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What is levelling up and what it means for where you live

·Finance Reporter, Yahoo Finance UK
·6-min read
Wide angle aerial view above the city of Wolverhampton on an overcast day.
Wolverhampton will be among the first of 20 areas picked to benefit from the levelling up agenda. Photo: Getty

The government has unveiled its 12 "levelling up missions" to help “left-behind” areas but the blueprint comes with no new money.

The idea is that people and communities that feel they have been left behind get a chance to catch up.

Wolverhampton and Sheffield will be the first of 20 areas picked to benefit from a "radical new regeneration programme" launched by the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) as part of the government's Levelling Up White Paper.

The £1.5bn brownfield fund will support "developments combining housing, leisure and business in sustainable, walkable, beautiful new neighbourhoods".

Watch: Michael Gove says people in North and Midlands have been 'overlooked and undervalued for years'

In Wolverhampton, the money will go towards the revival of the wider Wolverhampton to Walsall corridor, while in Sheffield investment will focus on the Integrated Rail Plan, intended to cut journey times from Sheffield to London.

As part of a wider £120m brownfield fund package, £28m will be allocated to the West Midlands combined authority and £13m for the South Yorkshire combined authority.

Later this week the government is expected to launch a £1.5bn Levelling Up Home Building Fund, which will provide loans to small and medium-sized builders and developers to deliver 42,000 homes.

The strategy, unveiled by Levelling Up secretary Michael Gove, will take until 2030 and have £4.8bn to spend on improving pay, jobs, investment, transport connections, home ownership and school results in poorer areas, while cutting crime.

There is a mission to effectively eliminate illiteracy and innumeracy among primary school leavers with the government’s educational efforts focused on the most disadvantaged parts of the country.

Read more: Food prices drive UK shopping costs to highest since 2012

The government is to create 55 new “Education Investment Areas”, with Rochdale, Walsall, Sunderland and the Isle of Wight among the so called “cold spots” identified by the government where school outcomes are the weakest.

They are set to receive targeted investment in a bid to improve schools, including Department for Education (DfE) retention payments in order to help schools keep on the best teachers in the highest priority subjects.

The plan also includes £100m of new government funding for "innovation accelerators" to boost research and development in Greater Manchester, the West Midlands and Glasgow City-Region.

"Our ambitious plan to unite and level up the whole UK seeks to end that historic injustice and call time on the postcode lottery,” Gove said.

There are also commitments to ensure hundreds of thousands more people get high quality skills training every year while gross disparities in healthy life expectancy are narrowed.

Most of the policies apply to England only, but the government insists the levelling up is a UK-wide initiative.

"We will only succeed if all layers of government - UK, devolved, and local - work together."

Ten projects in Wales are receiving money from the Levelling Up fund, following bids from local authorities. These include the £16.7m for the Tywi Valley walking and cycling route project in Carmarthenshire and £17.7m to support the regeneration of Haverfordwest, Pembrokeshire, including improvement work at the town's disused 13th Century castle.

Both Carmarthenshire and Pembrokeshire secured £19.9m to develop town centre hubs in Carmarthen and Pembroke.

Read more: UK's low income households to be worst hit with rising energy prices

However, the entire strategy is reliant on allocations in chancellor Rishi Sunak’s spending review of last year, so no new funding is being funnelled into levelling-up.

The 400-page white paper invites nine English counties to apply for county devolution deals, Durham, Hull and east Yorkshire, and Devon. Some existing mayors will be offered further powers akin to those in London.

Every part of England would have access to "London-style" powers and a mayor if they want it, according to the levelling-up strategy.

People in the north of England and Midlands had been “overlooked and undervalued for years” by politicians, Gove said.

The new levelling up targets include increasing taxpayer-funded research and development outside London and the south-east by 40%; boosting “perceived wellbeing” in every part of the country and improving “pride in place”, defined as “people’s satisfaction with their town centre and engagement in local culture and community”; and bringing local transport connectivity across the UK “significantly closer to the standards of London”.

It is promising nationwide gigabit-capable broadband and 4G mobile coverage, with the newer 5G mobile system for the majority of the population.

Meanwhile, a report by the National Audit Office (NAO), which scrutinises public spending, has criticised the government for having a "limited" understanding of what has worked well when setting up its programme for regional economic growth.

The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities has “wasted opportunities to learn lessons,” and relies on others to do its research.

“It does not know whether previous policies achieved their aims,” the auditors said on Wednesday.

“Instead, it has built its evidence base for what works in local growth by drawing largely on external sources such as academic studies and evaluations conducted on place-based funding from the European Union.”

As a result, “it doesn’t know whether billions of pounds of public spending has had the impact intended,” said Gareth Davies, the head of the watchdog.

The NAO report also highlights the scale of the task, with the gap between rich and poor areas in the UK “among the largest” of any developed nation.

The government says it will "do whatever it can to achieve these missions" and that "resources, energy, and focus throughout the 2020s will be re-oriented around achieving them".

Ministers will give government departments a legal duty to report on their progress against the missions and it will be overviewed by a new levelling-up council.

The government will publish another white paper later this year on tackling health inequalities.

The 12 'levelling up missions'

· Increase pay, employment and productivity in all areas of the UK, with each one containing a "globally competitive city"

· Raise public investment in research and development outside the south-east of England by 40%

· Eliminate illiteracy and innumeracy by refocusing education spending on the most disadvantaged parts of the country

· Increase the number of people completing high quality skills training - in England, this will mean 200,000 more people a year

· Bring the rest of the country's public transport up to London standards

· Provide access to 5G broadband for the "large majority" of households

· Create more first-time homebuyers in all areas, and reduce the number of "non-decent rented homes" by 50%

· Narrow the gap of healthy life expectancy between the areas where it is lowest and highest

· Improve "well-being" in every area of the UK

· Increase "pride of place", such as people's satisfaction with their town centre and engagement in local culture and community

· Reduce murder, manslaughter, serious violence and neighbourhood crime, especially in the worst-affected areas

· Give every part of England that wants it a devolution deal with more regional powers and simplified, long-term funding

Watch: Gove says colleague is 'plumb wrong' to ask for leadership vote

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