Expert blog: Four propositions for the much-anticipated Levelling Up White Paper
Will Rossiter and colleagues discuss new research that identifies a number of challenges for the upcoming Levelling Up White Paper.
Recent research from Nottingham Business School and City-REDI/ WMREDI at the University of Birmingham on the geography and functioning of places and the institutions, practice and policies associated with local and regional economic development in the English Midlands has identified a number of challenges for the much-anticipated Devolution White Paper which has subsequently been replaced by the promise of a Levelling Up White Paper. It is imperative that these challenges are addressed if it is to turn the recent rhetoric of ‘levelling up’ and ‘building back better’ into meaningful action to develop the local economies of the English regions in the wake of Covid-19.
These challenges relate to:
- The need for greater coordination and collaboration at the sub-national and particularly sub-regional scale;
- The often inadequate institutional capacities and resources available to develop evidence-based strategies and programmes to develop local economies; and
- The need for economic development bodies to be placed on a consistent statutory footing – with commensurate remits, powers and resources.
This research suggests that the geographically uneven and complex nature of layers of local and sub-regional governance with a mix of statutory and non-statutory organisations and responsibilities, that have developed in a relatively ad hoc way, pose difficulties for gaining a clear line of sight between sub-national and national policies. Ad hoc challenge funding pots can compound problems of longer-term planning and coordination across geographical scales. They also have a homogenising influence on the content of local strategies and programmes that constrain local actors in their efforts to respond to the circumstances of particular places.
While not all local/sub-regional strategies need to be the same, there is a case for greater consistency, such that they share some common characteristics, including a targetry framework and a set of indicators to monitor progress. This requires institutional capacity to be more evenly spread at the sub-national scale.
In some areas, responses to the Covid-19 pandemic have led to new partnerships and a revitalisation of existing partnerships. Recovery frameworks include a broadening of economic development strategies and visions to cover health, well-being and inclusive growth and greater emphasis on digital infrastructure and green issues alongside traditional concerns of skills, innovation and enterprise.
The Levelling Up White Paper has an opportunity to build on this evolving practice, but it will only succeed if it adopts these four propositions:
- For levelling-up to be meaningful, it must extend to levelling-up institutional capacity to deliver economic development, and now recovery, in the wake of Covid-19.
- By and large, reliance on an uneven patchwork of non-statutory bodies to coordinate and deliver local economic development has failed to date. There are exceptions but, in many cases, these bodies lack the capacity and resources needed to develop and implement a strategic approach to local economic development.
- Moving away from a strong reliance on centralised ‘challenge funds’ framed in Whitehall which promote competition rather than coordination and collaboration at the sub-national scale and also lead to a homogenising effect on local intervention.
- There is a strong case for a return to a formula based long-term regional funding allocations based on need – with devolved responsibility for the management of these funds to appropriate statutory bodies.
- Some of the research reported here was funded by the Midlands Engine, but the views expressed are those of the authors.
For further information related to the English Midlands see:
Green A. and Rossiter W. (2019) Geographical Scales and Functions: The Case of the Midlands Engine. Report prepared for the Midlands Engine Independent Economic Review.
Green A., Rossiter W., Taylor A., Hoole C., Riley R., Karagounis K. and Pugh A. (2021) Mapping the architecture of economic development policy and strategy across the Midlands Engine pan-region
Other key studies on governance and institutions of relevance to the issues discussed here include:
Regan A., Quinn M., Romaniuk A., Sampson S., Stratton T., Brittain B. and Taylor A. (2021) Devolution and Governance Structures in the UK, Industrial Strategy Council. Devolution and Governance Structures in the UK
Seaford C., Glover B., Collinson S., Hoole C., Kitsos A., Gutierrez Posada D., Tilley H., Mukherjee A., Gilbert N., Newman J. and Driffield N. (2020) Achieving Levelling-Up: The Structures and Processes Needed. LIPSIT.
Notes for editors
About Nottingham Business School at Nottingham Trent University
Nottingham Business School (NBS) at Nottingham Trent University (NTU) specialises in experiential learning and personalisation of business, management and economics education and research, combining academic excellence with positive impact on people, business and society. NBS has an unrivalled level of engagement with business, public and voluntary organisations and thus is known as the business school for business. With more than 6,000 students, NBS is also one of UK’s largest business schools.
NBS is accredited by EQUIS and AACSB, which are internationally recognised hallmarks of excellence and quality for business education. NBS courses are ranked in the Top 20 for Accounting and Finance and for Economics in The Guardian Good University Guide 2021. The School is one of only six UK business schools recognised as a PRME Champion and held up as an exemplar by the United Nations Principles of Responsible Management Education (PRME).
Nottingham Trent University (NTU) was named University of the Year 2019 in the Guardian University Awards. The award was based on performance and improvement in the Guardian University Guide, retention of students from low-participation areas and attainment of BME students.
NTU was also the Times Higher Education University of the Year 2017, and The Times and Sunday Times Modern University of the Year 2018. These awards recognise NTU for its high levels of student satisfaction, its quality of teaching, its engagement with employers, and its overall student experience.
The university has been rated Gold in the Government’s Teaching Excellence Framework – the highest ranking available.
It is one of the largest UK universities. With nearly 32,000 students and more than 4,000 staff located across four campuses, the University contributes £900m to the UK economy every year. With an international student population of more than 3,000 from around 100 countries, the University prides itself on its global outlook.
The university is passionate about creating opportunities and its extensive outreach programme is designed to enable NTU to be a vehicle for social mobility. NTU is among the UK’s top five recruiters of students from disadvantaged backgrounds and was awarded University of the Year in the UK Social Mobility Awards 2019.
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