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BlogWhy Large Cities are Vital to Levelling Up Plans

Why Large Cities are Vital to Levelling Up Plans

The phrase ‘levelling up’ sums up the UK government’s commitment to providing everyone in the UK with equal opportunities. Tackling the inequalities between the richest and poorest in society is a laudable aim, designed to improve life expectancy and access to services without a division based on postcode. There can be a tendency to think of the current situation as a North/South divide yet, in reality, the issues are more localised, with areas all over the country suffering inequalities. Some of the poorest boroughs in the country are in London as well as in the North, so the need for levelling up must address the entire country.

To date, the Government has introduced many schemes and plans with the aim of levelling up. Yet, there is a balance to be struck; such schemes must not ‘level down’ those places already doing well. There is more to levelling up than simply trying to square away existing financial differences between different parts of the country.

Life expectancy, wages, qualifications and social expectations differ highly across the UK. Those in wealthier areas are expected to live longer, have better healthcare, and have more opportunities to succeed. The reality is the UK is full of talent; it is not region specific. Devolving some central government powers to local areas to give them greater opportunity to tackle the specific inequalities of their region could lead to more innovation and speedier rejuvenation. But while devolution has started, it isn’t ‘finished’ anywhere in the UK, and that includes in London.

How Large Cities Contribute to Levelling Up

According to the economics consultancy WPI Economics, statistics back up the importance of large cities in the levelling up process. Large cities need to be able to continue to grow to provide impetus and economic security. In particular, there’s a risk that in the pursuit of levelling up, that the major cities will end up losing out, as central government funding is redirected elsewhere and their ability to contribute further is lost. Where the outcomes for cities are expected to rise, the extra funds in the economy can be used throughout the country, helping to support those at the lower end of the national average.

Statistics show that cities – if they can follow the pre-Covid growth trend – will contribute an extra £42 billion annually to the country’s economy within the next decade. If poorer cities were better equipped to contribute at the same rate as London, there could be an additional £21 billion contribution to levelling up poorer regions – taking this total to £63 billion. When cities are equipped to maximise their potential, the rest of the country benefits and the funding opportunities grow for smaller towns and cities to also benefit from the levelling up commitments. The most successful cities currently contribute jobs, services and connections that help the countrywide economy.

When growth is stunted in cities, this impacts their wider area, and lost output slows the economy far beyond the immediate location. A downward spiral then filters to affect the richest and poorest in society, no matter where they reside. This could cause irreversible harm, and the country will be left with lower manufacturing outputs, more talented individuals seeking opportunities out of the UK, and a skills gap that we cannot cover, both financially and by headcount.

Devolution is key

To secure levelling up, the Government must back the UK’s major cities. This is in part about telling a positive story about the role cities play, and in part about legislation and resources. Levelling down bigger cities, including London, is not the way forward. There should instead be a growth target for cities across Britain that matches that seen in London pre-pandemic. This would allow cities to act as a true catalyst.

Devolution – empowering local leaders to make the decisions their areas need for long-term prosperity – is the best way to achieve this in practice. This is the best way to equip cities to pursue the opportunities that local people, organisations and business know are in a city’s best interests.

Policy advisers need to be equally committed to the ongoing success of major cities, alongside levelling up, to ensure that the differences in opportunities can be reduced across the whole country.

 

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