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THE NORTH CALLS FOR LEVELLING UP TO BE ‘HARD-WIRED INTO UK LAW’ AT CONVENTION OF THE NORTH

Published 25 January 2023 at 3:21pm

  • Northern Mayors, civic and business leaders call for levelling up to be ‘hard-wired into UK law’, to ensure all regions can close gaps in living standards.

  • New approach would help the North to unlock the potential of its assets, boost its contribution to UK plc and improve the lives of people across the region.

  • Closing gaps in skills, wages, life expectancy would improve outcomes for millions of people throughout the North and also help grow the UK economy as a whole.

  • Hard-wiring levelling up into UK law would see move away from competitive bidding system that picks winners and losers, to long-term funding settlements.

  • The Levelling Up Bill could be a missed opportunity if it fails to hard-wire its missions into law.

  • Taking inspiration from Germany, the UK could hard-wire levelling up into law, legislating for Governments to provide equivalent living standards across the UK and ensuring regions have the funding required to achieve this.

NORTHERN Mayors, civic and business leaders have called on the Government and Opposition to commit to ‘hard-wiring’ levelling up into UK law. This would mean a move away from the current competitive bidding systems for Government funding, which picks winners and losers, to a settlement where all regions have the funding they need to close the gaps in living standards and help grow the UK economy as a whole. 

The call follows the Government’s Levelling Up Fund announcement last week, which saw some local authorities receive short-term pots of money for local projects – but many councils also losing out.  The Levelling Up Secretary and Shadow Secretary, Michael Gove MP and Lisa Nandy MP, are due address the annual Convention of the North in Manchester later today.  

The plan to hard-wire levelling up in to UK law takes inspiration from Germany, where the Constitution guarantees equivalent living standards and strong local leadership.  This approach would help the North to unlock the potential of its assets, boost its contribution to UK plc and improve the lives of people across the region. 

Currently, that potential is being held back by clear disparities between the North and London and the South East when it comes to key living standards: 

  • Raising female healthy life expectancy to the level of the South East would increase it by 3.5 years in the North West, 3.8 years in Yorkshire & the Humber, and 6.2 years in the North East. Raising Male healthy life expectancy to the level of the South East would increase it by 4 years in the North West, 4.4 years in Yorkshire & the Humber, and 6.4 years in the North East.
  • Increasing average (median) weekly earnings to the level of London would increase them by £162 in the North West, £171 in Yorkshire & the Humber, and £185 in the North East.
  • Increasing the proportion of the over-16 population with a level 4 qualification or equivalent to the level of the South East would increase it by 4.6 percentage points in the North West, 6.3 percentage points in Yorkshire & the Humber and 7.2 percentage points in the North East.
  • Reducing the proportion of the over-16 population with no qualifications to the level of the South East would reduce them by 4.1 percentage points in the North West, 5.2 percentage points in Yorkshire & the Humber and 4.9 percentage points in the North East.
  • Reducing the proportion of households in fuel poverty to the level of the South East would reduce them by 5.8 percentage points in the North West, 8.9 percentage points in Yorkshire & the Humber and 5.8 percentage points in the North East.
  • Increasing the proportion of people living within 400 metres of a high frequency bus service to the level of London would increase it by 62 percentage points in Greater Manchester.

Closing these gaps will be vital not only to improving outcomes for millions of people throughout the North West, North East and Yorkshire & the Humber, but also to growing the UK economy as a whole. 

South Yorkshire’s Mayor Oliver Coppard said:
"It shouldn’t matter where you happen to be born or live, we all deserve the same opportunities and living standards. Here in South Yorkshire that’s simply not the case. If you live in Rotherham you’re likely to die five years earlier than if you live in Richmond. If you live in Barnsley you’re paid £600 less a month than if you live in Berkshire. We were promised a ‘London style transport system’, but 1 in 3 of our trains are cancelled. 
"The Government set out its own ambitions to level up by 2030. We have just 362 weeks to go, and the truth is, they have no plan. They have no strategy. Instead, we compete with other, equally deserving regions for pots of money handed out at the whims of ministers.  Communities like those I represent cannot take control of their own destiny. That needs to change for our country to thrive." 

