White Paper a valuable framework – but it is just a beginning

Responding today to the release of the long-awaited Government’s White Paper on ‘levelling up’, Policy Exchange Senior Fellow Rt Hon Ruth Kelly commented:

“Levelling Up may have become one of the Government’s better known political slogans, but for millions of people in disadvantaged regions the slogan captures a harsh economic truth. The UK suffers from chronic inequality, with whole regions and towns feeling that they have been left out of an economic agenda driven from disconnected politicians in Westminster.

“As the White Paper makes clear, the woeful productivity performance outside London and the South East, almost without peer in the developed world, is a major obstacle to the high-growth, high-wage future the people of the United Kingdom deserve. The missions that form the heart of the White Paper’s purpose, aiming to reduce regional inequalities across a whole range of areas from living standards to digital connectivity will, I hope, galvanise the whole of Whitehall.

“There is much to be welcomed in the White Paper.  It provides a valuable framework for the future of economic policy in the UK, but without further action it is just a framework. It must be the beginning, rather than the end of this vital conversation.”


Policy Exchange is today providing detailed analysis of the White Paper. 

Economics and Social Policy – read our full analysis by Connor MacDonald LINK

The UK is the most regionally unequal country in the OECD save Ireland and Slovakia.

If the United Kingdom is going to embrace a pro-growth agenda over the coming years, it is essential that Levelling Up deliver on its economic objectives. That is going to require resources and leadership in both Whitehall and City Hall. Re-orienting economic decision-making could have a massive positive impact on the British economy so long as it is long-term, and actually brings the transformation suggested in the White Paper.

Innovation – read our full analysis by Benjamin Barnard LINK

At present, every £1 spent on public R&D unlocks £1.40 of private R&D investment, delivering £7 of net-economic benefit to the UK. If public investment in R&D is to continue to be an effective mechanism for boosting economic growth, investment must be based on a good understanding of the complex regional contexts that give rise to existing disparities.

‘Levelling up’ R&D funding is, however, a careful balancing act. The Government must be careful not to weaken the wider economic incentives to innovate by inadvertently introducing higher taxes to pay for R&D subsidies. It is likewise important not to distort markets through the overactive coordination of R&D funding by public bodies as this can leave room for harmful lobbying and rent-seeking.

Reform of Government – read our full analysis by Benjamin Barnard LINK

The White Paper promises “root and branch reform of government and governance in the UK”. Will it deliver? Crucially, every Department’s Outcome Delivery Plan (ODP) will be updated to include the new levelling up commitments. As we have argued in Government Reimagined, the renewal of Permanent Secretaries’ contracts (currently on a fixed tenure) should be dependent upon meeting the targets established in ODPs.

The Government’s commitment to move 22,000 Civil Service jobs and 50% of UK-based Senior Civil Servants out of London by the end of the decade features prominently in the White Paper.  Has the Government realised the risks that must be mitigated? 

Places – read our analysis by Ike Ijeh LINK

If any one word within the built environment sphere summarises what we are likely to be hearing much more of for the remaining life of this Parliament, it is “places”. The very first page of the White Paper sees the Government unequivocally nailing its colours to the mast: “we are rewiring Whitehall to put place at the heart of decision-making.”

These are bold and inspiring words but does the paper deliver on them and what concrete built environment-related policy changes does the government recommend on the subsequent pages to enable the delivery of its much-vaunted levelling up objectives? The answer, as is perhaps inevitable with any risk averse Whitehall stratagem released on the heels of a global pandemic, is a mixed one.

Health and Social Care – read our full analysis by Robert Ede and Sean Phillips LINK

As outlined in previous research, the Government is off track to meet the 2035 Healthy Life Expectancy target. Do the commitments in the White Paper amount to a step change? No.

There are missed opportunities. Besides a fleeting reference to appointments, no mention is made of general practice, for example, where there is a persuasive case for embracing digital technology to level up access.

Energy and Environment – read our full analysis by Ed Birkett

There are some initiatives in the White Paper that could boost the green industrial revolution. For example, the current success in Teesside shows the power that Mayors can have in bringing energy and new industries to their areas.

Further devolution could continue this trend in other regions; however, there is clearly a major role for public investment and a coordinated industrial strategy, much of which sits outside the White Paper.


Notes to Editors

We invite you to attend our next event ‘Can we level up Research and Development’ with a keynote address by Professor Richard Jones on Wednesday 9th February.

For more information, please contact our Director of Policy and Communications: amy.fisher@policyexchange.org.uk or 07799 624 594.



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