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Prime Minister’s Levelling Up plan – Did we learn anything new?

On Thursday 15th July the Prime Minister set out to explain the skeleton plan of his flagship levelling up agenda. To date we have heard why the need to level up is so important, from revitalising local communities, to improving access to opportunities. But do these pledges and promises align to what manufacturers have told us they want to see? Was there enough policy substance help our recovery from the repercussions of a global pandemic?

Here are our thoughts and crucial conclusions taken from the plan:

Aligned ambitions

When we asked manufacturers if they were satisfied with the Government’s current progress on the levelling up agenda, 42% said they weren’t, and interestingly over half said neither satisfied nor dissatisfied. In short, many simply thought nothing of it.

Levelling up is becoming a catch-all for all policy but at the centre of the Government’s plan is to improve public services, improve skills, upgrading transport, ensuring gigabyte broadband, and making the UK attractive to international and local investment. These ambitions are not significantly different from what manufacturers said they wanted to see:

  1. Improved local road and rail transport connections
  2. A greater focus on regional projects over national ones
  3. Prioritising digital connectivity everywhere

But there is now a real risk levelling up becomes a catch-all term for all new policy commitments - Make UK will be working hard to make sure it remains focused on these top three asks.

…But little policy content

The levelling up plan was coined as a “win-win” opportunity, notably focusing support left behind communities and emphasising that we don’t need to be robbing Peter to pay Paul. In our own work with manufacturers we also heard this message loud and clear.  Our research found that in the South of England manufacturers were keen to see Government prioritise the digital connectivity agenda, whereas in the North of England the number one priority was the improvement of local road and rail transport connections. In the Midlands and East of England manufacturers are prioritising local projects over national ones.

All of which underlines the point that we must not level down by ‘robbing Peter to pay for Paul’ - to truly revitalise our local economies, and level up, we must build on regional differences. Policy commitments should therefore be targeted and focused on where they can best deliver real, tangible change.

Unfortunately, the plan lacked any new policy commitments that can support manufacturers. A more flexible approach to devolution in England was promising, awarding County and Shire Mayors the powers of Metro Mayors. Whilst this may be a possible solution to the geographical divide and regional inequalities, how it works in practice will be crucial. With Local Skills Improvement Plans superseding LEPs and no Industrial Strategy to tie it together, we are again left with more questions than answers.

In short…

We didn’t learn much, but as with many policy commitments the plan to meet this ambition and the implementation of it is key.

“If this pandemic has shown us anything it is that the manufacturing sector remains the economic engine and source of innovation, wealth and prosperity. Our industry has a critical role of play in rebalancing and reviving our economy in the coming months and years ahead.” – CEO Stephen Phipson.

We had hoped to get more detail in the Prime Minister’s announcement, but it is likely we’ll ned to wait until the Levelling Up White Paper due in Autumn. We will continue to push our policy asks, making the case for an economy recovery and plan which puts manufacturing at the heart of it for the next decade.

If you’d like to read more about our levelling up work we carried out in partnership with RSM, click here. You can also listen back to the webinars we hosted with Ed Miliband, the Northern Powerhouse and more on this topic here.

Blog / Make UK