This blog was written by Ronalds Busulwa, PhD student at the University of Huddersfield. Winner of the PERN blog competition, an achievement he shares with Marrion (Mo) Todd. To follow Ronalds on Twitter go to @BlackstudentsMH
I am glad you asked! Imagine a mountain where some people are at the top while others are at the bottom, trying to get all the people to the same level is ‘levelling up’, in other words trying to bring something to an equal level or position compared to another. Ok not the best analogy but work with me here, it will make sense. It is to do with ensuring that no community is left behind in resource distribution, sounds great, right? You see, where power lies matters, and the root cause of the UK regional divides is ‘over-centralization’ (concentration of power or many administrative functions in one place). One wonders why the same government in power for 12 yrs of ‘un levelling up’ is calling for ‘levelling up’ now. Cynicism aside let’s sink our teeth into this.
Is there any meat on the bones of the ‘levelling up’ policy’?
Here is thing, the most fundamental flaw in the ‘levelling up’ is this, for those at the bottom to level up, those at the top need to lose something, and that seems to go against this Government’s ethos. In the North of England, Government spending has fallen by £696m since 2012 while the South has seen an increase of 7bn. Then the government abandons plans for a high-speed railway linking the North to the South, and that was it, the eastern leg of HS2 meant to connect the Midlands and Leeds was abandoned.With the HS2 which was supposed to address the North-South divide now dead, what the government is telling those in the North is “you are not worth investing in” leavingregional interconnectivity grossly reduced.
How did it get to this? Well, one school of thought is that it’s the electoral shocks that drove the regional inequalities up the Whitehall and Westminster agenda. And the fact of the matter is that it’s almost impossible for democracy to work anymore when governments are only concerned with the people who gave them power by voting for them. Therefore, levelling up is only aimed at constituencies that returned a Tory member of parliament. The intentions of ‘levelling up’ have a lot to be applauded for example, more power should be held locally, and there’s a lot to like in encouraging local government restructuring to create the establishments that are able to take on powers, a lot to applaud but am afraid that is probably the best bit in it. And if the intentions give us hope for a better future, then this in itself is a success.
The Levelling Up white paper recently released seeks to solve regional inequalities, and it’s about distribution of resources or to be blatant money. Given that ‘levelling up’ is about distribution of finances, it’s remarkable that it was hardly mentioned in the Chancellor’s speech & features vaguely only 5 times in the full Spring Statement 2022.
So, if the treasury is not fully behind this ambitious policy how can it turn into reality? To us the people levelling up is much more than a policy, it’s access to education, employment, decent public transport, life expectancy etc and it shouldn’t be just an optional extra which is nice to have.
Last thoughts Although there’s a lot to be applauded in the intentions, levelling up is perhaps unique in its scope and ambition and the real question is what will success look like? The mayor of Manchester succinctly put it ‘levelling up’ is a carefully crafted phrase designed to appeal to the gullible. Much like “Take back control”, well time will tell.
This blog was written by Ronalds Busulwa. He is a second year PhD student at the University of Huddersfield. His research is exploring the role of faith in the Mental Health of black students at University in the UK. Ronalds is currently a Mental Health practitioner and lecturer; and also an Addictions Therapist.
The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and not necessarily those of Yorkshire Universities, PERN or the University of Huddersfield.