New paper claims levelling up agenda has "served country poorly" and lays out new community-centred approach

The government’s levelling up agenda has made “scant progress”, according to a new paper co-authored by a De Montfort University Leicester (DMU) expert.

Arianna Giovannini, Associate Professor of Local Politics and Public Policy at DMU, has co-written a new paper called Rethinking Levelling Up, which looks at the democratic reforms needed to actually achieve a more progressive, equal and levelled-up country.

Levelling up

The paper, which was written in partnership with Professor Steven Griggs, of Staffordshire University, makes the central argument that in order to achieve real equality, local institutions and communities should be at the heart of the policy.

It states: “The levelling up agenda has made little progress since its inception in 2019.

“Yet abandoning its programme of reform risks returning us to a status quo characterised by over-centralisation and top-down control, that served the country so poorly and paved the way to wide regional divides in the first place.

“We call for a culture of governance that rests on the logic of caring for place, that recognises that participation and a reinvigorated local government go hand in hand, and that supports the work of ‘connectors’ across places and the culture of problem-solving, both within communities and between all tiers of government.”

The authors argue that devolution should be “tightly connected” with levelling up but that many of the devolution concepts - like metro mayors, combined authorities and local enterprise partnerships – have been implemented by the government to put a “political stamp” on the agenda.

They write: “The result is an incoherent and uneven landscape, that sees some areas getting devo deals mapping onto local geographies and sense of place, others that are designed around models of city-regions and travel to work areas or even completely artificial boundaries, while large swathes of the country are simply excluded.”

Another issue identified in the paper is the term ‘levelling up’ itself, which the authors suggest has become a ‘saturated concept’.

They write: “(It’s) a sort of catch-all phrase that seeks to address myriad concerns in which almost everyone agrees, but with no quick or easy ‘fix’.

“In fact, the ‘fuzziness’ of the concept has been deliberately deployed for political/electoral reasons. As a result, levelling up has been presented – at least until recently – by the Conservative government as the only game in town: a panacea to a vast array of pressing ‘wicked issues’, and therefore the solution to none.”

As a way forward, the authors emphasise the importance of recognising the individual nature of local communities and government structures – what they term “caring for place”.

They write: “Caring for place, or stewardship of place, starts from the recognition that places are multiple, pluralistic, and in many ways fragmented collections of different spaces, relations, infrastructures, emotional attachments, and memories.

“Caring for place rests, we suggest, on the reinvigoration of local government. Local government has to have the capacity and capability to be a ‘nodal actor’ across local communities, delivering on community demands and bringing into decision-making multiple groups and individuals in ways that offer voices to all.”

Posted on Tuesday 20th December 2022

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