As the discussion rages across what levelling-up means, might mean, and what is might deliver, we need to look beneath the bonnet. What we see is the need for a range of progressive policies around the family, childcare, education before entering the more usual areas of vocational education and training and successful career entry into employment. Policies promoting social mobility need to be linked with those which foster wider regional development (infrastructure, innovation, and the 3Es – enterprise, employment, and education). Infrastructure must cover not only those investments for transport, communications but also health care, education, housing etc.

Now, in the State of the State 2020-21 Report1[1], we see a very clear picture of people’s perception of where they live. Only one region (South East England), one city (London) and one nation

Region/Nation Significantly Better Average Significantly Worse
North East England 0 9 5
North West England 0 8 6
Yorkshire & Humberside 0 8 6
West Midlands 1 13 0
East Midlands 1 5 8
East of England 3 9 2
South West England 2 5 7
South East England 7 7 0
London 9 2 3
Wales 2 3 9
Scotland 7 4 3
Northern Ireland 4 5 5

Source: Extracted summary of Figure 7. What people see as better or worse in The State of the State 2020-21.

(Scotland) view their local area and its resources and infrastructure as being significantly better than other regions and nations across the UK. Of the 14 areas being compared by individuals in the survey only six relate to those most associated with classic regional development policy (job opportunities, local public transport, skills and training for adults, internet access, transport links elsewhere, and universities and HE).

So, as the UK Government seeks to progress its commitment to ‘levelling-up’ across the UK, it needs to mindful that individuals expect progress across multiple fronts and will not be satisfied with a new bypass, bridge, or bus station. And, to progress the commitment, it will require a significant devolution of power and funding to locally elected politicians. Above all, the levelling-up focus requires a very long-term view supported by a lasting across-party consensus.

Michael Cross

July 2021

[1] The State of the State 2020-21: Government in the pandemic and beyond. Deloitte and Reform. 2020. Based a series of surveys conducted across the regions and nations of the UK to gauge how local people see if there resources/facilities were better or worse or average compared to other regions and nations. They took 14 areas: hospitals and healthcare, social and care services, safety from crime, job opportunities, housing, schools, quality of the local environment, local public transport, local council services, local amenities, skills and training for adults, internet access, transport links elsewhere, and universities and HE. The report provides an extremely useful insight into how people see their region and nation which might shape their views as regards further investing in their community and potentially moving to another, “better” region or nation. The data are drawn from a survey of 5574 UK adults (16-75) over the period August 21st to September 2nd, 2020 with booster numbers for Scotland (877), Wales (515) and Northern Ireland (420).