The government's 12 levelling up missions' - targets to be achieved by 2030 across a range of policy areas from crime to health to housing - will not reduce regional inequality, says a new Institute for Government paper.
The missions were laid out in the government's levelling up white paper. But new IfG research finds that only four of the 12 missions are clear, ambitious and have appropriate metrics - outcomes the government will measure to demonstrate progress towards its 2030 target. The other eight all need to be recalibrated if they are to deliver on the government's promises to level up the UK.
Published today, Will the levelling up missions help reduce regional inequality? also calls on the government to put the right systems in place to ensure that ministers and civil servants are held accountable for progress on the levelling up agenda. The proposed Levelling Up Advisory Council cannot provide rigorous expert advice and scrutiny when it operates only at the discretion of the government and cannot perform independent analysis. And without any idea of which departments are leading the coordination of policy contributing to each mission, it will be harder to hold government accountable if things are off track.
The IfG's analysis of the government's 12 levelling up missions finds that:
- Five of the missions are not ambitious enough, meaning that little or no change would be needed to meet them. For example, one metric requires that pay increases in every region by 2030, but this is almost certain to happen regardless of policy.
- Three missions are too ambitious to be realistic, which will also fail to inspire policy action. For example, meeting the target of 90% of students achieving the expected standard by age 11 will be virtually impossible.
- Four of the missions do not define what success really looks like, making it hard for actors within and outside government to know what they need to do to make progress. For example, it is not clear what the government means by a globally competitive city', but one of the missions sets a target to have one in every region of the UK by 2030.
- Two of the missions have too narrow a focus, and risk diverting attention and resources away from other outcomes that would contribute to levelling up.
- One mission (on R&D spending) does not align with the overall objective of levelling up to reduce regional disparities.
Important objectives, such as simplifying funding for local government, are not currently part of the proposed metrics. Other metrics, such as those on pay and productivity, are due to be tracked only over large geographic regions despite the white paper acknowledging significant inequalities within these regions.
Eleanor Shearer, author of the new report, said:
It is good that the government has defined what success in levelling up looks like, but if these missions are not designed appropriately, they will not drive the kind of ambitious change that is needed across government, the private sector and civil society. The missions and metrics need to be revisited and recalibrated to ensure that they set clear, ambitious and measurable targets, and the government needs a proper independent body to scrutinise progress. Without this, levelling up will be at risk of joining the long list of other past efforts to tackle regional inequality that failed to deliver change on the scale that is needed.
Notes for editors