Yorkshire Universities responds to the Levelling Up White Paper

Wednesday 2 February 2022

Responding to the publication of the Levelling Up White Paper today, Dr Peter O’Brien, Executive Director of Yorkshire Universities (YU), said:

“This White Paper has long been in gestation, and it forms a central component of the government’s domestic policy agenda. There is a lot of material to digest in the document, and many will be poring over the details in the days ahead.

There is nothing inevitable or efficient in economic terms about the existence and extent of social and spatial inequalities. The UK will fail to maximise its full potential whilst so many people and places in regions, such as Yorkshire, are disadvantaged and are left behind.

Today’s White Paper presents a plan for how the government proposes to halt and reverse disparities in opportunity, income, health and wealth. It is a huge challenge, and it requires long-term commitment, significant new (and above all increased) public and private investment, cultural change and partnership between all parts of Whitehall, regions and communities. One of the lessons, indeed failures, of previous efforts to ‘level up’, is that there have been too many short-term measures, coupled with regular churn and change of institutions and programmes. In addition, governments in the past have not embraced a sufficient spatial focus within national policy or they have implemented policies that have countered any attempts to address regional disparities.

Crucially, there needs to be a genuine commitment across government to level up. The intention to introduce duties on departments to monitor and evaluate their specific contributions to defined levelling up missions does provide a potential basis for generating and sustaining greater cross-government buy-in.

But this is not the job of central government alone. Levelling up requires devolution to the regions, especially in England. We welcome the decision by the government to take forward detailed negotiations with York and North Yorkshire on a new Mayoral Combined Authority, and to invite Hull and East Yorkshire to begin negotiations on a new devolution deal. All parts of Yorkshire should enjoy greater autonomy, and we would also encourage the government to strengthen the existing devolution arrangements in South Yorkshire and West Yorkshire.

Universities and the higher education sector have key roles to play in levelling up, through the social capital they bring via their long-standing civic engagement work, and through their specialist capacity and expertise in research and innovation, education and skills, and knowledge exchange. The proposal for domestic public R&D investment outside the Greater South East to increase by at least 40%, by 2030, is welcome, but we need a clear understanding of the baseline for this funding proposal, and it is essential that regions have direct influence over how such investment is determined and spent. In Yorkshire, we have several innovation-led industrial and societal assets and clusters that could deliver significant wider benefits from increased public R&D investment, and they are prime candidates to host Innovation Accelerators. Similarly, new education and skills proposals, designed to shape long-term employment and skills provision, to meet current and future local labour market skills supply and demand, should be integrated fully within local and regional economic strategies.

In Yorkshire, YU members are working with the public, private and voluntary and community sectors to support the region’s recovery from the impacts of Covid, and to create a more prosperous, healthier, inclusive and greener region. In the run up to the White Paper, YU strengthened its partnership with the region’s local authorities, and we have described in detail how higher education, local government and Mayoral Combined Authorities can work together to deliver shared priorities, including levelling up priorities. We look forward to working with the government and our partners as the implementation stage of the White Paper begins.”

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