The aim of the session was to explore the role of the private and public sector in addressing inter and intra-regional inequalities and consider the shift towards sustainable and inclusive models of prosperity.
The roundtable was attended by representatives from a range of organisations including the Centre for Inequality and Levelling Up, Reading Borough Council, Learning and Work Institute, Trafford Council, Manchester City Council, Justice Together, University of Manchester, The Countryside Charity, Durham County Council, British Property Federation, Acre, e3G, IPPR North, Maslaha, Lewes District Council, Office for National Statistics, Fabians, South Oxfordshire District Council and Carnegie.
The session opened with a presentation from Connor MacDonald, Head of Economics and Social Policy at Policy Exchange who contextualised the productivity challenge facing the UK and discussed ways in which this might be addressed. He highlighted the low levels of productivity in the UK by international standards and homed in on challenges with the structure of local government. At the same time central government does not have the time to invest in developing capability and investable propositions at a local level so there is a real need for empowered regional government with funding and flexibility to make long-term investments viable. Connor concluded outlining potential solutions and areas of future policy focus. These included: advocating for greater regionalisation and maintaining a united front with local government; pushing for uniform powers in the first instance; a need to invest at scale to mobilise the private sector; use of special purpose vehicles and other development vehicles; and a prioritisation of wealth creation.
This was followed by a talk from Sacha Romanovitch, Chief Executive Officer at Fair4AllFinance. Sacha explored the connection between people’s financial situation and growth and prosperity, and practical steps which can be taken to support individuals to become economically active. There needs to be a greater emphasis around enabling people on a path from financial inclusion into financial resilience to sustainable incomes through which effective businesses can grow. Sacha highlighted the way in which local areas are structured to attract big business investment and instead consideration should be given to getting people to a stage where they have an income and stability. Sacha finished talking of the need for collaborative partnerships and the importance of looking at intersectionality between issues rather than addressing challenges through a narrow lens.
The session concluded with a wider discussion among attendees which touched upon the role of levelling up and net zero, addressing inequality, greater focus around the missions, building an evidence base and local structures. Attendees explored the role of the new UK Infrastructure Bank and its potential to unlock new and sustainable industry as well as the importance of building a robust evidence base of successful interventions. There was discussion around the breadth of the levelling up agenda whereby it cannot be the vehicle for all challenges faced by communities, the need for greater ambition from central government around the missions, and the need to focus on intra-regional inequality as well as inter-regional and broaden focus to environmental, social and democratic considerations beyond just that of economic growth. Finally, there was discussion around how levelling up is more than a geographic challenge and the dilemma between making existing structures work well at the same time as undertaking large-scale system change within a short timeframe.
The next roundtable in the ‘Levelling up Locally Inquiry’ will explore the theme of place and identity.