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Is this the end of levelling up? Neither Truss nor Sunak takes it seriously

Thatcher's children? Credit: Getty


July 22, 2022   5 mins

Remember levelling up? Before Patterson, Partygate, and Pinchergate, it was supposed to be the main focus of this government. Along with getting Brexit done and keeping Corbyn out of Number 10, it helped win the Tories their largest majority in 40 years.

It is a clear and important attempt to address the UK’s deep regional disparities, without relying on traditional fiscal redistribution. But trotted out so much over the past few years, the idea has been emptied of meaning; it has also been almost completely absent from the leadership campaign amid the broader debate on tax cuts and the culture wars. Neither candidate has grappled with it despite Michael Gove’s urging.

Liz Truss, a self-proclaimed Thatcherite, has made much of her plans to deregulate the economy and lower taxes — music to many Conservative member’s ears. But when it comes to urban regeneration and boosting left-behind places her emphasis is on “new low-tax, low-regulation zones”. Her own launch drew parallels with the Thatcher-era regeneration of the London docklands.

But Thatcherism didn’t really have the answers. The hugely-successful London docklands regeneration programme has, for instance, been described by Dr Jack Brown as “an extremely un-Thatcherite mechanism for achieving urban regeneration”, since it saw the state (via the London Docklands Development Corporation) acquire land, spend money on infrastructure, intervene in the market and expand public sector employment. Hardly the free market free-for-all promised by Truss. Neither is Eighties Merseyside a great example of Thatcherite levelling up. All Michael Heseltine as Minister for Merseyside could manage was to prettify Liverpool’s docks and inaugurate a garden festival, neither of which had any long-term impact on the rest of the city.

Meanwhile, Sunak is rigorously and risibly also claiming to be Thatcherite. Patrick Minford, economist and former advisor to Thatcher, is having none of it. He quite rightly claims that no Thatcherite would have raised taxes to a 70-year high. At least Truss’ plan for lower taxes would leave more money in people’s pockets to spend in their local areas, nominally boosting the local economy.

Sunak can certainly talk the talk when it comes to levelling up — he has won the support of Tees Valley mayor Ben Houchen and signed the Northern Research Group’s levelling up pledge sheet — but it comes to walking the walk the former chancellor is immobile. During his time at the Treasury, he was a significant barrier to spending more on what should have been the Government’s flagship policy, including granting more money to levelling up when the policy was relaunched in November 2021 and placing his own leafy constituency – in the bottom 20% on the index of multiple deprivation – in the highest category for levelling up funding. If this is counts as having “readily embraced levelling up”, as Seb Payne wrote in yesterday’s FT, then I would love to see what Sunak would do if he were opposed to it. In reality, his instincts are more suited to the austerity era than today’s political context.

Neither of them — nor the party at large — recognises the true scale of the problem that levelling up seeks to address; even fewer people in government realise just how expensive the policy will be. The scale of spending needed goes “far beyond anything currently being contemplated” by the government, says the Resolution Foundation; it is on par with the reunification of West and East Germany, says The Centre for Cities, and so is the cost: around ÂŁ2tn. Yet the Government’s Levelling Up Fund is currently at a paltry ÂŁ4.8bn, roughly the same as the spending on “Project Gigabit” (roughly around 0.25% of what Centre for Cities say is needed).

Perhaps inconveniently for our candidates, voters are now convinced that levelling up is important. Polling by More in Common in January 2022 found that 59% of voters think progress on levelling up will be important in deciding who gets their vote in the next election. Among the sub-group who swung most strongly towards the Conservatives in 2019, the ones the party desperately needs to retain if it wants to hold the hallowed Red Wall, the proportion rises to 70%.

There are, however, risks to uniformly embracing levelling up as a key policy. It is particularly problematic in areas of traditional Conservative strength in the south of England. In the South East, 25% of voters think it will result in less money being spent in their local area, compared with just 2% who think there will be higher levels of spending. In the South West, the figures are 23% and 5%. The Liberal Democrats have been making hay with this, painting levelling up as something which focuses solely on the north of England and ignores the very real issues people are facing in southern coastal or rural communities. Some Conservatives also fear this is the case. Perhaps it’s no wonder that those leadership candidates, for a party now 10 percentage points behind in the polls, are trying to downplay the policy.

But are the Conservatives really in a catch-22, whereby if they focus too much on levelling up they may hold on to some of the Red Wall at the expense of the so-called (and less rigorously defined) Blue Wall?

Not necessarily. There is a chance here for the new prime minister to properly embrace it. Only one quarter of voters know exactly what levelling up means, and one quarter have never heard of it — even though Boris Johnson described it as “the defining mission” of his government. So the new prime minister has the chance to reframe it as a policy for the whole country, one seeking to tackle the causes of poverty and a lack of opportunity wherever these are found.

