Getting Down to Levelling Up
4 Feb 2022
At last, the good people of Great Britain have been delivered the Levelling Up White Paper – 400 pages of plans and promises with much of the substance still to come. In this blog, DRD Associate, Clemency Huggins, takes a look at what the White Paper contains, and what this might mean for the Government going forward.
Source: National World
Getting Down to Levelling Up
At last, the good people of Great Britain have been delivered the White Paper of White Papers – so named both for its astonishing length and, more literally, because it includes the announcement of a series of further White Papers to be published this year. That is one indication of the great breadth of Michael Gove’s Levelling Up behemoth – 400 pages of plans and promises with much of the substance to come in the seven (from our count) further White Papers on private renting, fire reform, schools, health and social care, health and disability, health disparities and food strategy still in gestation.
What’s the verdict?
At a glance, rather than answering all the questions about how Johnson’s Government is going to deliver on their 2019 manifesto promise to ‘level up the country’, the long trailed White Paper is more like a 2024 Election Manifesto 2.0. After months of delays from the specially launched department, it sets out a long list of commitments and targets, much of which seems a little half baked, as though it was finally rushed out the door in a desperate attempt to stop a tory rebellion in its tracks and move the media’s beady eye on from ‘partygate’…
That may be a cynical view, but there is a lot to be optimistic about in the substance of the Paper. It does a good job at identifying the areas where improvement is needed, setting long term goals in the recognition that there is no quick fix to close the prosperity, education and health gaps between the South East and the rest of the country. It accepts that the north cannot be improved simply by building a faster train line or building a new school in isolation. It outlines the holistic approach that is needed to fix the disparity between the regions.
It is hoped that the White Paper will act as a point from which perception, coverage and credibility can begin to improve over time, bolstered by the further announcements and policy initiatives that have been promised. Much like the long-term objectives within the paper, the communications and reputation building surrounding it is also a long game.
Clemency Huggins, DRD Associate
Too little, too late?
All good stuff, but given the predicament of the current Government has Michael Gove done enough to save Boris’ bacon, and turn around its election fortunes in those fabled ‘Red Wall’ seats?
Considering its length and the breadth of policy areas it covers, it cannot be said that he hasn’t tried. Rather, Gove has decided not to let the perfect be the enemy of the good and release the paper now, building a framework off which to answer the more operational questions, particularly, it seems, around health and wellbeing. Further delays to the release would not only have led to more doubt about the Government’s ability to deliver on their manifesto promises, but also would have increased the levels of distrust and scrutiny that they are already facing.
It’s certainly no silver bullet, but there simply isn’t one available. Instead, it is hoped that the White Paper will act as a point from which perception, coverage and credibility can begin to improve over time, bolstered by the further announcements and policy initiatives that have been promised. Much like the long-term objectives within the paper, the communications and reputation building surrounding it is also a long game.
Ghost of Governments yet to come
Acknowledging that, in the words of Savills director Jeremy Hinds, “levelling up is a process, not an event”, the Conservatives have given themselves eight years to achieve their grand vision of levelling up the country. But, to still be in power once that 2030 deadline arrives would mean winning another two General Elections. Having already been the ruling party for 12 years, at the point of the second of these elections the Conservatives would have been in power for 19 years – surpassing even the previous Thatcher/ Major Conservative Governments of 1979-1997.
In all likelihood the Conservative Party will not be in power long enough to see their vision completed and their targets met. The question then, is, have they set unattainable targets for ill-equipped authorities to set their successors up for failure? The Levelling Up White Paper might just be both the springboard to save this government and the political weapon of the future against any successor government that fails to achieve the ambitions contained within it.