Lords call for transparency on levelling up

A House of Lords committee chaired by a former North East MP warned today that ‘left behind’ places will be ‘short-changed’ and inequality will grow if money for the NHS, schools and councils is not protected and ‘levelling up’ plans are not better targeted.

The committee chair, Baroness Armstrong, says in a letter to the Prime Minister that the government has shown insufficient transparency in making ‘levelling up’ funding decisions, fuelling accusations of political bias’.

She also says that for ‘levelling up’ to be successful, the government needs to give local authorities and other local service providers more autonomy; current funding mechanisms are overly centralised and the government should use the English devolution white paper, expected this year, to address these shortcomings.

Baroness Hilary Armstrong was Labour MP for North West Durham between 1987 and 2010 and served in Tony Blair’s governments.

The public services committee report published today calls for ministers to use the promised white paper to refocus their strategy to improve health, employment and skills and better prepare children for school if it wants more jobs, productivity and pay in deprived communities.

During the committee’s inquiry into levelling up and public services, witnesses accused ministers of favouring prosperous rural areas with funds ahead of deprived communities.  

‘Without full transparency and political accountability local areas will continue to question why they have missed out on ‘levelling up’ funding while others have benefited’, it says.

The committee found that the government’s strategy ‘does not recognise high levels of deprivation in many parts of the country including parts of London.’  

It warns that if ‘levelling up’ investment neglects social infrastructure – such as community centres and childcare – and public services it will not help the most deprived areas.

It calls on the government to work with local service providers and users to set targets to improve, for example, life expectancy, employment, literacy and numeracy of children starting school and the number of entrants to higher education.

Holistic approach

Baroness Armstrong said: “Not only places but the people who live in them should be at the heart of ‘levelling up’. Social infrastructure and support provided by public services is at least as critical to communities as investment in roads and bridges. ‘Lack of funding for preventative health services, vocational education and for better literacy and numeracy among disadvantaged children has undermined the resilience of our poorest communities and further entrenched inequality. 

‘Successfully ‘levelling up’ will require a more holistic approach. A white paper – which should be published urgently – is welcome but it’s unclear exactly what the government wants to level up, how much its strategy will cost, how long it will take and how it plans to achieve its goals. The strategy will require a major change of direction if it is to achieve its admirable ambition for people in ‘left behind’ areas to have the same opportunities as elsewhere in the country.’

In her letter to the Prime Minister, Baroness Armstrong sets out eight committee recommendations including some ideas featured on this website, including:

  • that the white paper should set out how it will measure the progress of its strategy for reducing geographical disparities across the UK against targets disaggregated by lower-tier local authority including healthy life expectancy, employment, pay, productivity, the levels of literacy and numeracy level of those starting school, the proportion of the population with higher-level qualifications, vocational qualifications and skills;
  • that the government should set out in its white paper how local people in areas receiving ‘levelling up’ investment will be consulted on how that money is spent; it should involve civil society organisations in the design, delivery and evaluation of ‘levelling up’ funds, it should work with the local voluntary sector to consult marginalised groups on how ‘levelling up’ money should be spent in their areas.