Does either have the chops to do this? The scale of the costs involved — and the level of spending necessary — means Sunak is completely unsuited to the challenge. Truss, less so. In fact, one of her existing flagship policies might also provide the way forward for levelling up: “Covid bonds”. This is her proposal to package up Covid debt and repay it over a much longer term than the traditional government debt repayments of between 10 to 30 years, and separate it from traditional borrowing on the government’s books. It is an approach that could also be applied to the funding of levelling up.

Consolidated annuities (or “consoles”) — ie bonds that pay a fixed interest rate but have no fixed repayment date — could be used to fund proper levelling up at the scale required to truly tackle the problem. This would allow the government to separate levelling up borrowing from day-to-day borrowing, lock in current low interest rates, and free them from a set repayment date. Putting control of this money in the hands of Department for Levelling Up would also liberate the project from the straightjacketed thinking of the Treasury. The best time would have been when interest rates were truly rock bottom, but the second-best time is now.

There have been numerous proposals for what the new government should do under a levelling up agenda, some of it undoubtedly good — bringing back Gove as Secretary of State for Levelling Up, more devolution to combined authorities and councils, county deals, lifetime skills budgets, control of the bus network, prioritising spending in areas of deprivation — but the impact of levelling up will be limited if it is not backed up with significant financial firepower.

A proper funding scheme for levelling up is also necessary to reassure voters in the south of England that they will not be used as a magic money tree to fund spending in the north of England. It is also popular with Conservative voters: as I wrote here two years ago, Conservative voters as a whole think austerity has gone too far, and they want to see more money spent in their areas. This is particularly the case in the Red Wall. Only with enough money to go round, at a level suitable to tackle the UK’s long-term and deep-rooted issues wherever they occur, will the Conservative Party be able to hold on to both Red and Blue Walls.

Johnson himself recognised this, and used his final PMQs to issue a warning and a thinly-veiled dig at Sunak: “I love the Treasury, but remember, if we’d always listened to the Treasury we wouldn’t have built the M25 or the Channel Tunnel.” If we listen to the Treasury today we won’t get real levelling up tomorrow — or ever. And we’ll see Starmer in Number 10 come the next election.

Sunak will always be more comfortable in Davos than Darlington. But just as Thatcher challenged the traditional economic thinking of her time, Liz Truss could — at a push — do the same now.


David Jeffery is a lecturer in British Politics at the University of Liverpool.

DrDavidJeffery

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Jim Jam
Jim Jam
2 years ago

Hate to be the killjoy here, but when we are shelling out 20 billion a month just to service the national debt – with this figure likely to increase – you can forget levelling up. In fact, the task of bringing inflation under control after the intentional dilution of the currency is a hard enough task, and thats on top of a determination to plough on with ‘net zero’ targets despite the now blindly obvious dangers with ill thoughtout and reckless environmental energy policies. Expect the foreseeable future to be charecterised only by bailing buckets of water out of a fast sinking ship.

The economy is utterly, perhaps fatally crippled – and the most frustrating thing of all is that when people like myself and many others warned of this repeatedly throughout the last two years and longer, we were in return, more often than not, simply told to shut up: ‘you’re putting the economy before people’s lives!’ was the tiresome cry.

Well guess what, it turns out that the economy is people’s lives – as will be the heartbreaking lesson over the coming months and years.

Last edited 2 years ago by Jim Jam
Brendan O'Leary
Brendan O'Leary
2 years ago
Reply to  Jim Jam

the economy is people’s lives

Quite, but shut up and applaud the NHS .

CHARLES STANHOPE
CHARLES STANHOPE
2 years ago

You jest sir!

CHARLES STANHOPE
CHARLES STANHOPE
2 years ago
Reply to  Jim Jam

‘We’ have been living like this ever since we went bankrupt in 1916.
However ‘death by a thousand cuts’ takes time.
‘

Liam O'Mahony
Liam O'Mahony
2 years ago

…especially if you juggle with the figures, cook the books and entice oligarch weath to prop it up?

Alan Thorpe
Alan Thorpe
2 years ago

But it always works in the end.

Jim Nichols
Jim Nichols
2 years ago
Reply to  Jim Jam

The ÂŁ20bn a month on debt servicing is not all it seems; a significant part of that is the inflation uplift on index linked bonds, which is not paid until they are redeemed. By definition, the real terms cost of that is zero. And for the non-index linked debt, when measured in real terms, it is shrinking rapidly. This is why debt as a percentage of GDP is falling and is forecast to continue to do so.

Inflation was always the key plank of the plan to manage all the extra COVID debt.

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
2 years ago
Reply to  Jim Nichols

99 pc of people have no idea as to what bond/ fixed income debt markets are, let alone how they work… but there again they also have no clue as to how their own banks p and l and balance sheets work, and their their debt is the banks asset… and don’t even try to explain it all to them!

Jim Jam
Jim Jam
2 years ago

and don’t even try to explain it all to them!

