We need a national workforce strategy to boost productivity and spur economic growth
With a new Conservative Prime Minister, we will soon discover how far levelling up remains a slogan rather than the co-ordinated and effective range of policies that are necessary to help boost local economies and communities up and down the country.
In our work on the cross-party Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (LUHC) Committee, we have examined levelling up funding and criticised the lack of transparency and evaluation around many of these schemes. In our report on high streets, we expressed concern that the competitive bidding process for many of the government’s town regeneration funding schemes risks failing to direct funding to the places that most need it. Indeed, the complex array of grants and funding pots allocated by the Levelling Up Department and across Whitehall has made it difficult, if not impossible, to assess what precisely is going on to improve communities across the country.
We simply don’t have enough people with the right skills in the right places to do all the jobs
One step the government could take to improve transparency is to provide a greater level of information on all the funds and also include the unsuccessful bidders for these schemes. On the committee’s prompting, the department has slowly begun to provide more information and we expect to look at these issues again and examine how far these funds have achieved their intended objectives.
A new Prime Minister has brought yet another change at the department, in Secretary of State Simon Clarke, who I hope will seize the opportunity to vigorously drive forward devolution across England and help boost the provision of public services in cities and regions.
As we have argued in the committee’s report on devolution, the government should drive forward the devolution agenda by working with local government to produce a framework in which devolution is the default option. When we questioned Michael Gove in his role as secretary of state, he agreed with our view that financial devolution is crucial to the future success of devolution. It will be important for Clarke to share this opinion.
As a committee, we will continue to press the government to examine the options for fiscal devolution and give local authorities greater freedom, which can enable them to take longer-term decisions for their communities and be more accountable to their electorates.
Since the tragic fire at Grenfell Tower five years ago, it has come to light that many hundreds of buildings have dangerous cladding or other fire safety defects. To his credit, Gove was able to make much-needed and long overdue progress on these issues relating to building safety, by taking steps to hold industry to account and by protecting leaseholders from remediation costs. It is vital that the government continues to build on this progress and that it addresses the gaps the committee has identified, including on ensuring that leaseholders don’t fall through the cracks of the support available and that social housing tenants are included in protections.
Over the coming months, we hope the government will respond positively to the committee’s recent inquiries on social housing, on exempt accommodation and on adult social care. We also look forward to setting out our recommendations to the government on the private rented sector. During a cost of living crisis, the impact of rising housing costs is even more damaging on households and there is little doubt that private renters can be the victim of a power imbalance with their landlords, being subject to unjustified hikes in rents and fearing being forced out of their accommodation.
We are keen to provide constructive suggestions on how the government can build on its white paper proposals for reform of the private rented sector, and we expect to report on this in the coming months.
Darren Jones, Labour MP for Bristol North West and chair of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee.
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