‘Learn from New Labour’ Gove urged

Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove should learn from New Labour when drawing up the Levelling Up White Paper, according to a former civil servant in the Tony Blair government.

Much of today’s levelling up debate fixates on grand projects and infrastructure. But if levelling up means anything, it surely means improving people’s lives – their health, education, income, life satisfaction’, writes Ravi Gurumurthy, on the conservativehome website.

Gurumurthy worked in the Cabinet Office’s Social Exclusion Unit during Tony Blair’s premiership and is a former Chief Innovation Officer at the International Rescue Committee. He is currently chief executive officer of Nesta, a charity which describes itself as the UK’s innovation agency for social good.

He recommends that Gove should follow the Blair government, first, in setting ‘floor targets’ in areas such as cutting crime, improving education and increasing employment. Second, he  should promote progressive funding so that large, mainstream budgets in education, health, policing, and transport are focused on poorer areas.

Third, he should make people accountable as the Blair government had done: ‘Someone’ writes Gurumurthy, ‘needed to be in charge at every level. Many of the critical services for renewing a neighbourhood – including policing, schools, the NHS, and public transport – are outside local authorities’ control. Local government was charged with bringing all the main public services together through local strategic partnerships’

Under the current devolution model this is a role which, at the top level, is filled by elected mayors.

Gurumurthy writes: ‘While flawed, and in part because they [the Blair measures] were flawed, there is much for today’s government to learn. With the Spending Review completed, there will be no new money from the Treasury to support levelling up. What is up for grabs is how that money is allocated, and who is held to account for what…

‘…why not give more local leaders the power to shape local outcomes so that they can be held to account? Schools, health services, policing, energy and transport all sit outside the control of local authorities. We could replicate the powers given to Greater Manchester for the rest of the country, or top-slice funding from other departments to be distributed by mayors and local leaders instead’.

Gurumurthy concludes: ‘Levelling up is not a new idea. Almost every government since the Second World War created initiatives to tackle urban deprivation, though we still know little about the precise interventions that work. What we do know, notably from New Labour’s approach, is that the foundation has to be the basics of statecraft: defining and measuring what we want to achieve, holding agencies to account who have the power and resources to deliver, and funding experimentation and learning. On these foundations, a decades-old promise will edge closer to reality’.

Gurumurthy’s piece has significant similarities to the expectations and hopes for the Levelling Up White Paper put forward on this website on November 26, including the need for cross-Whitehall involvement to deal with crime, education, health and transport in deprived areas as well as local government services, progressive funding to ensure support goes where most needed, metrics to measure performance and accountability. It is recommended reading.

Transparency statement: This author, like Gurumurthy, was a civil servant during the Blair governments.