And why’s that then?

jane baker
jane baker
2 years ago
Reply to  Jim Jam

Its shocking that at school we get no financial education,not in my day,maybe they do now. Its almost like they don’t want us to comprehend finance. That couldn’t be!

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
1 year ago
Reply to  jane baker

This requires somewhat more than could ever be even outlined at school level, let alone basic economics under grad, and one has to be interested ( sad?!) enough to want to persevere in a multi matrices complex subject, that also requires knowledge of equity, currency and commodity market function and mechanics and non market debt…. OK… so I am sad!!!!

James Anthony Seyforth
James Anthony Seyforth
1 year ago
Reply to  jane baker

And more, and I’m talking state schools here: philosophy, politics, family planning and responsibilities, proper religious education centred on Christianity, learn to drive at school or in tandem, compulsorily. Could probably outline more if I could be bothered lol

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
1 year ago
Reply to  Jim Jam

because it is too complex, and requires patience, research, analysis and therefore as no one knows, politicians can lie about debt/ markets, and no one is any the wiser

CHARLES STANHOPE
CHARLES STANHOPE
2 years ago

Perhaps that is why the ‘old fashioned’ of us still refer to them as ‘money lenders’ working in ‘Counting Houses’ rather than bankers working in Banks?

Jim Jam
Jim Jam
2 years ago
Reply to  Jim Nichols

Thanks, I think I understand.

As to the last bit, are you saying that inflation was intentional – a way of getting loads more money from VAT receipts to bring the debt down?

Jim Nichols
Jim Nichols
2 years ago
Reply to  Jim Jam

If it wasn’t intentional, I think it was at least something that they weren’t too concerned about happening – because the effect of the debt / GDP ratio would be so helpful to the government.

Assuming they maintain a tax take of around 35% of GDP, then inflation would mean that in nominal terms tax receipts would increase.

Remember also that GDP growth figures quoted are real terms figures. So 1% p.a. GDP growth when inflation is 9% p.a. means a 10% p.a. increase in nominal GDP. Do that for 2-3 years and the government can get debt / GDP ratio down from 100% to 75% without ever having needed to run a balanced budget.

Inflation also makes additional tax rises politically more palatable, e.g. by freezing allowances, rather than having to explicitly raise rates

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
1 year ago
Reply to  Jim Nichols

Far too simplistic- net tax take to HM Treasury could/ can/ might well increase substantially post tax cuts, depending as to which/ what they are IF more people pay more actual NOT percentage tax, new source revenues, and UK attracts substantial billions from overseas, both individuals and corporations.

Of course no politician has the brains or gumption to get HMRC to do ( as in certain other countries) individual bespoke tax deals with individuals and corporations coming into the UK due to tax cuts?… such as..
“Right Mr Oligarch, you wish to re-patriate ‘ n ‘ billion into UK? Well, the deal is that if you place ” n” hundred million into there new 50 year quasi Government bonds that will be rebuilding our transport infrastructure, you only pay 5% tax, subject to a minimum of ” x” hundred million..” and a plethora of variations to and for any number of new UK arrivals.. Laundered dirty money, I hear you say?

If I am a filling station cashier, and one person pays for his fuel in cash having just sold his passenger ÂŁ50 of coke, and the next customer pays ÂŁ5O for his fuel from cash from my cash point… is the former ” dirty’ or ‘ laundered’ money?… Am I guilty of ‘ laundering money” for customer 1, but not customer 2?….. The whole concept is toe curlingly crass, and a reflection, again, of voters ignorance!

Alan Thorpe
Alan Thorpe
2 years ago
Reply to  Jim Nichols

How convenient that the rich can use inflation to get richer and the impact on the poorest can be ignored.

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
2 years ago
Reply to  Jim Jam

The debt is not like your overdraft or credit card! Govt debt is sold in bonds, that are an asset and probably provide most of your own life and savings asset!

Liam O'Mahony
Liam O'Mahony
2 years ago

..and the music (money?) goes round and round and it comes out here..

Liam O'Mahony
Liam O'Mahony
2 years ago
Reply to  Jim Jam

..surely the obvious solution is to level down? That will ar least create equity and the additional taxes imposed on the South will save the economy. Sadly, this is anathema to Tories so it’ll have to be via a Labour government! It’s all falling into place: wonderfully!

Last edited 2 years ago by Liam O'Mahony
Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
2 years ago
Reply to  Liam O'Mahony

additional taxes remove spending saving and investment power of individuals, and businesses into the economy, and 40 pc of ” income tax” is NOT government revenue, as it is public service wages being taken back that was already paid at first instance bu Govt! A similar 40 odd pc of tax income is wasted or lost by governmentv due to inefficiency… not least re cycling civil servants fake income tax!

CHARLES STANHOPE
CHARLES STANHOPE
2 years ago

Why are ‘they’ paid net then?

