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Levelling up: the bigger picture in the South West

  • by JW

“An influx of spending won’t change things overnight.”

“The stark reality of the economic disadvantages of living in the South West.”

A lack of affordable homes could be contributing to hospitality struggling to fill vacancies.


‘Levelling up’ has been a key government policy – as reiterated today:

The Prime Minister Boris Johnson takes a tour of the UKBIC production line before delivering his Levelling UP speech.

In an upbeat address peppered with jokes, but light on new policy, the prime minister claimed a high-wage, high-skilled economy was being created in the wake of Brexit and the pandemic.

Conservative conference: Boris Johnson vows to get on with job of rebuilding UK – BBC News

Although the normally supportive press has questioned this:

Boris says Levelling Up is all about… Stoke Poges | Daily Mail Online

One question is whether a ‘high-wage economy’ will ‘level things up’:

Watch out for Boris’s snake oil claims of a high wage economy |

Believe we are heading for a high-wage, high-productivity economy, Rishi Sunak? Think again | The Independent

Another question is whether any higher wages will level things up in the areas they are needed

Levelling up the low wage economy – Vision Group for Sidmouth

Levelling Up Rural: stimulating lasting recovery and revitalisation – Vision Group for Sidmouth

Levelling up in East Devon – Vision Group for Sidmouth

Levelling up in the South West – Vision Group for Sidmouth

Firstly, even if salaries were to rise in rural areas, levelling up will be meaningless if rural housing needs are not also addressed, according to the CEO of the Rural Services Network:

The government’s ‘levelling-up’ agenda will need a rethink if it is to address rural housing needs, says Graham Biggs.

An influx of spending won’t change things overnight, yet the question is whether these mechanisms are being targeted appropriately. Our research shows they are not, and that proposals for reforming the planning system will fail rural areas.
Our recent report, Towards the UK Shared Prosperity Fund (pdf), reveals that the geographical prioritisation of the government’s allocation of funding for levelling-up proposals favours non-metropolitan urban locations, while rural areas of similar need are overlooked

Levelling up is failing to solve the rural housing and planning crisis | The Planner

This was confirmed by Daniel Clark and Ollie Heptinstall in yesterday’s Devon Live:

Devon’s rental crisis deepens as available homes dwindle – Devon Live

Secondly, young people rarely benefit from a ‘high-wage economy’ – especially in areas where any rises in salary will be outstripped by higher living costs:

Young and low paid workers in tourist hotspots are increasingly being priced out of homes, new analysis has shown.

House prices rose up to three times faster in some rural and coastal areas compared to the national average in July, Office of National Statistics (ONS) figures have revealed. North Devon has seen a rise of 22.5%, while the UK average rose by 8%.

A lack of affordable homes could be contributing to hospitality struggling to fill vacancies, the ONS said. The average cost of rent in the south-west of England rose by 2.6% in the year leading to August, more than double the 1.2% increase for the UK as a whole.

House prices: Young and low paid ‘priced out’ of tourist areas – BBC News

As laid out in a report from last month, it will be a very difficult job to level up things in the South West:

The stark reality of the economic disadvantages of living in the South West has been highlighted in a new report that examines the levelling up agenda. Levelling Up the South West by James Blagden and Matthew Greenwood for think tank Onward reveals the complex inequalities within the region fuelled by low wages and poor connectivity. And it highlights that Devon and Cornwall comes off consistently worse on a number of metrics when compared to better-off areas like Wiltshire and Gloucestershire.

In response, economic leaders have repeated calls to Government for backing on their Great South West green powerhouse agenda that they say will create jobs, provide skills and boost the prosperity of the region. It just needs the financial backing to get on with the job… 

Almost a quarter (23.2%) of 25-49 year-olds work part-time, compared to a fifth (19.5%) across the UK. Almost every constituency (90%) has part-time employment above the UK average, the highest of any region.

Devon and Cornwall hardest hit by low pay and skills, finds new levelling up report – Business Live

photo: Prime Minister Boris Johnson Levelling UP Speech | 15/07/202… | Flickr