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The business perspective on levelling up

Tom Rathborn Tom Rathborn

Through the current turbulence and uncertainty in Whitehall, whatever shape Government takes in the future, the social and economic drivers behind levelling up will continue to demand the attention of policymakers and businesses alike. The loudest discussions around levelling up are dominated by public sector voices, but how does the private sector feel about this flagship agenda, and what does this opinion mean for local and central government stakeholders?

Our latest  surveyed over 600 mid-market business leaders across the UK to gauge their understanding, interest and find out where their priorities lie – here is what we learned.

Our survey says…

Business leaders overwhelmingly supportive

The message is clear, with business leaders answering that when it comes to the Government’s levelling up agenda they:

  • Understand what the government is trying to achieve (70%)
  • Think it will help their local region (68%)
  • Believe it will support local businesses (72%)
  • See themselves playing an important role in its delivery (73%)

Levelling up transcends national borders

Moves to address the regional imbalance of UK economic performance can often result in a debate around the North-South divide in England. The Prime Minister has always been clear that levelling up is much more than this and that it presents opportunities for every part of the UK - our survey supports this.

Business leaders in Scotland were the most enthusiastic of any region in the UK, with 88% believing that the agenda would support local businesses and 86% seeing a role for themselves.

There is a similar story in Wales. While understanding over the aims of levelling up were in line with the UK average, respondents believe that it would support their region, improve local businesses and that they had a role to play were all above average.

There is a role for the capital

When considering levelling up London is not usually front of mind, with the focus on areas deemed ‘left-behind’. The capital, with its high productivity and significant devolved powers, is often overlooked.

Although London may score highly in some respects, it is lower in others. Levelling up is designed to recognise these variations and respond in kind. Business leaders in the capital appear to recognise this and want to play their part too.

Connectivity, wellbeing and housing the national priorities

Central to levelling up are the 12 ‘national missions’ to be achieved by 2030. These range from improving wellbeing to providing better quality housing. Our research explored which of these missions were most important to local businesses.

The support needed in each region varies greatly with businesses in the North West and South East prioritising improving people’s health, East Midlands businesses prioritising the creation of better paid jobs, and businesses in Yorkshire and the North East and Wales prioritising better digital connectivity.

Overall, the top three priority levelling up missions identified by the UK mid-market are:

  • Improve digital connectivity (26%)
  • Improve people’s wellbeing (23%)
  • Provide better quality housing (23%)

Breadth of missions a strength not a weakness

Levelling up reaches across much of the UK policy agenda, with the 12 missions’ evidence of its breadth.

Our research suggests that its breadth is a strength – with all 12 missions identified as a top three priority for at least one region. There is no one size fits all approach and levelling up recognises that.

What’s the view in your region?

Use the map below to see what we found in your area:

Key takeaway: engage with business to deliver levelling up

With business clearly on board, what can local leaders do to realise the opportunity?

Establish structures to capture and act on the business voice

Our survey results show the variation in business priorities across the UK, with the three national priorities not mirrored in any one region. As the geography gets smaller, the viewpoints will become more specific making it vitally important that local priorities are captured and considered.

Business engagement across local government is changing as the role of Local Enterprise Partnerships shifts. Places need to think about what structures they have in place to listen to what business has to say and respond appropriately.

Growth boards have proved one successful way of doing this – providing opportunities to facilitate conversations around key areas such as skills and land use needs.

Two areas for local government to focus on…

As the data shows two of the three main priorities for business leaders are around infrastructure and housing – here are two things you can do in response.

Make yourself the best place to live and work

Housing is a priority and local authorities should be exploring all opportunities for accelerating supply including innovative deliver models and private sector partnerships. This work is becoming ever more important in economic uncertain times with pressures on rising costs, security of the supply chain and in recent weeks, increasing cost of capital and volatility in markets.

Find out how we help you build better places to live and work.

Get connected

Whether it is digital or physical, connectivity is vital to prosperity. You need to ensure local people and businesses are connected to each other and the wider world. Providing affordable and reliable transport and digital connectivity can help unlock significant economic, health and societal benefits.

We can help you deliver value to transport users and taxpayers and help drive local and national economies.

We can help local authorities meet and understand the expectations of the private sector and deliver on your joint priorities.

Levelling up

We know the complexity involved in successfully delivering the opportunities and priorities of levelling up.