Andrew Wise
Andrew Wise
2 years ago
Reply to  Liam O'Mahony

I’m not sure if you are being sarcastic or serious.
The left’s whole strategy is to level down – it’s a strategy of envy, if you see someone with more than you have then you want to take is away from them.
The right at least espouses the theory of all boats rise in a rising tide – the way to help the less well off is to give them the opportunities to improve themselves should they want to take it.
One of Thatchers successes was enabling the working man to start a business, to buy their own home, to buy stocks & shares
What we need is more opportunity & less red tape in the way – a new generation of young entrepreneurs (be they builders or eTech wizards) – encouraged by the tax regime not punished by it.

Last edited 2 years ago by Andrew Wise
Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
1 year ago
Reply to  Andrew Wise

Precisely!

Alan Thorpe
Alan Thorpe
2 years ago
Reply to  Jim Jam

As an economist explained on TV last night, it doesn’t matter because we are only paying the interest and we can afford that, but we will never be able to pay off the debt so nothing to worry about.

Jim Jam
Jim Jam
2 years ago
Reply to  Alan Thorpe

‘Can afford that’

To leak billions upon billions each year indefinitely, he presumably means.

Yes we can afford that, in the same way I can technically afford to burn what little money I have left at the end of each month.

If I (or indeed the economist) was compelled to do such a thing, I can scarcely imagine it being regarded as ‘nothing to worry about’.

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
1 year ago
Reply to  Alan Thorpe

wrong.. Govt bond debt is paid off at the end of the bond term period.

nickrl 0
nickrl 0
1 year ago
Reply to  Jim Jam

We aren’t shelling out 20B a month in pure cash on interest payments its only about 3B the rest is future liabilities on index linked gilts which only have to be paid out when the bonds are redeemed.
The economy maybe crippled but doesn’t mean society within in it has to follow the same path. What we need is a more equitable approach and actually the little people if treated fairly will do the work for society without much grumbles. Most of them aren’t that aspirational either. So actually we need more tax on the middle class and a utterly ruthless approach to people and entities seeking to avoid paying their taxes.

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
1 year ago
Reply to  nickrl 0

In Europe, government debt and bond investment for pensions and life insurance is way higher than in UK.. I am going to give up attempting to explain debt/ capital markets on this medium!!!

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
1 year ago
Reply to  Jim Jam

Do you actually know and understand how fixed- income markets work? Do you realise that Government debt is also investors assets, and if you hold this debt paper, you can actually borrow against it more easily than you could against property?

Michelle Johnston
Michelle Johnston
2 years ago

As with anything that becomes a cause-celebre and a strategic tool to break up voting patterns there is a good deal more nuance to this matter.
My family lived in Lancashire about 20 minutes away from Hebden Bridge in Yorkshire. The former location had tried to attract industry to it and the latter has focused on being a ‘nice place to live.’ The former is run down and the latter thrives with many successful small businesses and the difference in approaches is down to the local government initiatives and thinking.
Equally important are those small towns with stations to Manchester are much better at wealth creation than those that do not have one. Rossendale has a railway station and is entirely different to my family’s location down the valley.
Anywhere in the world which has clean and well-run rapid transit systems to the centre of its main cities, grows its outlying areas. People come out of the city to live and those without work have much more access to it through an easy root to work. A small country with a handful of major cities which provide employment is ideal for satellite systems and even further afield it’s no coincidence that places like Malvern and Kingham thrive because they are on a transport route.
Everything is about infrastructure to provide the opportunity for people to move about cheaply quickly and easily. Where the subsidy should come in is not in the running of the operation but giving people subsidised ticketing options either through their employer or government giving a hand up which progressively fades as they gain income momentum.
Yelling at people (Angela Rayner that’s you) and cosy slogans (Boris that’s you) will not solve the problem thoughtful considered initiatives down at a regional level will.

Last edited 2 years ago by Michelle Johnston
Katharine Eyre
Katharine Eyre
2 years ago

Such a great comment and I absolutely agree that one of the crucial elements in “levelling up” is a good network of public transport that people are happy to use. Britain’s public transport is mostly an utter nightmare (expensive, crowded, dirty – and that’s if it even arrives) and probably leaves a great number of places unserved.
Taking Austria as an example (because I live there): in the 18 years I’ve lived here, Vienna has really taken off – mainly as a result of the EU enlargement. Lots of money has been invested in expanding and improving the public transport network and, as living costs in the city have risen, people have been looking to live outside in satellite towns like Wiener Neustadt, St Pölten and Tulln.
The journey times to places like this have been slashed and simplified; getting to Linz used to take 2 hours, it’s now around 1 hr 25 min. As a result, satellite towns have absolutely flourished. The town of Tulln, 30km west of the city, used to be a dull, nothing-y place. Now it’s part of what they refer to as the “SpeckgĂŒrtel” (the “bacon belt”), ie the rich surrounding towns where the wealthy city workers go and buy property and settle down.
For me, the quicker transit times mean an expanded number of possibilities for getting out of the city for a daytrip (hiking etc.). Places that would have taken far too long to reach even 5 years ago are now accessible. Now we (and any number of others) are out there at the weekend, hiking, having fun and spending money at the local shops and cafés. Everybody is a winner.

