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Movin’ on Up – with or without local government?

27 September 2021

By Laura Griffiths

Amidst all the reshuffle news from Number 10 last week, we also saw a rebrand from Ministry to Department. The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government is no more and has transformed into the Department of Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC). Severed is the formal link between local and national government with housing (and planning reforms) taking more of a back seat for the Rt Hon Michael Gove, the new Secretary of State.

So what is levelling up? According to the Conservative Party’s 2019 manifesto, levelling up is about ‘not just investing in our great towns and cities, as well as rural and coastal areas, but giving them far more control of how that investment is made.’ There is a focus on equality about future prosperity i.e. giving people in Hull the same level of opportunity as people living in Hertfordshire.

However, how do you achieve equality, opportunity and effectively the levelling up of the country successfully when there are disparities across a variety of sectors? For example, people who are born in Westminster are expected to live over 10 years longer than people born in Blackpool, the number of people waiting more than six weeks for diagnostic tests in the North East and Yorkshire is over double the number of people in the South East, and the number of people who have claimed unemployment benefits in Birmingham Ladywood is over five times more than Chelmsford.

With Andy Haldane, a widely respected former Chief Economist for the Bank of England, heading up the levelling up taskforce, it is expected that there will be a move away from transport infrastructure towards his preference of social infrastructure – health, education and community facilities which meet both a local and strategic need. Too, he has expressed views towards better and more focused devolution in order to achieve his “personal passion” of redressing regional inequality.

Likewise, moving towards a levelling up system where social infrastructure becomes the focus as opposed to transport hubs or strategically designed public realms could make the negotiation of Section 106 and Community Infrastructure Levies even more pertinent than they already are. It would put local government back at the heart of strategic decision making and allow them to focus on what is truly needed.

At a time when services have been cut to the bone due to the limitations of local authority incomes that have derived from central allocation funding and the coronavirus pandemic, the priority can be on better service delivery and creating an improved local environment where you can live, work and study interchangeably.

With local government disaggregated from the official equation, it will be interesting to see how the Gove and Haldane taskforce will shape up the country over the next few months. Ultimately, it remains to be seen whether the DLUHC will establish the conditions of levelling up across the country with local government at its heart or whether it will indeed be a game of luck.