by Peter Franklin
Tuesday, 12
January 2021

Does the Government still care about levelling up?

The social fabric of our nation is fraying — it needs to be urgently addressed
by Peter Franklin
Boris on the campaign trail on the Isle of Wight.Credit: Dominic Lipinski – WPA Pool/Getty Images

Getting Brexit done. Beating Covid. Levelling up. These are the Government’s top three priorities. Except that the third is in danger of being forgotten.  

Yes, they’ve already announced more spending on things like transport links. There’s also a determination to make sure that the whole country benefits from public investment, not just the South-East.

But levelling up isn’t just about concrete and tarmac. Last year, the Onward think tank published a report showing that the social fabric of our nation is fraying. Across a variety of metrics, family and community relationships were found to be significantly weaker in some parts of the country than others. And that was drawing on evidence gathered before the devastating impact of the pandemic — and multiple lockdowns — upon our private and public lives.

However, this makes the task of social regeneration all the more urgent. There will be no recovery from the current crisis, nor from our underlying social problems, unless we restore the human connections that make life worth living.

There is a long history of governments talking about issues of ‘social capital’, but then doing very little about them. A cynic might think that’s because there’s very little that can be done. After all, ministers can order roads to be built, but they can’t just make ‘community spirit’ happen. 

What they can do, however, is provide local people and places with the political power and the financial capital to shape their own communities for the better. Today, Onward publishes a follow-up report, The Policies of Belonging, which lays out a long-term programme for doing just that. Ideas include letting people draw down a year of their pensions early to enable them to take a “civic sabbatical” in service to the local community. Another is to make it much easier for an area to form a parish or town council (only 25% of England is currently covered by one).

You don’t have to agree with all 17 proposals in the report to see that there’s a huge amount that could be done. So why isn’t the Government doing it? Or, more, to the point who isn’t doing it? The answer to that is ‘everyone’ and ‘no one’. That’s because government departments don’t decentralise power and resources unless they’re made to do it — preferably by a minister given full Prime Ministerial authority to bash down the bureaucratic and political obstacles. Unfortunately, no such role currently exists. 

Boris Johnson needs to put that right as a matter of urgency. Obviously, he’s got plenty of other things to worry about at the moment — like getting the country vaccinated and ending the suppression of normal life. Nevertheless, he still needs to look ahead. In all likelihood, the next general election will take place years after Brexit got done and (let’s hope) years after the end of the last lockdown. 

In 2019, millions of voters across the country turned to the Tories for the first time. In 2024 they’ll be asking themselves whether they’ve really been given the chance to take back control. 

Join the discussion

  • Unless you address the only means by which leveling up can occur and remain, it’s a pointless exercise. You’ll simply have to level up again and again. The only thing that truly produces leveling up is jobs and education. In reverse and continuing order. No one is truly invested in society without education and a job (which usually but does not always mean a paid job).

  • Exactly. As I have said countless time here and elsewhere, until you fix and education system that is devoid of all reason, rigour or discipline it’s all moot. And you can’t fix the education system without taking on the left-wing teaching unions and educational establishment, which has no interest in teaching anything except perhaps CRT. That means putting Katherine Birbalsingh in charge and, probably, bringing in some maths and science teachers from China and Russia.

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