Last edited 2 years ago by Katharine Eyre
Iris C
Iris C
2 years ago

And it is happening!. I watch “Ian King Live” on Sky at 10 o’clock every day and there are new businesses being attracted to the north with help from the ÂŁ4.5bn levelling up fund – one that was mentioned yesterday was being financed by Germany, expanding into our country

Ben P
Ben P
2 years ago

Many thanks Michelle, we need more voices like yours!

polidori redux
polidori redux
2 years ago

I am always up for one of those Baldrickian Cunning Plans to fend off looming disaster. Me? I have invested the remnants of my once substantial fortune in a large turnip.

Linda Hutchinson
Linda Hutchinson
2 years ago
Reply to  polidori redux

I have pinned my hopes and cash on a large lump of Green.

Steve Elliott
Steve Elliott
2 years ago

Pure green!

Linda Hutchinson
Linda Hutchinson
2 years ago
Reply to  Steve Elliott

Of course

Doug Pingel
Doug Pingel
2 years ago
Reply to  polidori redux

A whole turnip? what riches!

Al N
Al N
2 years ago

Why the references to Thatcher? There is no comparison valid at any level for either of them. It is playing politics and we are tired of being taken for fools.

Liam O'Mahony
Liam O'Mahony
2 years ago
Reply to  Al N

If Boris can be Churchill, and Putin Hitler, and Zalenskyy Ulysses, why can’t they be Thatcher? Wasn’t Trump God?

Alan Thorpe
Alan Thorpe
2 years ago
Reply to  Liam O'Mahony

Did that happen in one of your nightmares?

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
2 years ago

The most significant, important and interesting Truss proposal, and it as a pathetic reflection of the media and voters innumerate crass financial ignorance, is the proposal for using new, separate long dated bonds for certain types of government borrowing and investment.

This is THE most radical and clever statement of the entire Tory campaign.

Japan, Germany France and Switzerland all use such instruments, and due to people living longer 50+ yr bonds have great investor demand globally, and if ” guaranteed in default only” do not go into the numbers of Governmment debt office PSBR, but still have a very high credit rating.

Long term road, transport, health and infrastructure projects can be paid for in this way, and should be.

Doug Pingel
Doug Pingel
2 years ago

With all these vast amounts of monies that we don’t have why are we still subsidising the Indian and Chinese space programs, not to mention Ethiopean “pop” singers at a Million pounds apiece. Who would bankrupt themselves to feed our not-so-friendly friends at an upmarket restaurant while we rummage in the bins at the local ‘greasy-spoon’? Something has got to give. Let others tighten their belts first.

Samir Iker
Samir Iker
1 year ago
Reply to  Doug Pingel

“why are we still subsidising the Indian and Chinese space programs”
If it sets your mind at ease, the UK isn’t.
The few tens of millions of “aid” that Britain provides India is not even 5% if the space budget (which in any case is funded by the Indian govt, not aid money), and a drop in the ocean as far as welfare spend goes (maybe 0.001% in real terms)

If anything, the “aid” is dwarfed in impact by the highly qualified and expensively trained doctors etc that UK absorbs every year from India.

And most of that aid is siphoned away to pay “consultants” and the type,which may explain why it’s not scrapped (despite India demanding so for over a decade now)

Shida Penns
Shida Penns
2 years ago

I certainly didn’t vote “Conservative” for the “levelling up” crap. I voted for Brexit and to keep communists out of power.
I only got one of those.

Liam O'Mahony
Liam O'Mahony
2 years ago
Reply to  Shida Penns

Don’t be so sure: check under the bed for reds: or red wallers even! Lol..

Rob Mcneill-wilson
Rob Mcneill-wilson
2 years ago

Perhaps the new PM could stop HS2 and the Climate nonsense.

Steve Elliott
Steve Elliott
2 years ago

Wasn’t the main point of levelling up to hold on to all those Red Wall constituencies?

Andy Moore
Andy Moore
2 years ago
Reply to  Steve Elliott

In simple terms it’s to buy votes. Both the NE and NW of England already receive more government spending than other parts of England, with the exception of London.

Rasmus Fogh
Rasmus Fogh
2 years ago

Right, so now we have a two trillion need for levelling up. On top of a need for a huge increase in the military budget (Ukraine), a huge investment in green energy, lest we get a wordwide ecological catastrophe, NHS, education system and care homes creaking and groaning under a decade of underfunding and the afternath of the pandemic, govenment debt already sky-high, huge increases in the cost of living, coming on top of a 10% real-terms paycut over the last decade. A lot of problems that need prioritising and dealing with. And what are the Tory candidates talking about? Tax cuts. Tax cuts! Anyone who prioritises tax cuts in the current situation is utterly clueless. And uninterested in actually running the country.

