Levelling Up – what, if anything, does this mean for North Devon?

North Devon Gazette

Keen observers of government policy announcements will have spotted the publication of a 400-page White Paper, which introduces the much-promised Levelling-Up agenda.  Â

Since the general election, the message from the electorate reinforced the need for Whitehall to urgently address their failure to support a balanced series of policies for the whole of the UK.  Â
Whitehall, and the bubble which surrounds this, has for too long taken for granted regional growth policies. The powerhouse of London and the area within the M25 has fuelled UK growth for many years.  Â

The much-maligned financial services sector has been a truly global business and produces vast tax receipts for the Chancellor (£70-80 billion per annum). London has become effectively a City State and represents nearly 25% of the UKs economy. Whitehall’s failure is reflected by the embarrassing revelation that the UK has the most centralised bureaucracy within the G7 economies.Â

One of the beasts of Whitehall – Michael Gove – was set loose by the Prime Minister to come up with a cunning plan which would address this issue.  Since his appointment in the newly named government department he runs – Department of Levelling Up, Housing and Communities – the focus of his work and a huge team surrounding him is the published document we are now beginning to unpick.Â

Before you are tempted to read it, the health warning is that the battle between Michael Gove and the Chancellor – Rishi Sunak – has been won by the Chancellor. There is no new money. What is on the table is recycled awards from previous budget statements.  Â

Also, many of the programmes are not due for implementation and delivery until between 2025 – 2030. That is the bad news. The better news is that we now have an agenda to work with.  Also, importantly, the South West has been picked out for a new and special allocation – a County Deal for Devon and a similar designation for Cornwall.  Â

Typically, and despite 400 pages of script, the government have left Devon to work out much of the detail behind this new designation. There is a broad indication of what is included in it. In summary, the intention is that a “new body” will adopt a cross-council approach to some of the major challenges including education and training, skills, housing, transport and business support.  Â

There is no further reference to the respective roles and responsibilities as to who should lead on these issues. Potentially, therefore, we could be faced with some new committees emerging and joint project teams analysing the delivery issues. This must be avoided at all costs.  Â

The market challenges we are currently facing mean that early engagement with the business community is essential. 2022 could be a very challenging year with increasing inflation, increasing interest costs, increasing energy bills, continuing skills shortages and a large slice of indigestion still in the system around Brexit and Covid. Â

In response to this, a very clear agenda needs to emerge from both public and private sector key strategic partners across North Devon to establish the agenda and to set some challenging targets and challenging delivery timescales.