Levelling up must mean more than just sharing the benefits of economic growth
How can we get levelling up right when we have struggled to do so in the past?
The Prime Minister has pledged to ‘level up’ the UK. The coming months will see a debate about how and where that happens. However, the debate is not only about the North-South divide. For nearly two decades the Island has been making the case to government for more regional assistance. For us, levelling up is about a new and better future.
So how can we get levelling up - a catchy phrase for a regional development agenda - right when we have struggled to do so in the past.
First, let’s have a cross-government approach. Levelling up is about lots of things: skills, innovation, infrastructure; but it is also about regeneration. It is about education, health, and planning for local people. We need a holistic approach which recognises the structural inequalities faced by regions around the UK. We need cross-departmental teams who can support this agenda.
Levelling up should be about regenerating town centres, brownfield land and empty properties
Second, for the Island, it means diversifying our economy and developing our green energy and marine industry. One thousand jobs have disappeared in manufacturing and ‘professional, scientific and technical’ sectors on the Island since 2010. Our bid for the Levelling Up Fund will aim to replace them in new economies and skills.
Third, we need to centre development in our towns. Levelling up should be about regenerating town centres, brownfield land and empty properties. Less than 30 per cent of house completions on the Island last year were on brownfield sites. We should look to the London Docklands Development Corporation, or the South Tees Development Corporation today, to see how urban regeneration and job creation can help us level up our economy.
We need to give councils the power to tackle landbanking and ensure public land comes forward faster. One in six jobs are on the Island rely on tourism; we need a moratorium on greenfield and out of town development to protect them. Levelling Up should not mean concreting out.
Finally, investing in young people. The Prime Minister is right that the distribution of opportunity has not matched the distribution of talent. 23 per cent of Islanders aged 18 entered higher education in the 2016 cycle, compared to 39.9 per cent in London.
Levelling up means refocusing our economy, and sharing the benefits of economic growth, but it should mean much more. A connected vision, like the one we are proposing on the Isle of Wight, could be the testbed we need to start.
Bob Seely is the Conservative MP for Isle of Wight.
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