As we wrote at the start of last week, this is an issue which emphatically relates to community cohesion and the battle against the far right:
Issues like good public transport, decent and secure jobs, and good housing, all have a big social impact. These are cohesion issues too. Getting these issues right means that resentments are less likely to form in the first place, and it’s harder for hateful narratives about immigration and multiculturalism to take hold.
Many of the 12 levelling up ‘missions’ in the paper are positive, and would improve community resilience. The closure of the skills gap between parts of the country, for example, would be a massive step forward in giving people more opportunities and building more confident communities.
Whether these things genuinely come to pass is another question. Given that this Government has now been in power for more than two years, the fact that ‘levelling up’ remains only a broad mission statement rather than a costed policy agenda is worrying.
Also of concern is the reliance, so far, on the distribution of centralised pots of money in unpredictable ways. Guardian research this week illustrated the problem, with the comparatively leafy Bromsgrove receiving more per head than much more deprived places like Knowsley or Hyndburn.
These sorts of erratic outcomes have occurred throughout the process, and have often been blamed on ‘pork barrel’ politics – with Towns Fund money overwhelmingly going to Tory held constituencies, for example. But just as big a problem is the process of asking councils to compete for funding in the first place.
This was criticised by council leaders we spoke to for our Building Back Resilient report, for being short-termist and labour intensive. And it tends to mean resources are divvied up on the basis of council capacity and resources rather than community need. As we wrote in a recent blog, this model can “privilege councils who are better funded to start with, and thus more equipped to turn around a bid.”
Our new Bid-Builder tool is an attempt to support local authorities working in this context. It aims to do some of the heavy-lifting, for busy councils who are applying for funding to develop community resilience. View the Bid-Builder by clicking here.
Now that the white paper is out, there is at least a little more clarity about what levelling up means. We will be following the subsequent discussion closely.