That said, Sunak at least plans on saving money now and cutting taxes later, which means that if he or his successor ever comes up with a plan there will at least be some money to work with. All Truss has on offer is ‘Jam today, starve tomorrow’.

Last edited 2 years ago by Rasmus Fogh
Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
1 year ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

The idea that tax cuts might stimulate the economy is not an obviously stupid one, and that a greater and greater proportion of economic activity should be directed by the government hasn’t historically been notable for its success either!

Last edited 1 year ago by Andrew Fisher
Jeff Carr
Jeff Carr
2 years ago

The present approach to ‘Levelling Up’ does nothing to address the fundamental structural problems of our nation. The imbalance of opportunity and prospects have been identified but they are being addressed through the existing public structure which is the root cause of regional failure.
In every public sector spending category, from health, transport, social services to education and administration, London and the South East of England has the highest per capita spending. We live in one of the most centralised countries in the world. The vast majority of public income is funnelled through the Treasury in London and distributed by the Departments of State based in London. Local Authority spending is tightly controlled and regulated by Whitehall to the extent that local democracy has been emasculated.
Levelling Up should be first about restructuring our public administration and political structure. We need to simplify local Government and empower local political leaders. Unitary Authorities offer a sound basis for local community driven politics although many are too large and ignore their rural communities. Unitary Authorities should have financial responsibility of all local services including Health, Social Care, Education, Regional Transport etc. CCG and PCN need to become the principal vehicle for the Health Service and geographically aligned with local authorities working closely with Directors of Public Health. Fire, Police and Transport have worked well previously as shared services. A regional body managed by the Authorities is preferable to the confusing range of directly elected local mayors who should all be terminated along with PCC’s – Greater Manchester was a reasonable model which even ran their own local authority owned airport and it did not have a directly elected Mayor! Unitary Authorities should be funded by locally set flat rate income tax applied to all personal earnings whether benefits, investments, unearned or earned income. To avoid regional income discrepancies, the local authorities should use a national average income determined by HM Government to set their tax rate. This would be a levelling tax mechanism without the influence of politicians or civil servants. Wealthy regions would pay more than average amounts of tax and poor areas would pay less than average total amounts of tax and the balances would be transferred. However, the basis for tax setting would be identical therefore discrepancies in the tax rate would be determined solely by the local politicians spending decisions and the regional disparity in the costs of services. Business rates would be entirely at the discretion of the local authority. Local Authority politicians would be directly responsible to all their electorate whether earning, on benefits or on pension for the proportion of their income they were taking. If educational pass rates were lower than other authorities or health outcomes worse then they would be accountable.
Central Government could be substantially slimmed down and take more of an oversight, regulatory and reporting role as well as being the only supplier of short and long term borrowing to local authorities. Provision of unemployment, state pension and other benefits should still be a central government responsibility and local authorities should be legally restricted from providing discretionary benefits or transfers of wealth. All requests for funding would be handled by a parliamentary committee in open camera. Public Sector financial reporting must comply with ACAEW audit standards not the cash accounting approach of CIPFA. This means there would be a clear valuation of fixed assets and differentiation between operating and investment spending.
The NHS Trusts would be seen solely as suppliers to the PCN’s. Consultants could be hired directly by PCN’s or CCG’s to provide local services in scans, dermatology or midwifery or anything else when the PCN/CCG believe they can justify the expense.
This would be truly levelling up but it will never happen because Turkeys Never Vote For Christmas.

Ben P
Ben P
2 years ago

Surely the point of levelling up is to strengthen regional economies so they are as strong and as broad-based as the London economy.
Doesn’t that mean targeted tax cuts for investment and start-ups? A freeing of our planning laws, and an entrepreneurial spirit in our vocational and academic training?
The huge sums of money envisaged here must be an investment – that is to say they must provide a return over the longer term.
But government can only do so much. In the end it has to be the energy an ingenuity of people on the ground who make things happen, rather than turning to Whitehall for hand-outs and a circle of dependency.
The North gave us free trade for goodness sake and a plethora of world-beating industries up until 1945. We need to foster that spirit again.

M. M.
M. M.
2 years ago

David Jeffery wrote, “Neither of them — nor the party at large — recognises the true scale of the problem that levelling up seeks to address; even fewer people in government realise just how expensive the policy will be.”

Levelling can be accomplished by a simple change to globalization: we conduct free trade with only Western countries.

Such trade would ensure that the Britons are competing against only economies that have similar costs for labor, environmental protection, consumer protection, etc.

There would still be trade between Great Britain and non-Western countries, but such trade would be wrapped in high tariffs in order to protect the standard of living of the British working class.

Although this method of levelling would not require significant government spending, the method does have a cost: slightly lower growth in the gross domestic product (GDP). This cost is outweighed by the benefit of protecting the working class.

