A quarter of manufacturers, who account for £191bn of Britain’s output and employ 2.7 million people, believe that city regional mayors should have overall responsibility for how to spend levelling up funds in their region, according to a new report today from Make UK, the manufacturers’ organisation.
That is a larger proportion than for any other group favoured by Make UK members to take control of levelling up funds. Mayors, backed for the role by 25% of manufacturers, are followed by local councillors (22%), ministers (15%), local MPs ((14%) and national government (14%).
‘[M]anufacturers were …clear that levelling up means local power for local leaders’, says the report Levelling Up: Bridging the Gap between Policy and Progress.
‘This emphasises the need for national government to focus on how to empower local leaders, and their role in making levelling up a success’, it adds. ‘Devolution will be central to not only achieving the ambitions of the levelling up agenda, but more importantly, sustaining the importance of local solutions to local challenges years ahead’.
Manufacturers’ top two priorities for levelling up are better support for skills training and creating better job opportunities for all (25%) and upgrading local transport infrastructure including rail and road (19%).
Transport improvements are especially strongly supported in the north of England, and there is particular mention for some developments in the North East:
‘The construction and completion of the Northern Spire bridge in Sunderland has not only meant better connections between the north with the south but also regenerated the neglected south bank of the River Wear. With further investment expected through the new BritishVolt site in Northumberland, there is an abundance of new, exciting opportunities across the north. Key to making them all a success will be ensuring the infrastructure is in place to help people access these opportunities.’
The report adds: ‘Despite there being regional variations on what manufacturers saw as a priority for their business there was a clear trend running throughout all regions – accessing people and skills. This suggests that levelling up may not necessarily only be about “place”, rather “people” as well. Ensuring people can access opportunities, jobs and training wherever they choose to go – supported by good transport connections, affordable housing and digital connectivity’.
Adam Hawksbee, deputy director of Onward, a centre-right think tank, writing in the Foreword to today’s report, reminds readers that the government made empowering local leaders one of its four key commitments in the Levelling Up White Paper, with a mission to give every area that wants devolution genuine powers by 2030.
‘Responses from manufacturers vindicate that decision – with 25% saying they want city mayors to have responsibility for levelling up’, he writes. ‘The challenge is to ensure that the government lives up to its commitment to devolution and overcomes the centralising tendencies of its predecessors.’