The Government’s levelling up agenda is slowly starting to materialise. The big picture of what it means is starting to come into focus after Michael Gove’s speech at the Conservative Party conference.
Arriving on stage to ABBA’s Dancing Queen, we were thankfully spared an encore of his recent dancing in an Aberdeen nightclub. What we did get was a set of four definitions of what levelling up means to the man responsible for implementing this policy: stronger local leadership; higher living standards; improved public services; and an enhanced sense of pride in the places where people live.
Giving local authorities more power and autonomy is a good thing, and something the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy has long called for. But, for change to bring meaningful benefits to the local community, councils must also be given the resources and flexibilities for success.
Sustainable funding is key. A move away from the current time-consuming and costly bidding processes is urgently required. This also means revisiting business rates reform and the fair funding review.
Councils need to be able to plan for the future and that requires certainty about how much funding they are due to receive. The high-profile row between the Mayor of Manchester, Andy Burnham, and Government over lockdown funding conditions for his city, publicly exposed the frustration that local leaders can (and do) feel with the inconsistent and seemingly unfair funding methods available to them.
All areas of Government have a responsibility to work together to deliver on the levelling up strategy if it is to bring about real benefit to communities.
The Government would be wise to do all it can to de-escalate tensions with councils over funding before they turn into an all-out rave.
Joanne Pitt is the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy’s local government policy manager