On 2 February 2022 the Government published its long anticipated Levelling Up White Paper which sets out the Government’s ambition to transform towns and cities across the country.
Much of the White Paper references existing funding and policies though the commitment to legally enshrined targets (or “missions”) and greater devolution to mayors are meaningful new announcements.
Levelling up was a key Government policy pledge in the 2019 election campaign and now has a Government Department named after it. However until now there has been little clarity about what this term means in practice.
The key theme of the White Paper is to bring an end to regional inequalities which are demonstrated through poorer health, education and economic outcomes.
The White Paper looks to address this disparity by establishing a “long-term plan of action and clear framework”. The framework is set out in objectives and inequality measures which are described as ‘Capitals’.
The Capitals are classified as physical (infrastructure and housing), human (skills, health and experience), intangible (innovation and ideas), institutional (local leadership and accountability) and social. When combined, these capitals will, according to Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Levelling UP, Housing and Communities “act in a mutually reinforcing fashion as in Renaissance Italy or the UK at the time of the Industrial Revolution”.
The White Paper sets out twelve missions and metrics which support the delivery of levelling up.
Mission 10 aims to provide a path to home ownership for first-time buyers and improve the standard of housing in the UK. It states that access to home ownership seeks to give people a greater stake in society and improve pride of place. Furthermore it acknowledges that poor quality housing is damaging to people’s health and well-being, and holds people back from fulfilling their potential.
Other missions support:
- re-organisation of local Government and implementation of the new devolution framework, including extending the Mayoral models seen in London and Greater Manchester across England; and
- public investment in research and development increasing it by at least 40% across the North, Midlands, South West and the devolved nations.
It has been a long standing ambition of the Government to deliver some of the ambitions set out in this White Paper. For instance, to increase home ownership and there is no change to the ambition to deliver 300,000 units per annum.
This target was an ambition of previous White Papers which sought to improve the planning system (Planning for the Future: August 2020), the quality and regulation of Social Housing (Social Housing White Paper: 2020) and to fix the housing market (Fixing our Broken Housing Market:2017). To date, this target hasn’t been met.
The White Paper has been criticised for lacking a detailed plan that sets out how its ambitions or Capitals will be achieved in practice (though it still amounts to over 300 pages). What is clear is that further legislation will be required to address the imbalances identified in the paper. Will we remember this as the next step of meaningful devolution and a sustained focus from Whitehall on funding the communities across the country in a more balanced way? Watch this space for future updates.