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Levelling up: IPPR welcomes government’s ‘bold ambition’ but says a detailed plan and cash are needed to deliver it

IPPR has welcomed the “bold ambition” within the government’s levelling up white paper, and praised much of the analysis behind it - but questioned the lack of a worked-out plan or the funding needed to deliver on its 12 new ‘missions’. 

  • White paper analysis of stark regional disparities is strong, but government needs clearer ideas to tackle them  
  • Lack of serious new funding leaves doubt that government can deliver on its ‘missions’ 

The think tank, which has argued for decades for the UK’s regional inequalities to be addressed, said it was “a hopeful sign” that the government now acknowledges the problem, and is adopting some of the ideas proposed by IPPR and others to tackle it. 

But without a more detailed plan to deliver on its ambitious 2030 targets, or the finance needed to deliver on them, there remains a serious question mark over the government’s ability to meet them. 

IPPR set up the IPPR North think tank, based in Manchester, in 2004, to make the case for greater investment in and devolution of power to the north of England and other regions. In 2018 IPPR’s Commission for Economic Justice called for far-reaching devolution of powers from Whitehall, and for sweeping changes to economic and industrial policy to address regional disparities, in its report, Prosperity and Justice. 

Carys Roberts, IPPR executive director, said:  

“For decades, IPPR has argued that the UK’s enduring and deepening regional disparities – not just economic but in health, education, and wellbeing – have held back the whole country.

“The government has recognised the problem, along with the broken economic model and over-centralised system that have caused it. This is a hopeful sign and if achieved, its ambitions would represent a significant step forward.

“Levelling up isn't new. Many governments have tried and failed before. If this government wants to be any different it will have to be bold in passing real power to local areas and communities, and backing that up with significant funding. The sums already committed fall far short of what has been ripped out of communities during a decade of austerity - and of what other countries have shown is needed to narrow their regional divides.

“If the government is serious about a new economic model, it will also quickly need a strategy and policies to reduce inequalities within each region, so that everyone within them benefits. Simply replicating London’s inequalities elsewhere would fall far short.

“This paper sets out an ambition and framework for a fairer UK. The task now is to back it up with equally ambitious policies and investment.” 

George Dibb, head of IPPR’s Centre for Economic Justice, said:  

“The white paper sets out a bold agenda and some ambitious ‘missions’ to achieve this but the absence of real new investment behind this is worrying. Levelling up will only ever be a success if it is a whole-of-government programme. As long as the Treasury is holding back new money, we’ll fail. 

“The white paper announcement that new R&D investment will be used to benefit places outside the “Golden Triangle” of London, Oxford and Cambridge is encouraging. For a long time IPPR has argued that innovation and investment must be at the core of a 21st century economic strategy and this is a positive sign of cross-government coordination. 

“This announcement follows several generations of industrial strategy that have made little impact on the UK’s economic trajectory and have often proved too short-lived. It’s vital that the government fleshes out how this will be delivered, puts real money behind it, and takes steps to embed it so that it survives any change in secretary of state or prime minister.”

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