Last week, the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill was given its first reading in the House of Commons. This legislation will put the foundations in place for delivering this agenda and ensuring all parts of the country share equally.
The bill proposes a new approach to economic development that prioritises infrastructure investment, training & skills development and economic regeneration. It also sets out a new approach to social protection that focuses on helping people access employment opportunities.
The creation of what is termed as ‘new’ missions and more devolved powers some could say is not ‘new’. We have been, for years, struggling to ‘break the cycle of deprivation’ that still exists (and is growing) across the country not just in our cities and towns but in rural communities as well, who quite often get ‘lost’ in the conversation.
We have seen initiatives such as the Single Regeneration Budget and Investing in Communities, to name just a couple – programmes directly targeted at these issues, as well EU investment. And yet here we are in 2022 still facing the same problems.
The creation of a new Department for Social Mobility is a good move but it cannot work in isolation – the current Social Mobility Commission that was established is a non-department public body that has recently become the responsibility of the Cabinet Office and needs to play a strategic role in the new Department. The new department will be charged with driving social mobility by increasing access to opportunities for those who have been held back by poverty or prejudice. So it will:
1. Create a new Office for Regional Growth; this will be charged with driving economic growth through local partnerships between businesses and communities across England;
2. Introduce new powers to tackle poor-quality housing stock and ensure fairness in planning decisions;
3. Deliver a major increase in funding for local authorities through a new levy on homes worth more than £450,000; this will help fund essential services like schools and hospitals – protecting them from cuts by giving councils greater freedom over how money is spent.
The Bill will also support business growth, investment and innovation across every part of Great Britain through a package of measures including:
- A £4.7 billion Economic Infrastructure Fund;
- A £2 billion scheme for boosting housing supply;
- A £1 billion Local Growth Fund;
- A £500 million Community Energy Fund;
- A £200 million Business Investment Fund; and
- A £1 billion Regional Growth Fund.
The government has been clear that it is committed to ensuring everyone has a fair chance to succeed and they state this bill is the first step in that journey, but it will be the detail we will be interested in. We need to have strong foundations in place to create a fairer society that works for everyone.
As a country we are facing unprecedented times increased by the pandemic and now having the highest inflation rate since the Falklands War in 1982. We can only hope that this new Bill begins to bring real change.
Business has an important role to part to play in particular; Business Improvement Districts can galvanise business support to directly invest in the communities in which they operate. This needs to be recognised more by Government at local and national level.
At the Central District Alliance BID, part of Primera Corporation, we recently launched our employment and skills initiative ‘Your Future Talent’ aimed at supporting local people into local employment with our businesses, as well as working with partners on the creation of a Digital Academy Hub for the area. We also support local charities through our Action Funder Initiative really reaching to Grass Roots Charities in our communities. These are just a few of initiatives we support through our Social Value endeavours.
Our country has always had a great spirit of enterprise and innovation. But too often progress has been stifled by inequality – whether it is because people do not have access to the right skills or opportunities, or because they face barriers and feel their aspirations are stifled by this.
As we move forward, we must remember that whatever new ‘branding’ is used for the so-called ‘Levelling Up’ – it is critical that delivery focuses on both human capital and physical capital.
CEO of Central District Alliance