To make ‘levelling up’ a success, we must be guided by evidence of what works
Blackpool, where BITC has been working
Levelling up provides a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the government to create a consensus as part of a common political agenda. To help achieve this ambitious agenda, the government must not rely on legislation alone. It will take a collaborative approach to ensure that levelling up works everywhere, not just for the areas that have easier access to Westminster.
Business in the Community (BITC), the Prince’s Responsible Business Network, has been working on levelling up for decades. We work with areas that feel a long way from the centre of national power to bring educational opportunities and jobs, as well as investment in infrastructure and regeneration – all of which help rejuvenate local communities.
To level up effectively, a simple one-size-fits-all model just won’t work. Every community is different and each will have its own unique challenges that need to be addressed. Therefore, involving local businesses and community groups before any money is spent will be crucial in making levelling up work across all parts of the UK.
BITC has seen first-hand from its work in areas such as Wisbech and Bradford what’s needed to make levelling up a success. It takes a collaborative approach from local authorities, businesses, local communities, and other civic institutions to make real, long-lasting change happen. BITC employs local “business connectors” to act as independent brokers between stakeholders. This is crucial for building trust with the people living in the area. Business connectors also provide much-needed leadership when discussing the asks and deliverables of stakeholders, who will have different outlooks and skills.
The legislation that flows from the levelling up white paper won’t include the individual needs of each community, nor will it provide a local prospectus on how this work should be done.
BITC’s business connector model is unique, ensuring that, before investment is made, councils, businesses and communities are all working towards a common goal. It will also be crucial to link economic and social levelling up to help reduce inequality and disadvantage. Blackpool is one example of BITC’s work in levelling up.
We started by breaking down long-standing barriers between the community, council and businesses. Through the business connector role, a common goal was agreed, and the Blackpool Prospectus was published, providing a collective vision and agenda for Blackpool. Blackpool now has a £1bn investment plan in train.
We want to make it easier for both large corporates and SMEs to engage with, and transform, their communities.
We know that businesses want to be part of the solution; they want to know what they can do to help make levelling up work for everyone. That’s why, through BITC’s Place Taskforce, we’re gathering evidence-based research to produce a blueprint for businesses on how they can support the government’s levelling up agenda.
If levelling up is to truly be achieved in all areas from Belfast to Barking, businesses must be part of the plan, and part of the solution.
We want to make it easier for both large corporates and SMEs to engage with, and transform, their communities. With the effects of Covid-19, the potential unintended consequences of Brexit, and the urgency of climate change, this enquiry couldn’t be more timely, and with your support we could have a tangible long-term impact in the areas where it’s needed.
By the end of April 2022, BITC will use this evidence to produce a report focusing on what works, and the role of business in place-based regeneration. The report will also focus on the barriers that need to be dismantled to make it easier to tackle disadvantaged communities, the lack of social mobility and turn areas into thriving places to live and work.
We’re inviting MPs and peers from all parties to submit evidence and ideas of what works.
For further information or to submit a written response to the Taskforce, see here.
Lord Bassam is a Labour peer. Baroness Valentine is a cross bench peer. They are co-directors of place and levelling up at Business in the Community
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