Jonathan Webb, a senior research fellow at IPPR North responded to today's Autumn Budget
Today was an acid test for the government's flagship levelling up agenda - and the Chancellor has fallen short of the sky-high rhetoric that he and the government set themselves to fix the UK's unprecedented regional divides. The announcements today lack the essential ingredients needed to achieve this - sustained regional investment and substantial devolution. The country is no more on track to level up than it was yesterday.
It appears that the government's plan to level up is little more than centrally controlled, ring-fenced, competitive funding pots designed more to get headlines than to narrow inequalities. The UK faces the deepest regional divides of any comparable country. Today was a day not for first steps, but for outlining how we'll deliver levelling up over the next few years. This requires the publication of the Levelling Up White Paper, a commitment from all of government demonstrated by action, a power shift away from Whitehall to town halls, as well as sustained investment to grow regional economies.
Austerity is not over, our regional divides are deep and growing, we are not out of the woods of a catastrophic pandemic, and we need to get ahead of the game on building a net zero economy. The North's resilience has been undermined by these interacting factors for years. Levelling up could be a golden opportunity to reduce divides, boost opportunity, and give communities control over their destinies. It is not an opportunity that has been seized today.
On the Shared Prosperity Fund, senior research fellow at IPPR North, Erica Roscoe said:
The shared prosperity fund is meant to be the government's answer to the investment funds lost from the EU following Brexit, but despite repeated announcements of the Shared Prosperity Fund over the last 4 years ago, nothing has come to fruition.
Instead, we've seen fractured, small-scale, short-term and hugely centralised funding pots. This has created a fragmented and confusing funding environment where local governments are expected to spend time and resources applying for competitive pots of money, when they are already overstretched.
The repeated announcement of 1.5 billion by 2024-25 for the Shared Prosperity Fund might sound generous, but while the government intends to match what the UK used to receive in EU structural funding, in reality this will lead to a significant shortfall as it doesn't include domestic match funding.
On transport, Marcus Johns, a research fellow at IPPR North said:
The promise of an infrastructure revolution has been rolled out once again. But rehashed, repackaged, and re-announced pots of funding at each budget are not going to close the UK's regional divides, which hold back the northern and national economy and fail to deliver economic justice.
City regions have been held back for too long by a lack of investment in their public transport and the 6.9 billion allocation to some Mayoral Combined Authorities is a positive, if long overdue, step towards improving this-though only 1.5 billion is actually new funding today and places like the North East, or those without devolution have been left out. And his failure to mention Northern Powerhouse Rail and HS2's Eastern Leg is a shackle on the North's future, raising again the Treasury's long-term reluctance to invest in the North and get us on track to a more prosperous future.
The absence of the Levelling Up White Paper and Integrated Rail Plan by this budget mean that there is still no strategy, framework, or leadership behind levelling up funding promises and little clarity is available for the North's mayors and local leaders for their ambitions after the pandemic.
Contact:Rosie Lockwood, head of media and advocacy for IPPR North, on 07585772633 firstname.lastname@example.org.
IPPR North spokespeople are available for interview.
IPPR North is the leading think-tank for the north of England, developing bold ideas for a stronger economy and prosperous places and people. It was shortlisted in two categories for Prospect's think tank of the year awards' in 2020. For more information, visit ippr.org/north.
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