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What does it take to “level up” places?

Sectoral report, Places

Levelling up places takes investment, time and leadership, but our research clearly shows it is possible.

This report considers international examples of effective place-based interventions that have led to “levelling up” and explores what can be learnt from how they design and implement place-based policies. Four international case study areas (Estonia, San Antonio, Greater Lille, and the Ruhr region) were selected based on their success in levelling up local economies and to provide a range of experience across different governance contexts.

This research identifies six “foundations” for levelling up. They are cross-cutting themes that underpin local economic growth in all case study areas:

  • Scale and longevity of investments: Sustained and large-scale public investment leads to an increase in private investment. Economic policy direction needs consistency regardless of changes in local and national politics.
  • Collaboration: Constructive relationships between central and local government, businesses and residents facilitate identification of place-specific interventions and aid effective implementation.
  • Attractive place to live: Arts, culture, recreation, and tourism can play a key role in levelling up not just via direct revenue, but also by reshaping the image of a place. High living standards attract young professionals looking for a good place to live.
  • Universities and innovation: Collaboration between places and universities can help improve policy and drive economic growth. Universities attract national government and private sector funding and drive innovation.
  • Transport and digital infrastructure: Transport and digital infrastructure provide a connectivity base for businesses and residents. Good infrastructure attracts new investments and consequently creates new employments opportunities.
  • Skills and future sectors: Successful places build on their past strengths and focus on continual adaptations to build for the future. The economic success is tightly linked to investing in skills and retaining of the existing workforce.

However, we also saw in each place that levelling up of regions does not necessarily mean levelling up within regions. Socio-economic inequalities between residents in each place were more difficult to address than attracting new businesses and high-skilled workers. This highlights the importance of affordable housing and targeted investment in disadvantaged communities.

Andy Haldane, Chair of the Industrial Strategy Council said:

“International evidence not only shows that levelling up is possible, it also illustrates how it is possible.  These international lessons need to be embedded in the UK Government’s strategy for levelling up – a strategy that is more important than ever in the light of the Covid crisis.”

Kate Barker, member of the Industrial Strategy Council said:

“Hopes for levelling up places will only be fulfilled if a number of interventions are used at scale and over time.  But the good news is that it can be done – we should not be hopeless.”  

Rotha Johnston, member of the Industrial Strategy Council said:

“Reducing economic and social disparities will only be achieved by long term, cross cutting policy interventions, agreed and delivered at a regional and local level.”

The ISC and City-REDI hosted a webinar on 26/01/2021 to discuss the report. The recording of the webinar can be found here.

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