If the high tariffs give us pause, then we should remember that Great Britain is first a nation before it is a market. The first priority of government is the well-being of the citizens. That is the Western point of view.

Most Americans of non-European ancestry have a different view. They insist that the United States is first a market before it is a nation. Such Americans (e.g., Hispanics and South Asians) favor open borders.

Get more info about this issue.

Last edited 2 years ago by M. M.
Linda Hutchinson
Linda Hutchinson
2 years ago
Reply to  M. M.

Hispanic people have European ancestry, hence Hispanic from the Roman name for what is now Spain and Portugal. Most Hispanic people also have ancestors from the indigenous peoples of the Americas before European settlement or from imported African slaves, but they do have European ancestry.

M. M.
M. M.
2 years ago

Everyone has African ancestry, but most reporters do not refer to Germans as Africans. Reporters use “ancestry” to refer to immediate ancestry. The immediate ancestry of Hispanics is Latin America.

Furthermore, Hispanic culture is quite different from Western culture.

Hispanics commit murder at 3 times and 6 times the rate at which Americans of European ancestry or Asian ancestry, respectively, commit murder. Get more info about this issue.

Hispanics refuse to assimilate into Western society. They deliberately refuse to study English to the same extent to which Asian-Americans study English.

According to a report by NPR, “students whose home language was Spanish were considerably less likely to reach [English] proficiency than any other subgroup. And, on the extreme end, Spanish speakers were almost half as likely as Chinese speakers to cross the proficiency threshold. … It’s no surprise that researchers studying this trend in the past have used income-based controls — such as whether a child qualifies for free or reduced lunch. Those researchers have still found Spanish speakers lagging [their peers (in other ethnic groups) with similar economic status].” Get more info about this issue.

Consequently, Hispanics are over-represented among students who fail a literacy test for employment as a teacher in elementary and secondary schools. Under pressure from Hispanic organizations, the Board of Regents of New York terminated the use of the literacy test. Get more info about this issue.

Last edited 2 years ago by M. M.
Billy Bob
Billy Bob
2 years ago
Reply to  M. M.

A lot of Latinos in America are actually in favour of much stricter immigration controls, more so than the whites in a majority of cases. You spout the same nonsense on every article

Liam O'Mahony
Liam O'Mahony
2 years ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

Agreed! Just like Priti Patel hates immigrants (like her own parents): none so racist as a reformed immigrant, to coin a phrase.

Kevin Henderson
Kevin Henderson
2 years ago
Reply to  Liam O'Mahony

If Priti Patel hates anyone she probably hates illegal immigrants.

Liam O'Mahony
Liam O'Mahony
2 years ago
Reply to  M. M.

How can Hispanics be “of non-European ancestry”? Are you referring to Native indians? Or do you think Spain and Portugal are not actually in Europe? I know you guys thing GB is not in Europe but surely you can’t think Iberia is in North Africa do you?

Bryan Dale
Bryan Dale
2 years ago

Trus has the right idea. Tax cuts and deregulation will improve the economy in left behind areas. Johnson’s big money spending projects did nothing.

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
2 years ago

As soon as i’d read his paragraph about Liverpool, i stopped reading. As lecturer in Politics at Liverpool University (which my daughter attended to do her medical training), he should know full well that the regeneration of the waterfront area under Thatcher/Heseltine was a necessary first step towards the longer-term uplifting of the city (and no thanks to the well-publicised corruption of the Labour city council). The former docks area includes Tate Liverpool, and ultimately led to Liverpool becoming a City of Culture in 2008. Well before then, the city was already starting to awaken from it’s post-industrial slump and nowadays it’s one of the most vibrant and tourist-friendly places to visit in the UK, and indeed beyond.
In other words, the author has written a piece of arrant nonsense. On his wider agenda, perhaps the phrase “levelling up” has been dropped by the two potential PMs, whilst retaining the core intent? And whilst i haven’t yet read the comments, perhaps these points have already been made. My daughter now works as a Registrar in Paediatrics in Liverpool, where the hospitals have also been extensively upgraded. The propaganda peddled in this article is not only unworthy but dangerous since some people will believe it.

Last edited 2 years ago by Steve Murray
Victor Southern
Victor Southern
2 years ago

And, apart from such unusual country as Monaco exactly where are all parts of any country equal in every way – that is apart from those which are uniformly poor.

jane baker
jane baker
2 years ago

What I resent about this social mobility or Levelling up or whatever else you call it Agenda is that it only ever means ONE THING. It means that you worked diligently at school,attained a place at university and now have a job with status like,um,the County Archaeologist,or City Council manager. In Bristol where I live we got a Mayor,a joke Mayor foisted on us but we got a Leader of the Council AS WELL. Our current one has just gone to be Leader at another Council. He is a qualified civil servant and administrator. So what’s our Joke Mayor for then? Apart from being hated by everybody for whatever he proposes to do. I digress. Its good to work at school,getting a degree shows you can study,think and stick to the task,all good. But why is that ALL social mobility means. I grew up in a household where “people like us” didn’t go to the theatre,go to concerts,listen to classical music,travel. I do those things. OK maybe I’m a bit delusional,maybe quite a lot,lol,but I consider myself socially mobile! Also due to.peculiarities of my upbringing I’ve never been fixated on amassing money,worse luck,so I haven’t but and I hardly dare say this,but not having much money and POVERTY are two different things (like Dolly Parton says in Coat of Many Colours).

