Levelling up

Think tank: Institute for Government

Author(s): Eleanor Shearer; Paul Shepley; Teresa Soter

September 23, 2021

This report from UK think tank the Institute for Government looks at five questions about what the government means by the phrase ‘levelling up’.

The government’s flagship levelling up agenda lacks clear objectives, with policies often contradicting ministerial rhetoric about decentralising power. This report, published today alongside new analysis of how money was allocated from the £3.6 billion Towns Fund – analyses ministerial statements on levelling up and how money has been allocated, including the £4.8bn Levelling Up Fund, the £2.5bn National Skills Fund and plans to move 22,000 civil service jobs out of London by 2030. The report, which says the government must address the gaps and tensions in its statements about levelling up, identifies three main areas where the government’s objectives remain unclear. Is government prioritising the most deprived people or the lowest economic output areas? What is the role of regional cities in the levelling up agenda? Does levelling up mean decentralising power or not? Many of the levelling up policies give most decision-making power to central government – which jars with government rhetoric. The Levelling Up Fund, Towns Fund and Community Renewal Fund are all centrally run and rely on local areas bidding for money. This gives central government a lot of power in deciding where funding goes and what types of projects are eligible. The report poses five questions that the government’s forthcoming white paper on levelling up – due to be published this autumn – must answer: How (if at all) do the people-based and place-based elements of the levelling-up agenda interact? What is the role of regional cities in driving improved outcomes for ‘left-behind’ places? What measures will the government be looking at to assess its progress? What is the role of subnational governments? How will the government work with the devolved administrations, especially in policy areas that are devolved, to level up the UK?