Local government is better placed than Whitehall to make Levelling Up work
Luke Bevir argues that local councils – not central government – are in the best position to level up the UK, and should be trusted to lead.
The Chancellor’s Autumn statement on Thursday 17th November represents an opportunity for the government to prove their commitment to their 2019 manifesto and ‘level up’ the UK.
Regional inequalities and the ‘postcode lottery’ of public services is a moral issue that the government must continue to prioritise if it is to be serious about equalising opportunity across the country, whether this is in education, employment, housing, transport, or social care.
As the Levelling Up White Paper points out, not only does the UK have large geographical inequalities but also striking contrasts. The challenges facing our urban areas are different from our rural areas, coastal towns, former mining communities, and outlying urban estates. Often, these disparities are larger within towns, counties, or regions than between them with challenges being specific to each area and community.
The Levelling Up agenda is ideally placed to enable communities to address these hyper-localised challenges and market failures, and to pursue their own opportunities for prosperity and growth.
Local councils are the solution
We need local solutions to local needs.
That is why emphasis should remain on local councils to identify solutions to their communities’ challenges as part of the Levelling Up agenda.
Councils are the bedrock of good government in the UK, embedded in their communities working alongside residents, community groups and organisations, charities, and businesses. As the experts in understanding local challenges and contexts they are uniquely placed to respond to regional inequalities and provide the solutions that we need.
In working with local councils across England and Wales, I have seen their dedication, commitment, and creativity first-hand. Whether that has been regenerating town centres, developing much needed leisure facilities and transport networks, or investing in innovation for businesses, I have seen local councils develop new and exciting solutions that will transform their communities and enable residents to fulfil their potential and live longer, healthier, and happier lives.
I worked with a London borough on a strategy to regenerate its town centre. The work focused on transforming its historic marketplace, renovating its library building, and developing pedestrian and cycling infrastructure. These developments will have a major impact on local communities by stimulating the local economy, creating new jobs, attracting new businesses, increasing accessibility, and boosting local pride in place by enhancing the cultural heritage of the area.
Similarly, my colleagues supported a local council in south Wales in developing a strategy to invest in a new state of the art leisure and wellbeing hub that will transform the provision of local health services and encourage healthy lifestyles amongst residents.
Importantly, addressing regional inequalities cannot be successful as a one size fits all approach. Each of these solutions utilised deep contextual knowledge with the input of local communities. They were designed to solve a particular challenge in a specific place. This is something that cannot be crassly replicated but requires a careful and thoughtful process that engages with businesses, community groups, and individuals.
Local responses to the pandemic demonstrated the strength of our communities to mobilise and develop their own solutions. This can-do mentality and deep contextual knowledge and insight should be matched with resources needed to tackle the challenges we face.
To hear more about our work supporting councils with regeneration and Levelling Up, contact Luke Bevir email@example.com.