Policymakers urged to stick with levelling up

Policymakers must stick with the levelling up agenda, argues new research from cross-party think tank, Demos, and professional services firm, KPMG.

Policymakers must stick with the levelling up agenda, argues new research from cross-party

  • Think tank Demos urges policymakers to protect the levelling up agenda.
  • Demos’ latest report, Movers and Stayers, found support for levelling up policies amongst Red Wall voters. 
  • Focus groups in Blyth and Mansfield showed strong desire for the levelling up strategy to be made more democratic, with more power put into the hands of the people. 
  • It also found that little can be done to persuade those who choose to leave their native towns to stay. 
  • Movers and Stayers therefore calls on the government to focus on improving the lives of those who choose to remain in their hometowns. It should capitalise on their enthusiasm by protecting the levelling up ambition and giving residents a voice in local investment decisions. 

Policymakers must stick with the levelling up agenda, argues new research from cross-party think tank, Demos, and professional services firm, KPMG.

The report, titled Movers and Stayers, explores the attitudes of residents in Blyth and Mansfield in relation to the government’s levelling up agenda; specifically, its ambition for people to be able to stay in the place they were born to live the life they want, without having to relocate in search of better prospects. 

The report found that among those who opted to leave their towns, very little could be done to persuade them to stay. Among those who chose to stay, it found support for levelling up policies, and a strong desire for the entire process to be made more democratic, with greater decision-making power being put into the hands of the people. 

Movers and Stayers therefore calls on the government to focus on improving the lives of those who choose to remain in their native towns and capitalise on their enthusiasm by sticking with levelling up and giving residents a voice on local investment decisions. 

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Dr Kate Harrison, Lead Researcher at Demos and co-author of Movers and Stayers, said:

“There is a golden opportunity to really democratise what levelling up is all about, putting power into the hands of the people and giving them what they need to thrive. We cannot allow current political events to sabotage the progress that’s starting to be made.

“Not only did we find real support for levelling up, there is a palpable desire among people to be actively involved in the work that’s required. They understand exactly what their communities need, yet for too long they have been forced to watch from the sidelines as bad local policies have been phoned in from London with next to no local engagement. 

“By giving local residents a seat at the table, the government can tap into a wealth of knowledge and ideas. More importantly still, by involving residents in the decision-making process, they are far more likely to be invested in its success. This will help legitimise the policies that levelling up will depend on.”

Much of the respondents’ desire to be more involved in the political process comes from deep frustration with historical decisions, where investment has been made in projects that have not met the needs of the local areas. 

In light of residents’ feedback, Movers and Stayers calls on the government to introduce a participatory approach which would capitalise on peoples’ enthusiasm and bolster local engagement. 

Examples of participatory policymaking include conducting citizens assemblies where decisions are taken on contentious topics, priority-setting exercises to determine where development budgets should be spent and engaging with people to generate ideas for new projects. This would mark a significant departure from the government’s top-down approach, which has sometimes seen decisions made by central government lacking engagement with local communities. 

Crucially, the report argues that this level of public engagement would go far beyond early stage consultation and would ensure residents - particularly those with lived experience - are actively part of the process of generating and delivering new policies. 

Chris Hearld, Head of Regions at KPMG, said:

“Any strategy seeking to make ‘Stay local, go far’ a reality needs to embrace true devolution alongside a participatory approach. People who choose to stay in our country’s many and varied towns must benefit from prospects that are enhanced through empowered decision making on their doorstep.

“Stronger, bespoke links between education, skills and careers is critical and is an area that highlights the potential for further devolution to make a real difference. Our report calls for devolution powers that go beyond those promised in the Levelling Up White Paper, including the devolving of skills and careers advice to Combined Authorities, which should cover the whole country. It is by providing regionally tailored careers advice, further education, and skills provision - including apprenticeships - that local government can help to ensure people within their community are well equipped to contribute to the growth of new industries in their area, such as green energy in Blyth.

“There’s no doubt that devolution is front and centre when it comes to making the most of the economic boosts offered to our towns.”

 

-ENDS-

NOTES TO EDITORS

Methodology

The research by Demos that underpins this report is based on a roundtable discussion with a range of experts, four focus groups in May 2022, regular consultations with an advisory group made up of local leaders, policy experts and academics and a literature review of UK and international evidence. This project was supported by KPMG, all views contained within this report are those of Demos.

Media Contacts

Felix Arbenz-Caines, Communications Manager, Demos

Phone: 07979046378

Email: felix.arbenzcaines@demos.co.uk

Alison Anderson, media relations, KPMG UK

Phone: +44 7733 453 065

Email: alison.anderson@kpmg.co.uk

About Demos

Demos is Britain’s leading cross-party think-tank: an independent, educational charity, which produces original and innovative research.

About KPMG:

KPMG LLP, a UK limited liability partnership, operates from 22 offices across the UK with approximately 15,300 partners and staff.  The UK firm recorded a revenue of £2.43 billion in the year ended 30 September 2021.

KPMG is a global organisation of independent professional services firms providing Audit, Legal, Tax and Advisory services. It operates in 145 countries and territories with more than 236,000 partners and employees working in member firms around the world. Each KPMG firm is a legally distinct and separate entity and describes itself as such. KPMG International Limited is a private English company limited by guarantee. KPMG International Limited and its related entities do not provide services to clients.