In the Autumn Budget and Spending Review on Wednesday 27 October, levelling up was reaffirmed as one of the government’s key objectives. Looking ahead we need more clarity and assurances that policies will be rooted in the evidence that community-driven practice works best.
During the Spending Review, the first round of bids from the Levelling Up Fund were allocated - totalling £1.7 billion overall, including £170 million in Scotland and £120 million in Wales. The Chancellor also announced £560 million in funding for youth services and £200 million funding for football pitches.
Missing from the Chancellor’s speech was any detail about how overarching policy will improve communities and tackle inequalities in opportunities and outcomes.
The government is due to release a white paper on Levelling Up later this year detailing “how bold new policy interventions will improve opportunity and boost livelihoods”. Given that decades of evidence tells us that greater control is key to improving the health of those experiencing disadvantage, what we really need to see from this White Paper is communities placed at the heart of their plans.
In the coming months we hope to see a commitment from government that existing legislative frameworks, which favour community power, will be used to drive their plans forward. For example, The Localism Act 2011 legislated greater devolvement of power to local authorities and communities – and further devolved power has been cited by the Prime Minister and Secretary of State for Levelling Up as key to their plans.
What we have seen so far is the allocation of funds to certain one-off infrastructural projects but, by harnessing legislation based around community power, the process of levelling up can be put into the hands of local people who know what works best for and is most needed in their communities over the long term.
We know that when given the funding and resources, community-led interventions make a difference to neighbourhoods experiencing the highest levels of disadvantage.
Our research, which looked at nearly 3,000 responses over four years, from residents in neighbourhoods invested in through our Local Conversations programme found:
• They are much likelier to agree that when people in the area get involved in their local community, they can really change the way the area is run (82% compared to 51% in similarly disadvantaged neighbourhoods and 54% in England as a whole).
• That people in their neighbourhood pull together to improve their neighbourhood (76%), more than in similarly-disadvantaged neighbourhoods (47%), and in England as a whole (58%).
• They talk to their neighbours in a meaningful way (more than just to say hello, for example) on most days (46%), significantly more than the England average (21%) and the average for similarly disadvantaged neighbourhoods (17%).
While the funding announcements and continued focus on levelling up is welcome, it is just a drop in the ocean compared to the real need in these neighbourhoods across the UK. To achieve the greatest output with the resources available we need to give communities the power to tackle local inequalities.