Carsten Schneider, the Minister for East Germany and Equivalent Living Conditions in Chancellor Olaf Scholz’ Government, will address the Convention by video, setting out his country’s model of levelling up:
"Regional structural policy has long been a cornerstone of German politics. The goal of creating equal living conditions everywhere in Germany can even be found in our constitution. There are good reasons for it. If regions are drifting apart, it is bad for everyone, including for the growing regions. If a variety of regions flourish, the whole country will prosper." 

The plans to hard-wire levelling up into UK law will be set out by Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, Oliver Coppard, Mayor of South Yorkshire, Tracy Brabin, Mayor of West Yorkshire, Steve Rotheram, Mayor of the Liverpool City Region, Jamie Driscoll, Mayor of the North of Tyne, Cllr Bev Craig, Convention of the North Co-Chair and Leader of Manchester City Council, and Convention of the North Co-Chair and NP11 Chair, Sir Roger Marsh, at today’s Convention of the North in Manchester.    

Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, said:
"The Levelling Up Fund announcement last week laid bare the issues with these short-term competitive funding pots. We end up with winners and losers but nobody is able to actually plan for long-term investment in their areas.  Hard-wiring levelling up into UK law would move us away from policy by press release and start to tackle the unequal living standards we have in our country.  If we were able to close the gaps between the North and London and the South East, we’d see drastic improvements in everything from incomes to skills, to ultimately boosting life expectancy.  This would of course be good for people in the North, but would also help grow the UK economy as a whole. 
"Germany shows us what can be done when you hard-wire legal guarantees to tackle inequalities and empower local leaders into the fabric of your country. East Germany has seen long-term support and investment since the fall of communism – and it has worked.  Cities in Eastern Germany are now powering ahead of cities here in the North.   
"Our own history has shown us that, too often, the North struggles to get to the top of the Government’s to-do list – whichever political party is in charge.  That’s why we need to hard-wire levelling up into UK law and unlock the potential of the North to help the whole country thrive."

Cllr Bev Craig, Leader of Manchester City Council and Co-Chair of Convention of the North, said:
"Across the North, we still too often face disparities of wealth, health and opportunity that could be redressed through a long-term approach to investment and infrastructure.
"Cities such as Manchester have a clear understanding of where investment is needed to generate growth that benefits everyone, and we are best placed to be able to deliver.
"For Levelling Up to be a coherent and effective policy, rather than a mere slogan, it needs to move away from being a competitive bidding process – with the rationale for decisions unclear – to a consistent, long-term approach which directs more funding to the areas which need it most and gives them control over how they best use it."

North of Tyne Mayor, Jamie Driscoll, said:
"You can’t level up by pouring a load of concrete. We need to level up our people too. This takes long-term thinking and a baked-in commitment to strategic investment. In my patch we have shown what’s possible, creating 4,600 new jobs in 3.5 years and increasing adult skills enrolments by 50%.
"We must bin the beauty pageant of competitive bidding between councils. We need to replace it with a new social settlement that finally proves to the apprentice in Blyth that they are just as important to the future of this country as the graduate in Kensington."

Sir Roger Marsh, Chair of the NP11 and Co-Chair of Convention of the North, said: 
"Across the North we are committed to ensuring our places and businesses succeed, but right now we are at a critical juncture.
"Levelling up and devolution go hand in hand. They need to be hard-wired into our economic approach, with collaboration between local and national government, across boundaries, and with business and industry as real partners.
"By doing this the North can realise its enormous potential as a driving force for UK growth.
"Our region can offer solutions to the country’s challenges, but to offer these solutions we need proper levelling up and proper collaboration.
"We look forward to discussing this with our fellow northern leaders and with the Secretary of State, Michael Gove, and the Shadow Secretary of State, Lisa Nandy, at the Convention of the North with NP11 and to agreeing how we can deliver on the levelling up promise for the North, working together as northerners and with Government."

