“Credit to this government for bringing issues of regional inequality into sharper focus than any previous government in the last 30 years. There is a need for this to be taken seriously to unlock the economic potential of the whole country.”
Here are a few recent comments on the ‘levelling up’ agenda and its impact on rural areas:
“It is just as important to address the inequality within regions as it is between regions, as this is where rural disadvantage is rife.”
“Rural economies are distinctive. They are characterised by higher levels of employment and home-working.”
“Councils know their areas intimately…but need powers and resource.”
“Now, this potential needs to be unlocked through a programme of investment.”
“The UK Government’s ‘A Plan for Jobs’ fails to recognise that rural economies present great opportunities for the UK and this situation needs to be redressed if we are to bounce back better.”
“Rural enterprise has been underexplored and underutilised.”
This is how the Rural Services Network sees things:
It’s just published a report:
CULTIVATING RURAL GROWTH
Recognising and addressing the post-pandemic rural productivity challenge
Recognising rural communities’ specific needs
Over the past year, Rural Services Network and its partners have commissioned three studies from Pragmatix Advisory to help inform policymakers on the nature of the economic challenges faced by rural communities and encourage debate on what needs to be done to stimulate their lasting recovery and revitalisation beyond the pandemic.
This report summarises some of the emerging key themes and recommendations
Finally, Nigel Wilcock, executive director of the Institute of Economic Development, offers six important points to add to the debate, in advance of the proposed White Paper:
Six ‘must haves’ for Boris’ levelling up vision
1. Devolution is essential – and must include greater policy independence and budget/fiscal determination. The idea that we can re-balance by tweaking existing policies from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government HQ in London is nonsense – and devolution so far has involved regional structures administering the same funding agreements according to the same rules and reporting back the results. This is not devolution: it is simply outsourcing administration.
2. It follows that any such programme of devolution must include a long-term stable settlement of local government funding awards. East Germany was not levelled up by a year-on-year reduction in local government funding and the occasional and unpredictable opportunity to bid into a beauty competition of the most needy. This is an issue the IED has been shining a light on throughout the past 12 months (and further back).
3. Once the structure and funding is approved, longer term strategies are a must. Economic development in the UK is in danger of becoming a laughing stock with supposed ‘long-term’ strategies being continuously replaced (anyone remember Strategic Economic Plans and then Local Industrial Strategies?). Strategies need to be believed by the private sector as partners in delivery.
4. Levelling up discussions seem to have been targeted at a slightly mythical post-industrial north. This is neither helpful to the north of England, but nor is it helpful to other parts of the UK that have been left behind. There are locations and communities across the UK who are suffering some form of economic dislocation – areas where an original industry has left or rural areas which have suffered from under-investment in digital infrastructure. On the latter there is a strong case for the government re-examining the RSN’s Rural Strategy, and the IED has also been championing the rural economy.
5. Stability in government procurement – defence activity, energy infrastructure and transport policy (to name only three) areas which could drive significant regional investment if there was a clear and definitive policy and spend commitment – is desperately needed. The UK also has a transport/infrastructure system that focuses on London – this further reinforces the importance of London and ensures that decision making takes place there. Why don’t we think radically – why did HS2 start in London?
6. There is a need for honesty. On most economic measures, London is stratospherically different to the rest of the UK – and is not the economic target. In fact, most regions would rather not emulate London if it involved a loss of greenbelt and congested infrastructure and services. It follows that all economic statistics are broken down in press releases for media headlines as UK and then London and the remaining UK. This simple adjustment may shift the debate.
In conclusion, credit to this government for bringing issues of regional inequality into sharper focus than any previous government in the last 30 years. There is a need for this to be taken seriously to unlock the economic potential of the whole country. The regions of the UK do not want to emulate London – but when the policies are being addressed there is definitely a need for more weight at the lighter end of the see-saw.