These relationships need to work smoothly.
Mutual Ventures recent report – Building bridges between central and local government – finds that a consistent feature of successful government programmes is a trusting relationship, with good communication and honest assessments of what works and what does not. The skills of decision makers and practitioners to be able to identify, understand and translate issues in that relationship is vital.
In many places, the impact of the pandemic has put strain on central-local relationships, and they need rebuilding. This applies in central government, local government and communities. Civil servants must be able to understand local delivery, local government officials need the ability to see delivery in context and work with their counterparts in Whitehall, and communities need the skills to be able to talk to public servants, manage contracts and develop sustainable models.
Levelling Up will not happen because Whitehall wants it to. Alongside investment in infrastructure and public services, it needs the conditions for delivery to be enabled. Government must invest in the skills and relationships between the centre and the local, building bridges between decision-makers and practitioners.
To read more about our work on Levelling Up click here.