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We must embrace this opportunity to address the regional inequality that blights our nation

We must embrace this opportunity to address the regional inequality that blights our nation
3 min read

Over two years since the slogan was introduced, after several delays to its launch and much tension and briefing between ministers, the levelling up white paper has finally been published.

Any proposals to address the regional inequality that blights our nation must be welcomed. Any steps to improve the life chances and living standards of our citizens must be embraced. Any programme to reduce the gulf between the richest and poorest in our society must be realised.

But I must confess to being taken aback as ministers have spoken of their “moral mission” to “save forgotten communities” when they have inflicted such savage cuts and so much brutal damage on these very communities and people in recent years.

The past two years of the Covid-19 pandemic have seen inequalities magnified and multiplied, yet local government has responded to the challenge. And with the publication of this strategy, we will once again step up.

It is critical for us to translate the strategy into transformative change for the people of Coventry. We need to improve the life chances and living standards of all of our residents. We need to ensure that good quality jobs and lifelong skills and training opportunities can be accessed by all. We must reduce poverty levels across the city, and ensure that all children receive a good quality education.

Levelling up will not happen until the government addresses the inequity of funding for deprived areas

Despite some of the lofty promises in the white paper to deliver “the biggest shift of power from Whitehall to local leaders in modern times”, our focus in Coventry will be to focus on the immediate opportunities.

We welcome our selection as an Education Investment Area and will continue to transform outcomes for children and young people in our city where 92 per cent of our primary schools are good or excellent. We will develop a Local Skills Improvement Plan to set out our ambition to co-design skills solutions with local businesses to meet the demands of the labour market.

We hope selecting the West Midlands as one of the first three Innovation Accelerators will help us in our endeavour to deliver the West Midlands Gigafactory, which is critical to inward investment, regeneration, and securing long-term high-skilled jobs.

However, the strategy sets out principles but not a plan. That is why at Coventry City Council, we will shortly be publishing our vision, “Translating the Levelling Up Strategy into Meaningful Change for Coventry”.

We know realising the levelling up strategy will be made harder by the absence of new funding. Councils stand ready to take on additional powers and responsibilities, but that won’t happen unless revenue funding is available.

This is against a backdrop in which the IFS has found that spending on non-education services by councils in the most deprived areas fell by 31 per cent, per resident, over the last decade – almost twice as much as the councils serving the least deprived areas.

Levelling up will not happen until the government addresses the inequity of funding for deprived areas.

I have served my home city as a councillor for almost 30 years, the last five as leader. I have always been driven by a society and economy that is underpinned by fairness and justice; opportunity for everyone regardless of their background; and a more equal society. On behalf of our residents, we will capitalise on all opportunities to level up and reduce inequalities.

We know and understand our communities; we work effectively with our businesses, third sector and other local public sector partners to deliver results; and we will continue to work with our partners to deliver necessary change to our communities that most need to benefit from economic and social transformation.

 

Councillor George Duggins is Leader of Coventry City Council.

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