The Government’s long-awaited Levelling Up White Paper was published yesterday (2 February 2022), building on the Conservative Party’s 2019 election manifesto “..to use our post-Brexit freedoms to build prosperity and strengthen and level up every part of the country” in response to what are perceived as long standing challenges arising from the UK’s regional economic disparities.
The concept of levelling up involves substantial issues, and the White Paper is similarly vast, at 322 pages. It is said in the Prime Minister’s foreword to set out “…the practical steps this government will take in everything from education to art to investment that will make this a better, fairer country for us all”. Those practical steps are framed around 12 “missions” with the aspiration of challenge, and change, to what the Government considers as the unfairness of opportunity spread throughout the UK.
The accompanying Press Release summarises the missions as follows:
“1. By 2030, pay, employment and productivity will have risen in every area of the UK, with each containing a globally competitive city, with the gap between the top performing and other areas closing.
2. By 2030, domestic public investment in Research & Development outside the Greater South East will increase by at least 40% and at least one third over the Spending Review period, with that additional government funding seeking to leverage at least twice as much private sector investment over the long term to stimulate innovation and productivity growth.
3. By 2030, local public transport connectivity across the country will be significantly closer to the standards of London, with improved services, simpler fares and integrated ticketing.
4. By 2030, the UK will have nationwide gigabit-capable broadband and 4G coverage, with 5G coverage for the majority of the population.
5. By 2030, the number of primary school children achieving the expected standard in reading, writing and maths will have significantly increased. In England, this will mean 90% of children will achieve the expected standard, and the percentage of children meeting the expected standard in the worst performing areas will have increased by over a third.
6. By 2030, the number of people successfully completing high-quality skills training will have significantly increased in every area of the UK. In England, this will lead to 200,000 more people successfully completing high-quality skills training annually, driven by 80,000 more people completing courses in the lowest skilled areas.
7. By 2030, the gap in Healthy Life Expectancy (HLE) between local areas where it is highest and lowest will have narrowed, and by 2035 HLE will rise by 5 years.
8. By 2030, well-being will have improved in every area of the UK, with the gap between top performing and other areas closing.
9. By 2030, pride in place, such as people’s satisfaction with their town centre and engagement in local culture and community, will have risen in every area of the UK, with the gap between the top performing and other areas closing.
10. By 2030, renters will have a secure path to ownership with the number of first-time buyers increasing in all areas; and the government’s ambition is for the number of non-decent rented homes to have fallen by 50%, with the biggest improvements in the lowest performing areas.
11. By 2030, homicide, serious violence, and neighbourhood crime will have fallen, focused on the worst-affected areas.
12. By 2030, every part of England that wants one will have a devolution deal with powers at or approaching the highest level of devolution and a simplified, long-term funding settlement.”
While much of the attention in terms of specific concepts from an education perspective focuses on primary, secondary and further education (including the introduction of “Local Skills Improvement Plans” across England to support changes to make technical skills training more responsive to skill needs), there are a number of features which will be of interest to the higher education and research sector. Firstly, a key theme running throughout the White Paper is significant narrative and acknowledgment on the tremendous impact which higher education providers and research institutions can have on their regional and national economies. Nine new Institutes of Technology with strong employer links will be established in England, helping to boost higher technical skills in STEM subjects. Also of substantial interest to research institutions will be the proposals:
- “… outside the EU, the UK is putting competitive advantage in science and technology at the heart of a new economic model. A series of new Research and Development (R&D) investments will strengthen our science base across the country. The increase in public R&D investment to £20bn by 2024-25 and the target for total UK R&D investment to reach 2.4% of GDP by 2027 must see every region of the UK experience an uplift in investment. The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) will aim to invest at least 55% of its total domestic R&D funding outside the Greater South East by 2024‑25; the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) will increase National Institute for Health Research investment outside London, Oxford and Cambridge; and the Ministry of Defence (MoD) will expand the regional footprint of the Defence Science & Technology Laboratory (Dstl). These will contribute towards our ambition to increase total domestic public R&D investment outside the Greater South East by at least a third over the Spending Review period and at least 40% by 2030, with that additional government funding seeking to leverage at least twice as much private sector investment over the long-term to stimulate innovation and productivity growth (Mission Two).”
- “In addition, the UK Government will target £100m of investment in three new Innovation Accelerators, private-public-academic partnerships which will aim to replicate the Stanford-Silicon Valley and MIT-Greater Boston models of clustering research excellence and its direct adoption by allied industries. These pilots will be centred on Greater Manchester, the West Midlands and Glasgow City-Region. These new clusters will be our Fourth Industrial Revolution Foundries, leveraging our global lead in scientific research.”
White Papers serve as a primary point in any legislative process, in that they set out policy proposals for future legislation. The Government will now embark on a process of engagement and consultation with stakeholders on the Levelling Up White Paper, with the possibility of draft legislation following thereafter. Though aspects of the policy set out may vary as a consequence of the consultation and its evolution, we can almost certainly expect change arising from it, given the concluding comments that “…this White Paper is a critical stepping stone on the UK Government’s ambition to radically alter spatial disparities, ensuring that geography is no longer destiny and that all people and places in the UK are equipped to share in the country’s substantial economic, social and cultural wealth.”
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