Liam O'Mahony
Liam O'Mahony
2 years ago

Sounds like: if you can only package it just right you can get an interest free loan of ÂŁ3tn (with a 100 year payback) and it’ll all be dandy!
Sounds a bit pre-2008 derivatives snd sub-prime to me for me but what do I know? Nowt!
It’s all a bit too Hogwarts for me. But hey: maybe it can be done with Bitcoin II? Here’s hoping, for the sake of the Viking North.

Alan Thorpe
Alan Thorpe
2 years ago

I am no wiser about what levelling up is supposed to be. It sounds like a socialist slogan to make everybody the same – equally poor.

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
2 years ago

Sunak v Truss.
It reminds me of the jockeying to take the reigns of power in the Third Reich after Hitler’s death

Iris C
Iris C
2 years ago

Why has my comment disappeared. I have paid my due to Unherd for two years!!!

Victoria Cooper
Victoria Cooper
2 years ago

Well David Jeffery got one thing right. There is no single definition of what levelling up entails. I think we know what it means and I imagine no one would decry it. Bottom line – the North would be as wealthy as the South. Education is a good start but won’t stop the newly qualified from seeking jobs in the South. Geography has always had an influence on prosperity, is your land arable, does it have minerals, are there ports etc. There is a window of opportunity at last with the age of computers and AI. It needs to be done with a lot of foresight and thought. Just chucking money at it for show and it will end up like the NHS. I wonder if Cummings could be hired once again as advisor.

Last edited 2 years ago by Victoria Cooper
Nick Gilbert
Nick Gilbert
2 years ago

.Undated consols were issued when inflation rates were tiny occasionally in late Victorian England negative,

Nick Gilbert
Nick Gilbert
2 years ago

Who would buy them now?

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
1 year ago
Reply to  Nick Gilbert

insitititional investors on behalf of pension holders and life and non loge insurers… God save us?! Does anyone actually read what I write? I am so bored of trying to explain this!

Patrick Moore
Patrick Moore
1 year ago

‘Levelling up’ was typical Bunter slogan speak with the intention of implying that its actuality was in the eye of the beholder thus increasing more voter approval. As for achieving anything, Bunter has done very little to meet any of his 2019 Manifesto commitments. His ‘success’ in the business of Ukraine was also done with his gay abandon of the impact on our Army which, as well as being reduced, has now no doubt lost a great part of its weapons and ammunition stocks which it will not regain. All thanks to Bunter’s largesse and need to applauded; nevermind the impact on the country’s security which will only be assessed as an afterthought.
‘Levelling back up’ is what is needed as the main aggravating problem has been the decimation of all forms of industry around the UK as a result of the self inflicted closing down of fossil fuelled power plants since 1990 with no plan to retain independence in energy generation. This led to the offshoring of light and heavy industries which cost millions of actual jobs and left the country not only growing its financial services sector but also growing the importation of the goods we need to maintain our current levels of civilised existence.
To this energy policy aspect of a Tory economic suicide note can be added the continued acceptance of the EU plundering of the UK’s waters. Bunter’s Quixotic justification for this Government led wandering down the economic road to ruin is that the UK has reduced its CO2 emissions from 1990 levels and that Net Zero is a ‘Planet Saving’ policy. Surely even a ‘head in the cloud’ Classics Scholar must know that the UK’s unilateral Net Zero policies will not only wreck our Society but will actually increase Global CO2 emissions as less concerned countries continue to service UK social and, albeit reduced, industrial demand using whatever energy generation they find it convenient to use? Coal being a great favourite despite COP26 stated intentions.

patrick ainley
patrick ainley
1 year ago

Who does or ever did take ‘levelling up seriously’?

Andrew Barton
Andrew Barton
1 year ago
Reply to  patrick ainley

I take it as seriously as ‘Build Back Better’, another LOB.

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
1 year ago

Britain will never level up so long as people want to make money, show it off with vulgarity such as expensive motor cars, but insist on dressing, speaking and behaving as if they are auditioning for central casting in a role of a Liverpool dole queue participant.

There is nothing more, free, liberal and egalitarian for those with money to choose what they wear, and how they conduct themselves, instead of bleating, whining and purging that they are being ” judged”, ” sterotyped” and ” discriminated against” because they actually stereotype themselves?