Mayor of the Liverpool City Region, Steve Rotheram, said:
"For every minute on the roughly two-hour train journey from the Liverpool City Region to London, household income per head falls by £155. That’s a gap we’ll never be able to close unless Westminster gets over its obsession with competitive beauty contests that pit areas against each other for short-term pots of funding. It affects our ability to properly plan for the long term and distracts energy and resources away from getting on with delivering for our residents.
“Delivering proper levelling up – which should be more about tackling entrenched inequalities than vanity projects and photo ops at shiny buildings – is something that must be above party politics. But we all know how governments of all stripes can struggle with long-term thinking. That is why we need this to be a legal requirement. Only then will we begin to close the yawning chasm between North and South, and enable our residents to reach their full potential."

Tracy Brabin, Mayor of West Yorkshire, said: 
"Last week, the government handed twice as much funding to London and the South East than to Yorkshire, laying bare the fundamental flaws in its levelling up agenda. This scattergun approach pours cash into areas that already have it, and makes areas in real need compete against each other for the remaining scraps.
"We need a real plan for levelling up, enshrined in law, that requires decent living standards for everybody across the UK. This would mean trusting local leaders with long-term funding pots to make decisions on what is best for the communities they know and serve."

The call comes as IPPR North researchers found that if the North of England were a country, it would be second only to Greece for the lowest levels of investment in the OECD.  In their State of the North report, the authors looked at international competitors and highlighted that long term job creation is 16 percentage points higher in Leipzig, Eastern Germany, than in the North of England.   

IPPR North’s findings point to Germany’s constitutional commitment to reducing regional disparities in living standards and well-resourced, empowered local leadership as key to this success.   

Convention of the North is the region’s major annual gathering, bringing together business, political and civic leaders to discuss the opportunities and challenges facing the North. As well as key figures from the Government and Opposition, the Convention will hear from Northern Mayors, Council Leaders, leading businesspeople and representatives of the VCSE sector as the North shapes its agenda for 2023. 

Building on previous events in Rotherham, Gateshead and Liverpool, Convention of the North 2023 is being held on Wednesday 25 January at Manchester Central. The event is being delivered by Greater Manchester alongside NP11, and is sponsored by Growth Flag (in partnership with the Growth Company and Red Flag Alert), The University of Manchester, MAG: Manchester Airports Group, and Manchester Central. 

Key business, political and civic leaders from across the region have been invited to attend.   

Notes to editors
Health Life Expectancy: figures for 2018-2020: Health state life expectancies, UK - Office for National Statistics (ons.gov.uk)
Average weekly earnings: Median, resident based full time earnings sourced from the Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings via NOMIS: Nomis - Official Census and Labour Market Statistics (nomisweb.co.uk)
Qualifications:  Outputs from Census 2021: Education, England and Wales - Office for National Statistics (ons.gov.uk)
Fuel poverty: Low Income Low Energy Efficiency (LILEE) metric (2020 data): Annual Fuel Poverty Statistics LILEE Report 2022 (2020 data) (publishing.service.gov.uk)
Bus: Transport for London Bus Action Plan (2022) and Transport for Greater Manchester internal analysis (2022)
Journal article by Joachim Ragnitz, Marcel Thum for Aus Politik und Zeitgeschichte/bpb.de which explains the legal basis for ‘equivalent living conditions’ in German legislation: Equivalent, not equal | bpb.de (use browser to translate from German to English) 
An English version of the German constitution (See Art. 72) https://www.gesetze-im-internet.de/englisch_gg/englisch_gg.pdf 

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Last Updated: 02/02/2023

Published In: Mayor, Featured

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