Can Levelling Up measure up?

Updated: 5 days ago

DevoConnect were quick to rally “Devolutionistas” at our Devo 3.0 Roundtable to look at what the Levelling Up White Paper means for devolution and to garner views on whether it measures up to our high expectations.

DevoConnect have long advocated that devolution is the solution and are leading proponents of its potential to level up and rebalance the economy and remove inter and intra-regional disparities. We believe that ‘good’ devolution can unlock economic growth in our towns, cities, and regions – if it has the powers and funding to back up bold ambitions.

Whilst we scored the Levelling Up White Paper, some might say, a generous 6/10, we wanted to see what those areas invited to bid for a new 'devo deal' are thinking. First up, we hear from Alex Norris MP for Nottingham North and Shadow Levelling Up Minister.


Read Alex Norris MP's Quick-fire interview

What inspired you to get into politics?

For my entire adult life I have been working to improve Nottingham. I love my community, and think it is the best city in the world, but there are lots of issues I think we need to address so that everyone gets great opportunities, public services and lives well. That motivated me to stand for election to my Council where I loved the opportunity to address many of these challenges but it was clear that so much that shapes our lives was decided in Parliament – so I stood for Parliament. Now I am here I want to keep fighting for the best for my community but as importantly to give out powers so that Nottingham people, and people across the country, have a proper say in the decisions that affect them.

In terms of English devolution, what do you think the Government means by ‘meaningful devolution’?

I can only judge the Government on what they have delivered. We all know the system between central government, local government and local communities has been broken for years. Only recently the Government cancelled Northern Powerhouse Rail. When they did this, they actually took powers back from the North. The Government have presided over situations like this for over a decade. The Levelling Up White Paper was supposed to be an opportunity to fix it but all we got was more of the same and a lecture on the Roman Empire. Instead of empowering local areas, the White Paper just outlined a process and that on its own will never deliver the ‘meaningful devolution’ the country needs.

What further powers do you think are necessary to level up and reduce inter and intra-regional disparities?

Rather than Government Ministers sitting in Whitehall drawing lines on a map, Labour would take a placed-based approach, upending the current settlement and giving local areas the power, and critically the resources, to make the best long-term decisions that will work for them. We can already see the benefit of this approach in Wales, where the Welsh Labour Government is pioneering a new model of regional developments. It’s also happening with the Metro Mayors. Dan Jarvis, for example, has announced a £500mn renewal fund for South Yorkshire to invest in local infrastructure, transport and jobs.

How will Levelling Up measure up and deliver greater social mobility?

For levelling up to be successful it needs to have a tangible impact on communities and working people across the country. Of course, various metrics that show a rebalancing of the country’s economy are important. But until people feel the impact it won’t matter. For example, that means driving investment into local economies, not just for the sake of it, but to deliver well-paid, secure work and creating ladders of opportunity so younger generations see career paths in front of them. Those careers should be in their own town too, young people shouldn’t have to get out to get on. Ultimately, it’s creating conditions like this that will be the test of levelling up and what the Government will be judged on.

If there was one policy change you would like to see - what would it be?

Not so much a policy change, but a change in attitude - I want to see the Government start trusting local areas to do what’s best for them. The number of times local areas are forced to go cap in hand to Whitehall asking for the funding to do what is right for their local people is ridiculous. A few weeks ago, the Mayor of Greater Manchester raised the Government’s broken promises on rail investment in the North and was told by a Conservative MP, “Don’t bite the hand that feeds you”. That attitude has got to end.

As an MP for one of the 9 Levelling Up areas – what do you think the impact and the legacy of the Levelling Up White Paper will be?

I think the legacy of the White Paper will be a government that has no plan, no strategy and is just making it up as it goes along. Michael Gove was clearly brought in to try to fatten the pig for market day when the White Paper was finally published. When it was published, I lost count of the number of rehashed policies or already announced funding contained within it. The Government have set themselves a target of 2030 before things will get better, I think it’s fair for people to ask them, ‘where have you been for the last 12 years you’ve been in power?’ They have presided over this mess and now they don’t have a plan for getting out of it.

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